NYPD and ‘Racial Profiling’

The article by Sociological Images and the video about the NYPD’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy is about the program in which police officers are required to stop and search individuals in public without a warrant; only reasonable cause.  The main reason for this program is to appease the public opinion of the police and to prevent crime by taking proactive measures.  Generally this seems like a good program for the overall safety of the community but many people argue against it and the statistics show that the program does very little to prevent or catch criminal behaviour.  As shown in the article, the author reports that about 87-89% of stops lead to no evidence of wrong-doing (Sharp, 2012).  Moreover, the program is put under greater scrutiny when the statistics show that the overwhelming majority of individuals stopped are minority groups, i.e., African Americans and Latinos.  Adding to the issue is the report that the officers are required to fill quotas for the number of stops they make and are threatened with penalties for not filling enough ‘250’s’ as they call them.

Critical race theory can be used to explain this program by the NYPD.  Essentially this theory describes race relations and that racist motives, especially institutional racism, is behind society’s power structures in legal contexts.  “CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color” (UCLA School of Public Affairs, 2009, para. 2).  How this relates to the ‘stop-and-frisk’ program is that the underlying basis for the stops is based on the race of the individuals.  The majority of them are minorities that turn out to be innocent.  The source of racism in this theory is “systematic, structural…deeply psychological and socially ingrained” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 130).  As such, the commissioner and mayor of the NYPD and New York both promote this program saying it is necessary and effective.  Additionally, the systemic racism is evident from the Lieutenants and Sergeants that condone and force this practice to target minorities.

Furthermore, as Pavlich (2011) states, “law is never colour blind, neutral, or objective, and is key to struggles that generate, manipulate, and use various conceptions of race for difference political ends” (p. 130).  Critical race theorists would use this statement to show that the NYPD is using this program to gain public support by showing they are proactively trying to reduce crime and Michael Bloomberg is in support of this as well to maintain his position as mayor.  This is effective because the majority of the public views this program in a positive light and would like to see it continue.

In my opinion, I think this is a good program for police departments to keep positive public opinions because it is shown that a police presence makes the community feel like the police are doing their job effectively.  Regarding the issue of racial profiling, the more appropriate term would be ‘criminal profiling’.  If you take a realistic view of crime in New York and in many other American cities, minorities like African Americans and Latinos disproportionately make up a large amount crime in relation to their total population.  Studies have shown that the typical offender in a city like New York is a young minority male.  This recent report by the NYPD proves just that, where 34.9% of suspects arrested are Black, 37.7% are Hispanic, and 23.3% are White.  While I agree that some officers tend to take advantage of profiling by abusing their power or being pressured into doing so, as shown in the video, generally their main targets are individuals, regardless of race, that are known to commit more crime.  If this program was done in a city where statistics show that young White males commit the most crime then the police would primarily target young white males.

Here is another article about the ‘stop-and-frisk’ program that supports the idea that the police target stereotypical criminals for their city based on statistics and that there is no racial motive behind their work.  It states that:

Blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80 percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed nearly 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, committed 5 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops). They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies. The face of violent crime in New York, in other words, like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed by a black than by a white perpetrator (MacDonald, 2010, para. 10).

To conclude, crime rates are what drive the tactics that police departments use to prevent crime.  It’s only logical for them to target those who are responsible for the majority of crimes committed.  Even though many of the minority individuals stopped are innocent, the police are only doing so for the greater good of their community.  However, I do disagree with how the NYPD carries out this program.  Their main problem is that there is no independent oversight committee to evaluate their programs and policies.  It is unethical to force officers to write ‘250’s’ for the sake of not getting punished which is what makes this program ineffective and corrupt.
References:

MacDonald, H. (2010, May 14). Distorting the Truth About Crime and Race. City Journal. Retrieved from: http://www.city-journal.org/2010/eon0514hm.html.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Sharp, G. (2012, October 15). NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy. Retrieved from: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/10/15/nypds-stop-and-frisk-policy.

UCLA School of Public Affairs. (2009). What is Critical Race Theory? Retrieved from: https://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory.

United States Department of Justice. (2012). Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City. Retrieved from: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/crime_and_enforcement_activity_jan_to_jun_2012.pdf.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “NYPD and ‘Racial Profiling’

  1. These statistics represent the number of people that are stopped, they are not representative necessarily of the community. Clearly, the police are not providing a random sample of the entire population. A targeted sample is not generalizable or representative. The research methodology is not sound and perpetuates discriminatory practices.

    I am curious, you say that “this seems like a good program for the overall safety of the community” but who exactly is it providing safety for and who is it targeting? The results of the overall program show that 87-89% of those stopped are innocent. From a business perspective, is this a good use of department resources?

  2. Interesting commentary. Good application of critical race theory.

    A few comments:

    You write: “In my opinion, I think this is a good program for police departments to keep positive public opinions because it is shown that a police presence makes the community feel like the police are doing their job effectively”.

    A theorist applying critical race theory (or sociology in general) would point out that ‘the community’ is not a homogeneous entity. While a heavily radicalized stop-and-frisk policy might make certain segments of the community feel safe and secure, it clearly creates experiences of fear, distrust, and harassment for others.

    You write “Regarding the issue of racial profiling, the more appropriate term would be ‘criminal profiling’.”

    Not necessarily, and probably not in this case. You are pointing to the difference between ‘differential involvement’ and ‘differential policing’ theories of racial disparities in police statistics.  These are testable theories. I recommend checking out the Canadian literature on racial disparities in policing in Toronto (see, for instance, works by Wortley, Owusu-Bempah and Millar, Tanner, and Carrington and Fitzgerald. See also the results of the Toronto Star Race Matters investigation: http://www.thestar.com/specialsections/raceandcrime/article/761343–race-matters-blacks-documented-by-police-at-high-rate).

    But setting that aside for a moment, if we accept that minority males in New York are differentially involved in criminal activities, does this mean that all minority males should be both viewed – and treated – as suspicious persons by default? Does this sound like a reasonable model of policing?

    You note ” To conclude, crime rates are what drive the tactics that police departments use to prevent crime.  It’s only logical for them to target those who are responsible for the majority of crimes committed.”

    The logic seems to be:

    Premise 1: Police should proactively regard as suspicious and stop-and-search persons who are members of demographic groups that are disproportionately represented in offending statistics.

    Premise 2: Group x are disproportionately represented in offending statistics.

    Conclusion: Group x should be proactively regarded as suspicious, and members should be stopped and searched by police officers.

    Interestingly, one group that is always grossly overrepresented in offending statistics is males. This holds true regardless of jurisdiction, and it is especially true for more serious crimes. Women in Canada account for about 10% of offenders admitted to custody, for example. Given that males represent less than half of the Canadian population and account for 90% of admissions to custody, would it make sense for Canadian police to adopt a ‘stop and frisk’ policy for all Canadian males? The statistical argument regarding criminal profiling would be stronger in this case than in the New York case, wouldn’t it?

    Would you accept being stopped and searched on a regular basis because you fit the profile of a ‘dangerous class’?