Tag Archives: stop and frisk

NYPD Stop-and-Frisk portrays racism

The NYPD stop-and-frisk program enables police officers to stop and search individuals who are out in public based on ‘suspicion’ without a warrant. These officers are supposed to meet a quota and a failure to do so can result in disciplinary action. The video “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy” shows the New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stating that this program is a great program because the police are being proactive, and as a result the crime rate is decreasing. This program in the public’s eye appears legitimate however at the same time it creates tension surrounding the notion of race. This will be examined in this blog post by making reference to Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory.

The main focus of the critical legal studies as stated by Pavlich (2011) in Law & Society Redefined “… is to explore the manner in which legal doctrine and legal education and the practices of legal institutions work to support a pervasive system of oppressive in egalitarian relations”. We discussed this in class and the idea that the law appears legitimate, even though it may not be, arose. This relates to the stop and frisk program as the aim of it is to reduce crime. Most individuals in the public would believe that having more cops on the street reduces crimes and it would result in safer communities. However, as stated on the New York Civil Liberties Unions page “No research has ever proven the effectiveness of [the program], and the small number of arrests, summonses, and guns recovered demonstrates that the practice is ineffective” (http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598). This page goes on to state that while violent crime fell 29% in New York from 2001 to 2010, many other cities had declines in crime as well without programs like this and at greater percentages, such as 59% in Los Angeles. This program may appear to work in the favour of the community yet it doesn’t as it reinforces the beliefs that certain individuals commit crimes and therefore they need to be stopped, which goes towards the next point of critical race theory.

The idea behind critical race theory is that law is responsible for producing unequal race relations. Therefore, as a result the law reproduces the notion of race. Critical race theorists would suggest that this program definitely reproduces the notion of race. In the video one of NYPD Veterans states that he had a captain who said “we’re going to go out there and we’re going to violate some rights”. This shows that even before the stop begins the officer has in his mind that he is going to target certain individuals. This causes more tension between racialized minorities and the police because the minorities feel targeted. It also produces tension within the community as the minorities will feel that it is unfair that they are subject to the majority of these stops while Whites for example were not subject to as many. In the article “An Analysis of the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias” Fagan et Al. (2006) note that “In total, Blacks and Hispanics represented 51% and 33% of the stops, respectively…” and more recently according to the video more than 87% were Black or Latino and 9/10 were innocent of any wrongdoing. As Matsuda (1993) notes one should not examine “racism as isolated instances of conscious bigoted decision making or prejudiced practice, but as larger, systemic, structural, and cultural, as deeply psychological and socially ingrained” (Pavlich, 2011). Through this process society has the belief that certain races commit more crimes, and as a result certain areas are targeted more. This is presented in the article by Fagan et al. (2006) as they state that “since ‘high crime areas’ often have high concentrations of minority citizens (Massey and Denton, 1993), this logic places minority neighborhoods at risk for elevating the suspiciousness of their residents”. I believe this is a crucial point to note as not only is an individual’s race of importance when an officer is thinking of stopping them but also the location they choose as well.

All of these factors mentioned above combined together lead to the communities increased perception that minorities commit the most crimes and therefore this program is good. However, I would question how effective these stops are and research has shown that they are not doing much and are rather more of a nuisance to specific minorities. However, one could state that they are making a difference as they eliminate some percentage, even though it is small, of crime that would otherwise go undetected. Personally, I feel that by having this program in place it is reinforcing the belief that minorities commit crime and this belief is held in the majority of the communities mind and as a result this makes individuals unknowingly have distorted opinions when it comes to who commits crimes. This cycle continues and minorities are targeted more and more, and when at a stop a minority is found to have something on them this reinforces the belief that it is the minorities who cause violence and the cycle repeats as it feeds into the public’s perception.


Fagan, J., Gelman, A., Kiss, A. (2006). An analysis of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy in the context of claims of racial bias. Columbia Law School.

New York Civil Liberties Union. Racial Justice: Stop-and-Frisk Data. http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford

Tutle, Ross. (2012). “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7rWtDMPaRD8#!



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Policy and Prejudice

The New York Police Department has implemented a “Stop- and- Frisk” program that allows police officers to stop and search any person who they believe to be participating in criminal activity. The policy allows for very broad discretionary powers by law enforcement officials. The way a person looks alone can determine whether they will become a target of a stop- and- frisk by police. It allows for glaring inequalities that some would say constitute racism. Officers are encouraged by quotas and possible disciplinary action to complete these types of investigations. The intention of this program is to take a proactive approach to crime control. The hope is that these “investigations” will prevent criminals from carrying out their intended illegal activity. It is a policy designed to make the public feel safer on the streets and show that the police are doing something to prevent crime from occurring rather than simply responding to it.

According to the United States Census bureau the racial breakdown in New York City for 2011 was as follows: 71.5% White, 17.5% black, and 18% Hispanic or Latino. Even if we combined the black and Hispanic race numbers, it does not even equal half of the white population. The Stop and Frisk video suggests that in the last decade more than 87% of those stopped were black or Latino. The remaining 13% of those stopped are split up between several racial groups including Caucasian. This suggests that the number of Caucasian people stopped by the stop and frisk initiative is very small. These statistics strongly support and argument towards racial profiling by police.

Over the years the public has seen several small insights into police mentality and subculture relating to race and gender biases. We can draw on examples such as the Rodney King case or the Neil Stonechild inquiry to support these claims. An over representation of a certain ethnic group within the criminal justice system is a very important issue that demands immediate address. These are long-standing issues of policy and practice.

Critical Race Theory examines the relationship between power, race, and law. To be able to understand how race plays a role in this structure, we must first define Critical theory in this context. Critical theory has influenced many philosophers and sociologists because of its broad application potential.  It concerns itself with the critique and modification of society as a whole to correct inequality. It strives to change law from within and raise consciousness. It explains how law can serve to perpetuate hierarchical structures within society.  Similarly, Critical Race Theory is closely tied with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and promotes social justice and equality with the law. According to Matsuda et al. 1993: 5, critical race theory describes racism

“not as isolated instances of conscious bigoted decision making or prejudiced practice, but as a larger, systemic, structural, and cultural, as deeply psychological and socially engrained” (Pavlich 2011).

Proponents of Critical race theory strive for an overhaul of the criminal justice system and our principles and policies in order to be more sensitive to a critical race perspective.

The stop and frisk program is a good example of a crime control model of law enforcement. Crime control asserts that police should have a very large amount of discretionary power to facilitate increased searches, seizures, and arrests. It focuses on a chain of assumption. We would assume that the accused is guilty based on the investigations of the police and their willingness to bring it to trial. It relies heavily on the determination of factual guilt under the law and leaves little room for circumstances or developing social norms. The idea is that enforcement is the key to controlling crime and the details are less important. The most important thing is results. Another good example in a Canadian context would be the safe streets and Communities act (Bill C-10). The portion of that act that deals with solicitation and panhandling is a good example of how the government is targeting the poor by handing out fines to people who already have no money. As a citizen I was not concerned with “squeegeeing” and panhandling before the government decided to “get tough”. It is an example of policy that creates moral panic and instructs citizens to be concerned with and report undesirable activity because it is now illegal. Critical theorists would argue that this kind of policy is maintaining a hierarchical structure or an “us and them” mentality. It divides society and allows for the continuation of discriminatory practices and laws.

The feminist jurisprudence perspective is relatively simple on this issue. Feminist movements strive to bridge the gap of inequality between men and women. Much has been said about the NYPD stop and frisk program relating to race, but there is no mention of the gender breakdown of these stops. The debate focuses on the disproportionate number of members of minority groups being stopped by the police and makes no note of inequality concerning gender. It is impossible to make any inferences as the the effect of this policy on females without more reported data.

Police quotas are, like in any profession incentives to increase productivity. There is a reason that so many agencies have implemented a quota system. The issue arises when a quota and threat of professional discipline is the sole determining factor in issuing a ticket or stopping an individual on suspicion.  As in anything, the devil is in the details and some policing initiatives are no exception.  The general public has been conditioned to fear crime and poverty by the government and media institutions. When a public panic arises it is up to the police to come up with a new way to cull these fears and restore peaceful order. The main issue with the stop and frisk program is not that it exists,  it is the extremely high level of discretion that comes along with it. When there is discretion, there is inevitably abuse of that discretion.

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