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Stop-and-frisk: An NYPD tactic that should end

Jonathan P Hicks | 5/25/2012, 12:43 p.m.
It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention

For some time, there was hope among many New Yorkers that the city's horrific stop-and-frisk program might be tapering off. But rather than showing a drop-off, the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) program of stopping innocent Black and Brown people, particularly youth, has ramped up to historic highs.

It's time to eliminate this tactic altogether.

Recently, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report that shows that the number of stops grew to 685,724 in 2011, from about 97,000 in 2002, the year Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office. The report, based on the Police Department's own figures, also showed that the volume of stop-and-frisk events has increased at a higher pace for the first quarter of this year.

Let's be clear: Stop-and-frisk is nothing more than an embarrassing and humiliating experience that befalls largely African-American and Latino men in New York City. A young man may be doing nothing more than going to a relative's birthday party, sitting on a park bench or on his way to church when police officers stop him, slam him against a wall, frisk him and rummage through his belongings before asking questions about his activities.

In the world of young Black and Brown New York City, it has become a common part of life--a likelihood rather than a possibility. They are stopped and searched by police officers so frequently that it has become an anticipated, seemingly unavoidable fact of life.

There is an alarming aftermath to these stops. Many result in the victims of the program being issued fines for minor infractions, with some fines lodged as high as hundreds of dollars, a particular burden on middle- and lower-income New Yorkers.

The stop-and-frisk program operates on its own script, allowing officers to detain people--primarily young Black and Latino men--without any rhyme or reason. It is whimsical, virtually capricious, in its application.

It is a practice that further breeds deep suspicion between the police and a large swath of the people they are sworn to protect. And for all the degradation that occurs under the program, only about 6 percent of the stops lead to arrests--94 percent do not.

Fortunately, a federal judge issued a ruling sternly criticizing the stop-and-frisk tactics. After that, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced new measures aimed at reducing the frequency of unwarranted stops. It is a move that seems right-headed, but is halfhearted in its desire to tackle this atrocious practice.

Meanwhile, a number of lawsuits have been filed by legal groups seeking a change to the Police

Department's tactic. They are challenging the use of stop-and-frisk in a number of places, particularly in the city's public housing complexes.

The elimination of the stop-and-frisk program has been the centerpiece of the efforts of a number of politicians, particularly Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and City Council Member Leticia James. Their efforts are to be applauded--it can only be hoped that they are ultimately successful. Stop-and-frisk is a practice that Kelly and his department need to end with all possible speed.