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Stop-and-frisk in New York City

The stop-question-and-frisk program, or stop-and-frisk, in New York City, is a New York City Police Department practice of temporarily detaining, questioning, and at times searching civilians on the street for weapons and other contraband.[1] This is what is known in other places in the United States as the Terry stop. The rules for stop, question, and frisk are found in the state's criminal procedure law section 140.50, and are based on the decision of the US Supreme Court in the case of Terry v. Ohio.[2][3]

12,404 stops were made in 2016.[4] The stop-and-frisk program has previously taken place on a much wider scale. Between 2003 and 2013, over 100,000 stops were made per year, with 685,724 people being stopped at the height of the program in 2011.[4] The program became the subject of a racial profiling controversy.[2][5] The vast majority of those stopped were African-American or Latino, most of whom were aged 14–24.[2][4][5] The racial disparity persists even after controlling for precinct variability and race-specific estimates of crime participation.[6][7] Research suggests that stop-and-frisk had few effects, if any, on crime in New York City.[8][9]

Stop-and-frisk became an issue in the 2016 presidential election.[10][11]



The stop and frisk policy was adopted from English law in a number of American courts. In accordance with English common law, without statutory provisions, a police officer has the power to stop, question, and frisk suspects given reasonable circumstances. Based on a standard that holds less than probable cause, the power is granted upon the standard of reasonable suspicion. It is a question of circumstances of each individual case that determines whether reasonable detention and investigation is validated.[12]

Stop-and-frisk was made into an area of concern by the Supreme Court when it encountered the case of Terry v. Ohio. While frisks were arguably illegal, until then, a police officer could search only someone who had been arrested, unless a search warrant had been obtained. In the cases of Terry v. Ohio, Sibron v. New York, and Peters v. New York, the Supreme Court granted limited approval in 1968 to frisks conducted by officers lacking probable cause for an arrest in order to search for weapons if the officer believes the subject to be dangerous. The Court's decision made suspicion of danger to an officer grounds for a "reasonable search."[13]

Stop-and-frisk is not necessarily a new invention. In the early 1980s, if a police officer had reasonable suspicion of a possible crime, he had the authority to stop someone and ask questions. If, based on the subject's answers, the suspicion level did not escalate to probable cause for an arrest, the person would be released immediately. That was only a "stop-and-question". The "frisk" part of the equation did not come into play except on two cases: if possession of a weapon was suspected, or reasonable suspicion of a possible crime escalated to probable cause to arrest for an actual crime based on facts developed after the initial stop-and-question. That all changed in the 1990s, when CompStat was developed under then-Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. High-ranking police officials widely incorporated the "stop, question and frisk".[14]

In 1990, Bratton became head of the New York City Transit Police. Bratton described George L. Kelling as his "intellectual mentor" and implemented a zero tolerance policy because of his contributions to the development of the broken windows theory. Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani hired Bratton as his police commissioner, who adopted the strategy more widely, for use in New York City. Giuliani used Bratton and the massive expansion of the New York police department to crack down on crimes. Giuliani's "zero-tolerance" included a crackdown on fare evasion, public drinking, public urination, graffiti artists, and "squeegee men" (who had been wiping windshields of stopped cars and aggressively demanding payment).[15]


When police officers make stops, they fill out a form explaining the situation and details of the stop. After the officer goes off duty, these forms are then entered into a database. There are two ways the NYPD reports this stop-and-frisk data: a paper report released quarterly and an electronic database released annually. In 2002, there were 97,296 "stop and frisk" stops made by New York police officers; 82.4% resulted in no fines or convictions. The number of stops increased dramatically in 2008 to over half a million, 88% of which did not result in any fine or conviction, peaking in 2011 to 685,724 stops, again with 88% resulting in no conviction. On average, from 2002 to 2013, the number of individuals stopped without any convictions was 87.6%.[16]

Part of the stop-question-and-frisk program is executed under Operation Clean Halls, a program in which private property owners grant officers prior permission to enter a property for enforcement against criminal activity.[17]

Some NYPD officers have objected publicly to the department's use of stop-question-and-frisk paperwork as a performance metric, which they claim encourages officers to overuse the practice and creates public hostility. Activists have described it as a form of quota, a characterization that department representatives have denied .[18][19]

In about 90% of cases, no evidence of wrongdoing is found, and the stopped person is let go.[20]


Demonstrators protest racial bias in policing, marching to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's house on June 17, 2012

New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft made extensive recordings in 2008 and 2009, which documented orders from NYPD officials to search and arrest black people in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Schoolcraft, who brought accusations of misconduct to NYPD investigators, was transferred to a desk job and then involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. In 2010, Schoolcraft sent his tapes to the Village Voice, which publicized them in a series of reports. Schoolcraft alleges that the NYPD has retaliated against him for exposing information about the stop and frisk policy.[21][22] The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and The Bronx Defenders filed a federal class action against this program.[17]

In response to allegations that the program unfairly targets African-American and Hispanic-American individuals, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stated that it is because African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are more likely to be violent criminals and victims of violent crime.[20]

On June 17, 2012, several thousand people marched silently down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue from lower Harlem to Bloomberg's Upper East Side townhouse in protest of the stop-question-and-frisk policy.[23] The mayor refused to end the program, contending that the program reduces crime and saves lives.[24]

In early July 2012, stop-question-and-frisk protesters who videotaped police stops in New York City were targeted by police for their activism. A "wanted"-style poster hung in a police precinct headquarters, without any allegation of criminal activity, accused one couple of being "professional agitators" whose "purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too [sic] deter officers from conducting their responsibilities."[25] Police officers later surveilled and recorded the exit of persons from a "stop stop-and-frisk" meeting held at the couple's residence, allegedly in response to an emergency call of loitering and trespass.[26]

In October 2012, The Nation published an obscenity-filled audio recording that revealed two NYPD officers conducting a hostile and racially charged stop-and-frisk of an innocent teenager from Harlem. Following its upload, the recording soon turned viral, as it triggered outrage and "shed unprecedented light" on the practice of stop-and-frisk.[27]

Court casesEdit

On August 12, 2013, US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the stop and frisk practice (not the law itself) was unconstitutional and directed the police to adopt a written policy to specify where such stops are authorized.[28][29] Scheindlin appointed Peter L. Zimroth, a former chief lawyer for the City of New York, to oversee the program.[30] Mayor Bloomberg indicated that the city will appeal the ruling.[31] Scheindlin had denied pleas for a stay in her overthrow of the policing policy, saying that "Ordering a stay now would send precisely the wrong signal. It would essentially confirm that the past practices... were justified and based on constitutional police practices. It would also send the message that reducing the number of stops is somehow dangerous to the residents of this city."[32]

On October 31, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit blocked the order requiring changes to the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program and removed Judge Shira Scheindlin from the case.[33][34][35] On November 9, 2013, the city asked a federal appeals court to vacate Scheindlin's orders.[36][37] On November 22, 2013, the federal appellate court rejected the city's motion for a stay of the judge's orders.[38]

On July 30, 2014, Southern District Court Judge Analisa Torres denied the police unions' motions to intervene and granted the proposed modification of the District Court's August 2013 remedial decision.[35][39] A week later, the City of New York filed a motion to withdraw its appeal.[39] On August 13, 2014, the Second Circuit announced the cases will be argued on October 15, 2014.[35][40] On October 31, a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit unanimously ruled against the unions and allowed the city to proceed with its overhaul of the police department.[41]


A record 685,724 stops were made under the program in 2011; however, the number of stops made has been reduced in every year since then. In 2013, 191,558 stops were made.[4] Stop-and-frisk was an issue in the 2013 mayoral election. The race to succeed Bloomberg was won by Democratic Party candidate Bill de Blasio, who had pledged to reform the stop-and-frisk program, called for new leadership at the NYPD, an inspector general, and a strong racial profiling bill.[42] The number of stops continued to decrease over the next two years. In 2015, only 22,929 stops were made.[4]

In August 2014, Newsweek reported while stop-and-frisk numbers are down, they still happen disproportionately in New York City's African-American and Latino neighborhoods.[43]


Opponents of the program have complained that it is racist and failed to reduce robbery, burglary, or other crime, but it reduced the value of real estate.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has argued that the program constitutes harassment of blacks and Latinos because it is disproportionately directed at them.[44]

The NYC Bar Association casts doubt on whether police were applying the "reasonable suspicion" rule when making stops:

  • The sheer volume of stops that result in no determination of wrongdoing raise the question of whether police officers are consistently adhering to the constitutional requirement for reasonable suspicion for stops and frisks.[45]


Paul J. Browne, an NYPD spokesman, defended the practice:

"Stops save lives, especially in communities disproportionately affected by crime, and especially among young men of color who last year represented 90 percent of murder victims and 96 percent of shooting victims in New York City."[46]

Then-mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the aspect of stopping young black and Hispanic men at rates that "do not reflect the city’s overall census numbers:"

That the proportion of stops generally reflects our crime numbers does not mean, as the judge wrongly concluded, that the police are engaged in racial profiling; it means they are stopping people in those communities who fit descriptions of suspects or are engaged in suspicious activity.[47]

Heather MacDonald denied that blacks are being stopped too often and claimed the opposite:

The actual crime rates reveal that blacks are being significantly understopped, compared with their representation in the city’s criminal population.[48]

NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly wrote:

The statistics reinforce what crime numbers have shown for decades: that blacks in this city were disproportionately the victims of violent crime, followed by Hispanics. Their assailants were disproportionally black and Hispanic too.[49]

Studies on the effectsEdit

A 2012 study finds few effects of stop-and-frisk on robbery and burglary rates in New York between 2003 and 2010.[8] According to the Washington Post fact-checker, the claim that stop-and-frisk contributed to a decline in the crime rate is unsubstantiated.[9]

A 2016 study found no evidence that stop-and-frisk was effective. One of the authors of that study, Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University, said:

"You can achieve really very positive crime control, reductions in crime, if you do stops using those probable-cause standards. If you just leave it up to the officers, based on their hunches, then they have almost no effect on crime."[50]

Fagan "found stops based on probable cause standards of criminal behavior were associated with a 5–9 percent decline in NYC crime in census block groups."[51]

Another 2016 study found that stop-and-frisk lowered crime, and that the size of the effect was "significant yet modest". The authors also noted that "the level of SQFs needed to produce meaningful crime reductions are costly in terms of police time and are potentially harmful to police legitimacy."[52] A 2017 study also reported that stop-and-frisk was associated with modest crime reductions, and cautioned against drawing strong causal conclusions.[53]

One study, controlling for relevant factors, finds "that properties exposed to more intense Stop & Frisk activity sold for significantly lower price."[54]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Stop and Frisk Report of November 2013 by the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office
  2. ^ a b c Devereaux, Ryan (February 14, 2012). "Scrutiny mounts as NYPD 'stop-and-frisk' searches hit record high". The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  3. ^ ""Stop and Frisk": Fighting crime or racial profiling?". CBS News. March 23, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Stop-and-Frisk Data". New York Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Racial Disparity in NYPD Stops-and-Frisks". Center for Constitutional Rights. Archived from the original on March 28, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  6. ^ Gelman, Andrew; Fagan, Jeffrey; Kiss, Alex (September 2007). "An Analysis of the New York City Police Department's "Stop-and-Frisk" Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias". Journal of the American Statistical Association. 102 (479): 813–823. doi:10.1198/016214506000001040. 
  7. ^ Finger, Lutz. "Racial Injustice In NYC Revealed By Data". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-02-09. 
  8. ^ a b Rosenfeld, Richard; Fornango, Robert (2014-01-02). "The Impact of Police Stops on Precinct Robbery and Burglary Rates in New York City, 2003-2010". Justice Quarterly. 31 (1): 96–122. ISSN 0741-8825. doi:10.1080/07418825.2012.712152. 
  9. ^ a b Michelle Lee (September 26, 2016). "Fact Check: Trump on crime statistics and stop-and-frisk". Washington Post. Retrieved September 27, 2016. 
  10. ^ David Leonhardt (September 26, 2016). "The Lies Trump Told". NYT. Retrieved September 27, 2016. 
  11. ^ Jim Dwyer (September 27, 2016). "What Donald Trump Got Wrong on Stop-and-Frisk". NYT. Retrieved September 27, 2016. 
  12. ^ Loren G. Stern, "Stop and Frisk: An Historical Answer to a Modern Problem". The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science. Vol. 58, No. 4 (1967): p. 532. JSTOR. Web. 19 April 2014.
  13. ^ Misner, L. Robert. "The New Attempt Laws: Unsuspected Threat to the Fourth Amendment". Stanford Law Review Vol. 33, No. 2 (Jan., 1981), p. 202. JSTOR. Web. 20 April 2014.
  14. ^ "The Real History of Stop-and-frisk ". NY Daily News. Ed. Ernie Naspretto. 3 June 2012. Web. 06 May 2014.
  15. ^ Editors, The (July 2, 2013). "Stop-and-Frisk Works". National Review. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Stop-and-Frisk Data." New York Civil Liberties Union, 2013. 10 Mar 2014.
  17. ^ a b Devereaux, Ryan (February 14, 2012). "Lawsuit alleges NYPD violated civil rights by entering private buildings". The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  18. ^ Eterno, John A. (June 18, 2012). "Policing by the Numbers". New York Times. p. A23. 
  19. ^ "NYPD faces criticism over stop-and-frisk". The Raw Story. May 18, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b Post Store (February 24, 2011). "Eugene Robinson: Good steps on ‘stop-and-frisk,’ drug arrests". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  21. ^ Colleen Long and Tom Hays, "Cop who made tapes accuses NYPD of false arrest: Adrian Schoolcraft made hundreds of hours of secret tapes while on duty", Associated Press,, October 9, 2010.
  22. ^ Graham Rayman, "NYPD Tapes 4: The WhistleBlower, Adrian Schoolcraft: He wanted his bosses to know about NYPD misconduct. So they put him in a mental ward", Village Voice, June 15, 2010
  23. ^ Francescani, Chris (June 17, 2012). "Silent march to protest NYPD's "stop-question-and-frisk" policy". Reuters. Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  24. ^ Taylor, Kate (June 10, 2012). "Stop-and-Frisk Policy ‘Saves Lives,’ Mayor Tells Black Congregation". The New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2012. Later, he said of the frisk policy, 'to borrow a phrase from President Clinton, I believe the practice needs to be mended, not ended' — a reference to a phrase that Mr. Clinton used in a very different context, in a 1995 speech defending affirmative action programs. 
  25. ^ Robbins, Christopher (July 2, 2012). "NYPD Shames Activists By Hanging "Wanted" Poster With Their Photos, Address". Archived from the original on January 23, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  26. ^ Mays, Jeff (July 4, 2012). "'Professional Agitators' on NYPD 'Wanted' Flier Say Cops Are Watching Them". Archived from the original on July 4, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Stopped-and-Frisked: ‘For Being a F**king Mutt’ [VIDEO]". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  28. ^ Vaughan, Bernard (August 12, 2013). "NYPD's 'stop-and-frisk' practice is unconstitutional, judge rules". Reuters. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Judge Rules NYC's 'Stop-And-Frisk' Unconstitutional, City to Appeal – ABC News". February 23, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  30. ^ Gardiner, Sean. "Judge Rules NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Practice Violates Rights -". Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  31. ^ Goldstein, Joseph (August 12, 2013). "Judge Rejects New York's Stop-and-Frisk Policy". The New York Times. 
  32. ^ Damien Gayle (September 19, 2013). "Shootings up more than 10% in New York City after federal judge rules that stop and search is unconstitutional and racist | Mail Online". London: Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  33. ^ "On October 31, 2013, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Shira Scheindlin blocked the order requiring changes to the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program and removed the judge from the case". Fox News. Archived from the original on November 1, 2013. Retrieved October 31, 2013. 
  34. ^ Kalhan, Anil (Nov 5, 2013). "The Appearance of Impropriety and Partiality". Dorf on Law. 
  35. ^ a b c Kalhan, Anil (2014). "Stop and Frisk, Judicial Independence, and the Ironies of Improper Appearances". Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics. 27 (4). SSRN 2499983 . 
  36. ^ "Attorneys for New York City asked a federal appeals court Saturday to vacate a judge's orders that require the police department to change its stop-and-frisk practice that critics argue unfairly targets minorities". ABC News. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  37. ^ Kalhan, Anil (Nov 9, 2013). "Lame Duck Litigation and the City of New York's "Double Game"". Dorf on Law. 
  38. ^ Associated Press in New York (2013-11-22). "Federal appeals court upholds rulings that stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional | World news". Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  39. ^ a b "David Floyd et al v. City of New York" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-06-03. 
  40. ^ "Log in facility". Archived from the original (PDF) on March 28, 2012. Retrieved June 3, 2016.  (subscription required)
  41. ^ Gay, Mara (2014-10-31). "Appeals Court Greenlights New York Stop-and-Frisk Overhaul - WSJ". Retrieved 2016-06-03. 
  42. ^ "Bill de Blasio For New York: Rising Together - Safe Streets, Safe Neighborhoods". Archived from the original on November 12, 2013. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  43. ^ "Did Bill de Blasio Keep his Promise to Reform Stop-and-Frisk?". Retrieved 2016-06-03. 
  44. ^ Borough President Seeks Limits on Stop-and-Frisk
  45. ^ New York City Bar Association report on the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy
  46. ^ Borough President Seeks Limits on Stop-and-Frisk NY Times, September 23, 2011
  47. ^ Michael Bloomberg: ‘Stop and frisk’ keeps New York safe - By Michael R. Bloomberg - August 18, 2013 (on the Washington Post op-ed page)
  48. ^ Distorting the Truth About Crime and Race: The New York Times is at it again - Heather Mac Donald - May 14, 2010
  49. ^ The NYPD vs. minorities? No way - NY Daily News op-ed column May 21, 2012
  50. ^ Donald Trump claims New York’s stop-and-frisk policy reduced crime. The data disagree.
  51. ^ The Effects of Local Police Surges on Crimeand Arrests in New York City February 11, 2016
  52. ^ Weisburd, David; Wooditch, Alese; Weisburd, Sarit; Yang, Sue-Ming (February 2016). "Do Stop, Question, and Frisk Practices Deter Crime?". Criminology & Public Policy. 15 (1): 31–56. doi:10.1111/1745-9133.12172. 
  53. ^ Rosenfeld, Richard; Fornango, Robert (9 January 2017). "The Relationship Between Crime and Stop, Question, and Frisk Rates in New York City Neighborhoods". Justice Quarterly: 1–21. doi:10.1080/07418825.2016.1275748. 
  54. ^ Friedman, Matthew (2015-08-14). "Valuing Proactive Policing: A Hedonic Analysis of Stop & Frisk's Amenity Value". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2695584 . 

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