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Police Stops Still Overwhelmingly Target Black And Latino New Yorkers

The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, walks with demonstrators during a silent march to end New York's "stop-and-frisk" program in 2012.
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The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, walks with demonstrators during a silent march to end New York's "stop-and-frisk" program in 2012. Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock

In the first four years after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the number of New Yorkers stopped and frisked by police continued the dramatic decline that began the year before, when a federal judge found the practice to be racially discriminatory and ordered police reforms.

But an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union, examining police data from 2014 to 2017, shows that even as the number of stops has dropped, extreme racial disparities continued and, in some cases, worsened.

Of those people stopped citywide over the four-year period, 81 percent were black or Latino. Racial disproportionality existed in both high-crime and low-crime precincts; it occurred in neighborhoods with a majority of black and Latino residents and also, in some cases, neighborhoods that were mostly white. The numbers showed that a large majority of the time police stopped people who were not engaging in unlawful activity, given that officers neither made an arrest nor issued a summons following the stop.

The significant drop in the number of stops is progress to be recognized and celebrated, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. But she found the racial data troubling.

“The fact remains that since 2011 we have not made any progress on addressing racial disparities,” said Lieberman. “They persist, and that is shocking.”

Here are other notable findings from the data analysis:

  • Over four years starting in 2014, police reported 92,383 stops. The combined four-year total marks a more than 86 percent decrease from stops reported in 2011 alone.
  • Sixty-six percent of reported stops led to frisks, an act by police officers that requires additional justification, such as the officer having reason to believe the person has a weapon. But in 93 percent of these frisk incidents, no weapon was recovered.
  • Seventy-nine percent of people stopped were neither arrested nor issued a summons. Of this group, 64 percent were frisked and 24 percent had force used against them, such as being handcuffed, as recorded on the officer’s stop report.
  • Young black and Latino males, ranging in age from 14 to 24, make up 5 percent of the city’s population but accounted for 38 percent of stops. These young men and boys were neither arrested nor issued a summons 80 percent of the time.
  • The 17th precinct, which covers the East Side of Manhattan, has the lowest percentage of black and Latino residents in the city. But 74 percent of people stopped over the four-year period were black and Latino.
  • The 44th precinct in the Bronx, which includes the area near Yankee Stadium, had the highest frisk rate—with 86 percent of stops also including frisks.

The numbers analyzed by the NYCLU, which were provided by the police department, may not even accurately reflect all stops. An independent monitor of the police department, Peter Zimroth, issued a report earlier this year outlining a “persistent problem of underreporting of stops and the failure of supervisors to deal with that underreporting.”

Phillip Walzak, a deputy commissioner at the NYPD, said the department is enhancing its auditing of stop and frisk reports to ensure accurate reporting. He also said the NYPD has implemented a new training effort—now in progress—to give officers and their supervisors training on the department’s stop and frisk policy.

(You can refer to page 148 of the NYPD patrol guide for the department’s stop and frisk guidance to officers.)

"The NYPD has overwhelmingly reduced the use of stop-question-and-frisk, going from a high of 688,000 in 2011 to just 12,000 reported stops in 2018,” said Walzak. “This decrease reflects the deliberate shift in NYPD strategic focus over the past several years to precise, surgical targeting of crime and criminals. The result is fewer stops, and fewer arrests and summonses—all while continuing to drive crime to record low levels.”

Lieberman acknowledged that improving trust between the police department and communities has been a goal for both Mayor de Blasio and of Police Commissioner James O’Neill. But she said efforts to address racial disparities in policing have not been sufficient. She added that, in addition to improving stop and frisk practices, more aggressive efforts must be made to end racial disproportionality in targeting low-level crime, such as turnstile jumping or smoking marijuana.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the 17th Precinct cover the East Side of Manhattan, and not the Lower East Side.

Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering crime and policing at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter @yasmeenkhan.

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