New York “stop and frisk” tactics are under fire

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Terry v. Ohio that police officers could briefly detain ("stop") and pat-down ("frisk") a person when the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot and the person is armed and dangerous. Police departments nationwide use this "stop and frisk" technique, including the New York Police Department (NYPD).

New York officials cite "stop and frisk" for the city's impressive reduction in violent crime in the 1990s. However, many dispute its effectiveness and believe the NYPD has taken the matter too far, using it as a tool of racial discrimination.

The NYPD's use of the stop and frisk tactic has seen a dramatic increase since the 1990s. In 2011, officers stopped and frisked almost 700,000 people--a record number. That included 183,326 during the first quarter, which rose to 203,500 during the same quarter in 2012. Data collected regarding stop and frisk encounters shows an immense and disturbing disparity among ethnic groups. Black and Hispanic men account for 87 percent of stops.

Not surprisingly, opinions on the tactic are divided along racial lines. In an August 2012 New York Times poll, 55 percent of white people respondents said they think the tactic is acceptable. Compare that to 48 percent of Hispanics who said the tactic is acceptable and 44 percent who say it is excessive. Most opposed to stop and frisks were black respondents, 56 percent of which said the tactic is excessive. Only 35 percent of blacks feel it is acceptable.

According to the FBI, New York City (NYC) has the lowest crime rate among large U.S. cities. Most cited is the drastic decline in homicides from 2,245 in 1990 to only 515 in 2011. The NYPD, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other proponents of stop and frisk tactics point to NYC's historically low crime rate to justify its use. Opponents question the correlation and argue that 88 percent of stop and frisks result in neither a ticket nor an arrest.

The issue has become politically charged, making its way into both the NYC mayoral race and the courtroom. In an on-going lawsuit involving stop and frisks, a federal judge found "overwhelming evidence" of thousands of unlawful stops. Moreover, the Bronx District Attorney's Office started interviewing police officers before filing some trespassing cases that involve a stop and frisk because of concerns over the legality of the stops.

With cases being turned down for prosecution and dismissed by judges, maybe the police will take a more careful look at their tactics.

Stop and frisks are a sensitive and hot topic in NYC as it still tries to find the balance between freedom and security 11 years after 9/11. Unfortunately, NYC needs to find that sweet spot quickly before things really come to a head with stop and frisks. Until the police discover a way to fairly and evenhandedly apply the tactic, the controversy will continue.

If you or a loved one has been illegally stopped and frisked, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your situation and your options.