Walking around New York is becoming a hazardous activity, thanks to the city’s stop-and-frisk program. The policy, which has existed for years but intensified in 2009, is designed to prevent crime by identifying suspicious behavior; skulkers, smirkers, smokers, and other shifty-looking folks attract a friendly greeting and a not-so-friendly pat-down by a representative of the New York Police Department (NYPD). In the first six months of 2009, a record 273,000 New Yorkers were grabbed as part of the program.
In August the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) crunched the city’s official statistics and found that between April and June, there were 140,552 stops. In nine out of 10 cases, the stops resulted in no charges and no citation. Racial minorities are more likely to attract police attention: A disproportionate 84 percent of the springtime stops involved blacks or Hispanics; only 10 percent involved white people.
Once Big Apple residents have been frisked, protocol dictates that the names and home addresses of the innocent and guilty alike go into an NYPD database established in 2004. “Innocent New Yorkers who are the victims of unjustified police stops should not suffer the further harm of having their personal information kept in an NYPD database, which simply makes them targets for future investigations,” NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said in a press release.
While the number of stops has risen sharply in recent months, police have clocked an impressive 2.5 million stops in the last five and a half years, an average of 1,260 a day. In 2009, the NYCLU estimates that New York’s boys in blue are on track for well over 600,000 new entries in their database by the end of the year, half a million of whom won’t have done anything that merited so much as a jaywalking ticket.