The Wall Street Journal reports that police in New York City stopped and questioned a record 684,330 people without probable cause last year. Judging from the pattern in previous years, about half of the stops included pat-downs, ostensibly for weapons. Ninety-two percent of the people stopped were male, and 87 percent were black or Hispanic. Only 12 percent of the stops resulted in an arrest or summons. Although the NYPD says this strategy has reduced crime, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, notes that "crime rates were going down before the skyrocketing stop-and-frisk campaign."
The NYCLU says these stops have increased more than 600 percent since Michael Bloomberg's first year as mayor. Arrests for pot possession, which the New York legislature supposedly decriminalized in 1977, have shot up during the same period—not coincidentally, since many of the arrests stemming from the stop-and-frisk program are for "public display" of marijuana, a charge that transforms what would otherwise be a citable offense into a misdemeanor. As I noted in my column last week, New York cops frequently trick or coerce people into committing that offense by instructing them to take out any contraband they are carrying or by removing it from their pockets during pat-downs—a tactic Police Commissioner Ray Kelly tolerates even though he says it's illegal.
The Journal reports that "critics of stop-and-frisk say the tactic is used disproportionately among minority men." That's an odd way of putting it, since that point is not a matter of dispute. According to the 2010 census, New York City is 23 percent non-Hispanic black, 29 percent Hispanic, and 33 percent white. By contrast, the breakdown for people detained by the police under the stop-and-frisk program in 2011 (88 percent of whom turned out to be innocent) was 53 percent black, 34 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent white. The proportions in prior years were similar. Lieberman comments:
It is not a crime to walk down the street in New York City, yet every day innocent black and brown New Yorkers are turned into suspects for doing just that. It is a stunning abuse of power that undermines trust between police and the community.
[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]