Civil Liberties

It Turns Out Women Don't Like Being Randomly Groped by Cops


A front-page story in today's New York Times highlights the special humiliation inflicted on women who are detained and patted down by police under the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program. Male officers grope them, concentrating on "the waistband, armpit, collar and groin areas," and go through their purses, pulling out personal items such as tampons, birth control pills, and lacy underwear. "Yes, it's intrusive," Inspector Kim Y. Royster tells the Times, "but wherever a weapon can be concealed is where the officer is going to search." Yet these searches almost never yield weapons.

The stops supposedly are justified by a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity, and the searches ostensibly are aiimed at protecting officers from hidden weapons they "reasonably" suspect may be present. Yet 46,784 stops of women last year yielded 3,993 arrests, suggesting that officers were wrong in suspecting criminal activity more than nine times out of 10. The hit rate for weapons was a lot worse: The Times reports that guns were found in 59 out of about 16,000 searches, or 0.37 percent of the time. (The numbers for men are similar.) How's that for reasonable?

A 22-year-old woman, Crystal Pope, tells the Times she and two female friends were frisked last year in Harlem Heights by two male officers who said they were on the trail of a rapist:

"They tapped around the waistline of my jeans," Ms. Pope said. "They tapped the back pockets of my jeans, around my buttock. It was kind of disrespectful and degrading. It was uncalled-for. It made no sense. How are you going to stop three females when you are supposedly looking for a male rapist?"

Another woman, 21-year-old Shari Archibald, says she was standing on the stoop of her building in Morris Heights one evening, retrieving her keys from her purse, when two male officers approached her, patted her down, and dug around in her purse:

The encounter was made worse by the number of people out on the street that night. "There were a lot of guys from the neighborhood outside," she said, "and here is this officer squeezing one of my sanitary pads in front of everyone."

One officer, she recalled, lifted up her long tank top and lightly brushed his hand over the elastic waist of her spandex leggings. They instructed her to pinch the shirt fabric between her breasts and yank at her bra.

"They asked me to snap my bra, to pull and shake it a bit, to see if anything fell out," Ms. Archibald said.

"When officers conduct stops upon shaky or baseless legal foundations," the Times notes, "people of both sexes often say they felt violated." And "if a woman believes there is no legal basis for the frisk, [civil rights lawyer Andrea] Ritchie said, then she may feel that she is being groped simply for the officer's sexual gratification." So when Inspector Royster insists the stops are not random, she may be telling the truth. Would a careful analysis find that shapely women are especially likely to be stopped and frisked?

More on stop and frisk here.