Election 2016

Donald Trump Said Stop and Frisk Wasn't Unconstitutional. It Was.

Ending suspicionless searches didn't cause crime to rise in New York City.


2 more of these…
Gage Skidmore/Krassotkin/Wikimedia commons

In a portion of tonight's presidential debate on race relations, Republican nominee Donald Trump extolled the virtues of the controversial police tactic known as Stop and Frisk—as a means of getting guns off the streets.

Moderator Lester Holt noted that the tactic had been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in New York "because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men."

Trump disagreed, describing Judge Shira Schiendlin as a "very against police judge," and argued that current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—unlike his pro-Stop and Frisk predecessor Mike Bloomberg—agreed with the ruling and refused to appeal it. Trump asserted that the case would have lost on appeal, and ending the practice of Stop and Frisk allowed "bad people" to have guns and caused crime to increase.

The NYPD's Assistant Commissioner for Communication & Public Information, J. Peter Donald, responded to Trump's claim on Twitter:

Donald also tweeted "Critics decried that having fewer stops in #NYC would result in higher crime. The very opposite occurred," and noted that New York "is on pace to have one of the safest years on record for crime."

A study released earlier this year by researchers from Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and New York University found that Stop and Frisk was only effective when deployed with reasonable suspicion—for example, when someone appears to be scoping out a potential robbery target. When the tactic was used indiscriminately, or for vague reasons such as "furtive movements," all it did was ruin the day of the person stopped, and divert a police officer's attention from real criminals.

In August 2013, Judge Schiendlin ruled that the hundreds of thousands of Stop and Frisks performed annually by the NYPD violated the 4th Amendment's protections from unreasonable search and seizure because they were based on generalized suspicion. While the practice of stopping and questioning individiuals based on individualized suspicion was ruled consititutional by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, the NYPD's use of the tactic was halted because officers were using just about any reason—including a person looking nervous or having his hands in his pockets—as justification for the stop and frisk.*

Earlier this week, Trump said in a Fox News interview that he would like to use the tactic as a crime prevention measure in high-crime areas around the country.

Watch my 2013 Reason TV doc on Stop and Frisk in New York City below:

(Update: This article has been edited for clarity.)

NEXT: Reason Tweets the First 2016 Presidential Debate

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  1. I agree that it is unconstitutional. But it would be nice if reason would hire someone who is smart enough to explain why that is rather than appealing to the authority of a single district court judge like that is some kind of unquestionably definite answer to the issue. What a sport ecuse for a post

    1. I’m sure you have a reason why it’s OK for Trump to support no fly – no buy (which would END gun rights in this country for practical purposes).

    2. Trusting in experts is the beating heart of libertarianism.

    3. I’m sure Sullum could, but he’s on the other side of the world.

    4. In August 2013, Judge Schiendlin ruled that the hundreds of thousands of Stop and Frisks performed annually by the NYPD violated the 4th Amendment’s protections from unreasonable search and seizure because they were based on generalized suspicion.

      How much more do you need?

    5. Yeah, I don’t think stop and frisk is constitutional, and it is probably not the panacea that some of it’s supporters think it is. Since at the same time it went to effect, there was a nationwide drop in crime similar to what happened in NYC.

      That said, the actual constitutionality of the policy is still in legal limbo, so claiming that it’s the law of the land, similar to Roe v. Wade is a bit disingenuous.

      1. The terry stop is pretty well-settled…

        1. The Terry Stop requires a “reasonable articulable suspicion” not a general hunch. This was decidedly NOT how stop and frisk was carried out. Teams of police were sent to (mostly black) neighborhoods where EVERYBODY walking down the street was stopped and frisked. If you looked at the logs of the reasons people were stopped, almost none of them would hold up in court. Officers were given a multiple choice list of reasons on their worksheets. There is actually a twitter account ( @stopandfrisk ) that documented every stop. Most police officers cited the same checked off reason for their stops, ie. “Making furtive movements” “activity indicative of a drug transaction”, “Acting as a lookout”, “casing a location or victim” and the ever popular “other”. It is hard to believe that the 79 yo woman with a walker was “casing a location or victim, when she was stopped in the Bronx on March 31, 2011 was actually ‘casing a victim or location’ considering that every stop made by that officer that day was for casing a victim or location.

          The result was a “found gun” rate of 0.2%, and hundreds of thousands of people stopped and humiliated every year, causing even more resentment by the community and further eroding cop-community relations. After stop and frisk was ended, the crime rate continued to drop.

    6. Someone should explain to Clinton why it’s unconstitutional. I watched only about a half hour of the debate but I caught the stop & frisk exchange. Clinton actually said that it was found unconstitutional “largely because it was ineffective”. Really? Since when does constitutionality depend on effectiveness?

      Too bad that the moderator wasn’t fact-checking. Otherwise he could have called her out on it.

      1. I was screaming at the TV when she said that.

    7. Article isn’t about the constitutionality, but about the factual debate of whether or not it was ruled unconstitutional.

      These are two separate issues.

      1. Precisely, a judge who gets over ruled consistently shopped the case into her court (ethics violation, why it was removed as Trump said) in order to give her spin on the case. Then de Blasio refused to appeal the case. Hardly a legit test of constitutionality. I do not favor the ruling, the chicanery, Guliano’s defense of the policy etc, and feel it a violation of several articles and amendments as well as improper mis-application of law.

        But Trump was dead right on every point and the vultures of the anti-Trump Left came hard on this one, but were wrong. Reason has proven to be on the anti-Trump boat.

        1. ON the anti-Trump boat? Reason licks the decks clean in the hope that some liberal millennial glitterati will slosh out a bit of cocktail in a slightly less filthy place so they can lap it up and pretend they belong.

  2. So depressed. WTF Trump you are suppossed to be the king of trolls instead you were on the defensive most of the night. I still can’t believe she talked about cyber security and he didn’t have a snarky one liner on the tip of his tongue in response. She pounded him with attack after attack and all he could talk about was how much money he was worth. Jesus she led him by the nose.

    1. Maybe the dumbass will actually practice for the next debate?

      1. I doubt his ego will allow him to.

        A major part of his persona has been about “speaking off the cuff” and you can bet he believes his own hype.

    2. Some interesting post-debate analysis coming out that’s saying Trump’s unexpectedly mild behavior was specifically tailored not to gain votes, but to allow Hillary to continue to alienate herself from two critical demographics…..millenials and the African American community.

      With the electorate so polarized on Trump, he has little chance of gaining new supporters and doesn’t want to say anything to alienate the base, so driving people away from Hillary to Johnson and/or reducing their enthusiasm for going to the polls is a more effective way to win.

      All he had to do was not appear like a loon, do take controversial positions and allow Hillary be Hillary.

  3. Under Terry v Ohio, SCOTUS ruled that police must have an articulable reason to believe a suspect has, is or about to commit a crime to “stop” a suspect, and police must have an articulable reason to believe a suspect has a weapon to “frisk”, for the sole purpose of protecting police, and not for discovering criminal evidence. Should an illegal weapon be discovered during a legal frisk, it is admissible in a criminal trial. NYC police were stopping and frisking with no reason, which why it was illegal.

    1. What is and isn’t a ‘legal stop’ is determined on a case-by-case basis. All of the stop and frisks that occurred in NYC had to have a reasonable basis, otherwise the stop would have been ‘illegal’ and, therefore, any evidence retrieved, would ‘theoretically’ be excluded. The Court has never overturned Terrry v. Ohio and, in fact, they have expanded it. One ruling by a lower court does not overturn Supreme Court precedent going back to the 1960’s.

  4. Ummm…you do realize that it is ‘constitutional’, right? Terry v. Ohio is still good law and the Court has expanded it as recently as a few years ago. One does not have to support the practice in order to acknowledge that it is in fact ‘constitutional’. One ruling by a lower court does not overturn Supreme Court precedent going back to the 1960’s.

    And, in order to engage in a ‘stop and frisk’, an officer must have reasonable suspicion based upon ‘his knowledge acquired from experience’. For example, in Terry v. Ohio, a police officer stopped and frisked two men who kept pacing in front of a store and then congregating at the end of the block. This continued for several minutes before the officer stopped them and then frisked them. The officer said, that based upon his experience their activities seemed suspicious and consistent with ‘casing before a robbery’.

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  6. ‘Donald also tweeted “Critics decried that having fewer stops in #NYC would result in higher crime. The very opposite occurred,” and noted that New York “is on pace to have one of the safest years on record for crime.”‘

    This one of those cases where convention makes things extremely confusing on the first few reads. I knew the Donald was capable of contradicting himself, but it’s not that overtly.

    1. Not all crimes are equivalent. Lots more burglaries which are down, but…

      NYC Officials Tout New Low in Crime, but Homicide, Rape, Robbery Rose

  7. “What the worlds needs now, is love sweet love?”

    I’m not saying frisky kissing, risky kissing or risqu? kissing, but wouldn’t it be great if cops were a bunch nicer?


    Perhaps Sheriff Clarke & Trump can begin this by setting a good example. Awwww.

  8. I do not understand why so many people are focusing on the stop and frisk business. Stop and Frisk is not unconstitutional. New York was not practicing Stop and Frisk, they were practicing Profile, Stop and Frisk which is clearly unconstitutional.

    What we should be bothered by was his agreement with using no fly lists and watch lists to deny rights of citizens.

    I was however relieved when Hillary finally admitted she does not think women should get equal pay for equal work and from the way she phrased it she seems to believe a vagina makes you as valuable an employee even if you do not produce. Funny though it does not explain the pay disparity among her staff….. Those women should be pissed off, they need to demand their vaginas be seen and heard immediately.

    1. The “profiling” is based on the same bogus statistic that BLM cites: correlation implies causation (but it doesn’t).

      BLM: there are more blacks shot then the percent of blacks in the overall population…so Racism!!! Of course, this misses the fact that blacks commit far more crime and far more violent crime.

      Ditto for stop and frisk “racism”.

  9. Ah, yes, Reason jumping on the absurd Holt pseudo fact-checking.

    Trump was right, Holt’s facts are wrong.

    We can argue about stop and frisk, and argue about Trump’s position on this, but the during the debate what Trump said is accurate. Holt was idiotically wrong.

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  11. The ruling was based not on the fourth amendment but the 14th and the same bogus statistics that BLM is lying about. Reality is that blacks commit way more crimes than their percent in the population so of course, they should be “over”-represented in the police shootings and in stop and frisk.

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