Stop and Frisk Policing; Did it Make our Community Safer?

Fourth Amendment injury prevention law enforcement Police Reform Rudy Giuliani society and health Stop and Frisk Stop Question and Frisk

For many years the city of New York congratulated Mayors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg for making them safer. Their success was attributed to a policing practice that was later described as racially profiling Black and Hispanics residents. Stop Question and Frisk only required one to look “suspicious” for a police officer to stop and search them. The practice also termed Terry Stops was initiated under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Rudy hinged his political career on the success of stop-and-frisk. The former Mayor of New York brags about this ‘accomplishment’ to this day.

Stop-and-frisk continued into the tenure of Micheal Bloomberg till its practice was judged unconstitutional in 2013. Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that stop-and-frisk tactics violate the U.S Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. The NYCLU lawsuit that led to this ruling revealed that the practice was targeting minorities. In 2003 there were 160,851 frisks; 54% Black, 31% Latino and 12% Whites.  In a city which was more than 40% white this point towards a bias against Blacks.

Searching two young men in a park in Oakland, CA; “fascism with a friendly face (I)” by Emilia Tjernström [Arriving at the horizon] is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In his campaign bid in 2016 Giuliani credited stop-and-frisk with reducing crime by 85% from 1994 – 2013. Rudy touted this claim across the country in this presidential primaries campaign. The benefits of stop-and-frisk have however been challenged by many criminologists and social scientists.

A report, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found a Black frisk rate of 55.5 per 1000. Thus a black resident of New York City in 2010 had a 5.5% chance of being stopped and frisked. The White frisk rate was 9.2 per 1000 residents and for hispanics 30.9 per 1000. In that year the proportional population breakdown by race was 44% Whites, 26% Blacks and 29% Hispanic. These numbers show that the black Frisk rate was twice more than will be expected if these frisks were randomly applied. The only other explanation other than racial bias is that Black people act more suspicious than anyone else, which I doubt.

In 2011 the highest Stop-and-Frisk rates were in the South Bronx, Northern Brooklyn, and
Harlem and East Harlem in Manhattan

Evans’ study did find higher frisk rates in communities with more foreign born as well as blacks. The study data could not fully explain the high rate of stops involving blacks. Other researchers looking at the effectiveness of the practice were unable to link this practice to drops in crime in the City. Several reports suggest that crime rates were already trending downwards before Mayor Giuliani and his successor Bloomberg ratcheted up these stops.

Richard Rosenfield studied available information on Stop and Frisk in New York City from 2003 to 2010. In his report in the Justice Quarterly in 2014 he wrote that he could not find any information to support that this practice did reduce crime. Bernard Harcourt a human rights attorney and a Professor at Columbia Law School evaluated the impact of stop and frisk. His findings did show a nationwide upsurge in crime across the US in the 1980s which he attributed to the Crack Epidemic. There was a subsequent decline in crime rates nationwide from 1989 – 1998 including New York City. This nationwide trend calls to question Giuliani’s claim that he was responsible for improvement in crime from zero tolerance policing in the same period.

As I listened to Mayor Giuliani criticize the Mayor of Minneapolis and the governor of Minnesota yesterday; I asked myself one question.

“Is Giuliani the effective tough on crime mayor he claims to be? The answer to that question is a BIG NO!

Mayor Giuliani did not make New York City safer. He championed a practice in the NYPD that encouraged aggressive policing. The death of Eric Garner could be attributed to such aggressive tactics. Also the tough on crime rhetoric that he glorifies, could account for George Floyd death this week in Minneapolis.

Giuliani has never apologized for Stop Question and Frisk. In this time of riots due to aggressive racially biased policing Rudy Giuliani is not part of the solution. Rudy is surely part of the problem!

Tough measures in handling riots like this can only compound the issue and lead to further loss of lives and property damage.

In these riots what we need is city and state leadership that will take time to address the underlying frustrations of rioters. Our rioting cities do not need more police with riot gear. The initiating problem was caused by a policeman!

By Leonard Sowah a physician in Baltimore, Maryland


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan