Frisk Management

How the NYPD's blackly grim stop-and-frisk numbers got whitewashed

Each study of the data would of course be different, but there were peculiarities about how RAND conducted its study. Unlike the reviews that RAND conducted of other police departments, most notably in Cincinnati and Oakland, its analysis of the NYPD sought no comment from community organizations, politicians, those who believe they were unjustly stopped, civil-rights groups, or the police union.

Had Ridgeway spoken with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, for instance, the union officials would have told him that officers are required to reach quotas of stop-and-frisks, which could very well explain the huge number of stops. Each such stop gets entered on a form known as the "UF250."

"It's our view that the UF250s are an important tool, but once they're subjected to a quota they not only become illegal, they become dangerous," says PBA spokesman Al O'Leary.

The funeral for Kheil Coppin
photo: Jake Price
The funeral for Kheil Coppin

In the past, Kelly has denied that the NYPD has quotas of any kind but says that it does have productivity goals. He has said that the difference between goals and quotas, which are illegal in police work, is that officers aren't punished for not meeting the goals. O'Leary contends that there are quotas and that punitive action is common for not meeting them. "It happens all the time," he says. "We end up defending our people on it all the time. It's a real problem."

Even Ridgeway's study, which goes soft on the department, notes the pressure on officers to do more stops of people. The stop-and-frisk reports are tracked and evaluated at the NYPD's weekly CompStat meetings, at which commanders are grilled about their precinct's crime statistics. "NYPD's CompStat focus," Ridgeway's report says, "gives officers a strong incentive to generate UF250s. An officer's UF250 numbers suggest productivity. A precinct captain can use UF250 numbers to show that the precinct's officers are active in the areas that are generating complaints and where crimes occur."

Despite that acknowledgment, the RAND analyst says he spoke with only one officer about the issue. He says he was told that although supervisors push officers to file UF250s to ensure that cops aren't loafing, there are no hard quotas.

In addition to analyzing the data, Ridgeway interviewed seven training officers and a handful of recruits to see if they understood the stop-and-frisk policy, and then was escorted by police for an eight-hour tour watching cops write up UF250s.

Ridgeway spent the rest of his time crunching the stats. Critics see the lack of comment and evidence besides the stats as a fatal weakness of the RAND report. "From the beginning," says Dunn, "the police department excluded the community from any participation in the project. As a result, this report raises many more questions than it answers and will do nothing to help sooth police-community relations. I think the police department really missed a big opportunity here."

And that apparently was the NYPD's intention. Ridgeway praises the collaborative process in Cincinnati and Oakland, saying, "I think it was very effective." But he adds: "That's just not the approach the NYPD wanted to take with this report."

The RAND analyst, who is based in California, seems taken aback by the stinging criticism of the report but equally surprised by the predominantly positive spin the media gave it when it was released in mid-November. "The NYPD should not take these numbers to indicate that there are no problems," he says.

For instance, RAND flagged 15 officers who they found to be "seriously over-stopping minorities." Those cops should be immediately reviewed and then monitored, he says. The racial disparities in the stops made by Staten Island cops "stood out in just about every outcome": frisks, searches, arrests, and force used. The police department has to address that problem, Ridgeway says.

And he insists that even though his study found that the racial differences in those numbers weren't as glaring as the raw data suggest, "there still are differences. But they're on the order of five percentage points, as opposed to twice as much."

Ultimately, Ridgeway declares that his report "does not absolve the NYPD of the need to monitor the issue, but it also implies that a large-scale restructuring of NYPD [stop-and-frisk] policies and procedures is unwarranted."

THAT CONCLUSION OF RIDGEWAY'S COULD BE SEEN AS unwarranted if you look at the stats in the report. Not all of the startling stop-and-frisk numbers are explained away.

Even using "the most liberal assumptions" about the national average when it comes to the rate of the public's contact with police officers, the study notes, New York should have had "roughly 250,000 to 330,000 stops rather than the 500,000 stops actually recorded." The report states: "The number of stops appears to be quite large."

Here are some other highlights of the report:

  • Of the 506,491 stops in 2006 that Rand analyzed, only 49,328—or 9.7 percent—resulted in arrests or summonses.

  • Whites were stopped on suspicion of possessing a weapon at a rate lower than the number of whites subsequently arrested. Blacks were stopped on suspicion of possessing a weapon at a rate greater than their weapon-possession arrest rate, suggesting that cops more readily—and more often unjustifiably—stopped black people on suspicion of having weapons.
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