The Use of Stop-and-Frisk and Crime Rates Continue to Drop


It’s already been quite a strange year for stop-and-frisk.

In the first days of 2013, the NYPD’s Clean Halls program, which allowed officers to search anyone suspicious in tenanted buildings, was ruled unconstitutional in a Manhattan court. Then, a few weeks later, court proceedings began for Floyd v. New York, a case that seeks to end the practice altogether. And we learned how to stop and frisk on our own (if we ever wanted to do that).

While legal threats and criticisms on the practice culminate, a statistic came out yesterday that adds yet another peculiar layer to the agency’s most notorious controversy. Between January 1 and March 31, an estimated 99,788 stop-and-frisks were conducted. (The NYPD has conducted 5 million stop-and-frisks so far.) Compared to this time last year, it is a 51 percent decrease–the first few months of 2012 saw 203,500 stops.

The number marks a strange pattern for the practice: As acrimony toward stop-and-frisk continue to boil, the actual use of the program is declining at a rapid pace.

The reasons for the drop still seem a bit unclear. A result of strained budgets and Bloomberg’s preferred policy has left fewer cops on the streets, even as overall crime rates have dropped. So the equation here is pure consequence: fewer cops, fewer stop-and-frisks. This was the explanation given to the Wall Street Journal by an NYPD spokesperson.

But public opinion has its dominance, and stop-and-frisk’s unbalanced racial targeting has made headlines. If the cops are playing PR, the decrease could be seen as a reaction to citizen backlash more than a staffing drop.

However, another statistic came out yesterday that also throws a wrench in Commissioner Ray Kelly’s theory that stop-and-frisks lower crime by taking guns off the street. In the same January-March time period, crime fell 2.7 percent, with murder decreasing by about 30 percent from last year. This time around, the NYPD’s proclamation of “more stop-and-frisks, less crime” has been proven invalid.

The outcome of Floyd v. New York remains to be seen. Regardless of that case’s outcome, the streets of New York City have been a bit safer so far this year and that, of course, is the real good news.