Police in New York City disproportionately stop black and Latino people even in low-crime areas, leading to a “two-tiered” policing system that divides along racial lines, according to civil rights campaigners.
A new analysis of NYPD figures by the New York Civil Liberties Union challenges the police’s assertion racial disparities in stop-and-frisks reflect the geography of New York’s high-crime areas.
Using the department’s figures, the report revealed that in six out of the 10 precincts with the lowest numbers of black and Latino people in the city, black and Latino citizens represented over 70% of those stopped.
In all, there were more stops of young African American men than the total of population of that group in the city. Nine out of ten of them had committed no crime.
Drawing on the NYPD’s own figures, the NYCLU argues the department’s controversial policy of stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of citizens each year has done little to change the number of guns on the street, presenting a direct challenge to the justification for the practice frequently provided by mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD.
Rather than making the streets safer, the abuse of stop-and-frisk has created a “two-tiered” system in which African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately targeted, the NYCLU claims. The NYPD responded to the report by saying that the stop-and-frisk policy saves lives and has helped to make New York one of the safest cities in America.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, said the report offered “the most comprehensive analysis yet of NYPD stop-and-frisk activity in 2011”.
“This analysis paints the most vivid and damning picture yet of how the police department routinely abuses the stop-and-frisk tactic, and it sends a call to the mayor, to the police commissioner and to the city council and the justice department, and to all the mayoral candidates in New York City,” Lieberman said. “We, as a city, are in the throes of a full on civil rights crisis.”
The NYCLU’s report is drawn from analysis of an NYPD database that stores detailed information on stops, frisks, the use of force and weapons recovery. Accessing the database allowed the organization to review the practice on a precinct to precinct basis. Lieberman said the findings revealed a “tale of two cities”.
“Let me be clear: under this administration we have come to see a two-tiered system of policing in New York. There’s a kinder, gentler policing that we see on the Upper East Side or in Park Slope, and the up-against-the-wall policing that we see in Brownsville and Harlem,” Lieberman said.
“This cannot stand. Real people’s lives are in the balance. Whole generations of boys and girls are growing up afraid of the very people that are supposed to be keeping them safe.”
According to NYCLU’s findings, there were a total of 685,724 stops in 2011, a marked increase from 2002, when 97,296 were reported. The stops were distributed unevenly throughout the city’s precincts, with the highest total – 31,100 – reported in the impoverished, predominantly black neighborhood of East New York and the fewest – 2,023 – reported in the increasingly gentrified neighborhood of Greenpoint.
Black and Latino New Yorkers accounted for more than half of the stops in 70 out of 76 of the city’s precincts, while in 33 precincts they accounted for more than 90%. In five precincts that figure climbed to 98%.
The NYCLU report raised a challenge to the NYPD’s claim that racial disparities in in the figures match areas of high crime New York City. Using the department’s figures, the report revealed that in six out of the 10 precincts with the lowest numbers of blacks and Latinos in the city, black and Latino citizens represented over 70% of those stopped.
“Virtually everyone who’s getting stopped is black and Latino,” the NYCLU’s legal director, Chris Dunn, said at Wednesday’s press conference. “That shows that targeting is happening of blacks and Latinos, even in low-crime, low-minority precincts.”
Dunn added that stop-and-frisks have had pronounced impact on minority youth. While constituting less than five percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 count for nearly 42% of New Yorkers stopped by the police last year.
“When you look at black males between the ages of 14 and 24, the stops of them in 2011 exceeded the total number of black males between the ages of 14 and 24 in the entire city,” Dunn said. “That is a striking indictment of the way the department is targeting young black men.”
A 600% increase in a decade
Stops and frisks are two distinct police actions; the latter is only permitted when an officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that person is carrying a weapon (for example, a bulge is observed in the waistline of their pants). The NYPD’s data reveals that over half of all New Yorkers stopped by the police in 2011 were frisked (53.6%); in one Bronx precinct 80% of those stopped were frisked.
Frisks were more likely to occur if the police had stopped a black or Latino person, despite the fact that white citizens were found carrying weapons more often. Black and Latino citizens were, however, found to have been subjected to physical force by police officers more often than white citizens. Despite the high frequency of frisks, the police managed to uncover a weapon in less than 2% of their encounters.
When questioned about the 600% increase in stop-and-frisks over the course of their decade presiding over the city, Bloomberg and Kelly have insisted that guns have been removed from the streets. But according to NYCLU’s analysis of the department’s data, the substantial increase in stop-and-frisks has not corresponded to the substantial increase in guns seized.
The NYCLU noted that 524,873 more stop-and-frisks were reported in 2011 than 2003, but a mere 176 more guns were seized last year, amounting to an increased recovery rate of 0.0003% (three one hundredths of one percent). In fact, a suspicion of “violent crime” was listed in only 10.5% of last year’s stops. The single most common reason officers stopped a citizen was “furtive movement”, accounting for over half of all 2011 stops.
Dunn invited city officials to scrutinize the report’s findings. “What is powerful about this is this is a report about their data,” Dunn said. “These are facts. This is not rhetoric.”
Paul Browne, the chief spokesman for the NYPD, said in a statement: “Police stops save lives. In the first 10 years of the Bloomberg administration there were 6,430 murders compared to 11,058 in the 10 years prior – a reduction of 51%, or 5,628 lives saved. If history is a guide, the vast majority of those lives saved were young men of color. Last year 96% of all shooting victims in New York were black or Hispanic, as were over 90% of murder victims.”So far this year, New York City has experienced a new record low for murders. New York continues to be the safest big city in America, and one of the safest of any size, with significantly less crime per capita that than even small cities.”