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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

“Stop, Question, Frisk"

Police harassment by any other name:

This small army of officers, night after night, spends much of its energy pursuing the controversial Police Department tactic known as “Stop, Question, Frisk,” and it does so at a rate unmatched anywhere else in the city [New York].

The officers stop people they think might be carrying guns; they stop and question people who merely enter the public housing project buildings without a key; they ask for identification from, and run warrant checks on, young people halted for riding bicycles on the sidewalk.

One night, 20 officers surrounded a man outside the Brownsville Houses after he would not let an officer smell the contents of his orange juice container.


The encounters — most urgently meant to get guns off the streets — yield few arrests. Across the city, 6 percent of stops result in arrests. In these roughly eight square blocks of Brownsville, the arrest rate is less than 1 percent. The 13,200 stops the police made in this neighborhood last year resulted in arrests of 109 people. In the more than 50,000 stops since 2006, the police recovered 25 guns.

This isn't even about trading freedom for security, 109 arrests out of 13,200 stops? Brownsville is definitely a high crime area, and the NYPD, of course, argue their tactics have reduced crime in targeted neighbourhoods. The searches are conducted on the filmiest of pretexts:

And so on a single Friday in January 2009, the police stopped 109 people in this area, 55 of them inside the project buildings, almost half for suspicion of trespassing. The show of force resulted in two arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and misdemeanor possession of a weapon.

In other words, pretty much anyone the police find suspicious they can and do search. The residents have mixed feelings. They need the police but also fear them, knowing they can be stopped and searched essentially without cause. The tactic's one clear success is in alienating much of the youth in these neighbourhoods, dominated by large public housing projects. One of the tenets of modern policing - dating back to the time of Sir Robert Peel - is that the police are the community, and the community the police. For policing to be effective it must have the support of those whom they protect. If the police are seen as the enemy, not a surprising sentiment in Brownsville, by members of the community, they will find it difficult to protect the community. 

Oddly, years ago when crime was higher, relations with the police seemed better, several residents said. The officers seemed to show a greater sense of who was law abiding and who was not, they said. Now, many residents say, the newer crop of officers seem to be more interested in small offenses than engaging with residents.

"Stop, question, frisk" looks to be policing by the numbers. Rather than trying to build relationships with locals, they instead rack up stop numbers to "prove" their effectiveness. Since the municipal and public housing law are so extensive and vague, practically anyone can be stopped and searched. A hostile community will make it harder to obtain witnesses and leads when genuine crimes occur. In Brownsville, the NYPD risk becoming seen less as protectors and more as bureaucrats with guns. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 20, 2010 | Permalink


I can understand introducing this as a temporary measure: say, until a certain reduction in crime has been achieved. Then the people will see the goal and have something to look forward to, perhaps even be encouraged to help achieve it. But I will concede that doing this indefinitely is likely to be counter-productive.

As to relations with the police being better: I suppose that depends on how you look at it. In 1970, when crime was near its zenith, the NYPD lost an average of 30 officers per year. Today it's down into the single digits. Whether this is the result of high-capacity service pistols versus six-shot revolvers, body armour, more aggressive tactics, or due to something entirely unrelated (like improved relations or the prodigious drop in overall crime) is difficult to say.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-20 7:26:01 AM

America sends its kids overseas to die , in order to make these countries free, when there not free themselves.

Posted by: don b | 2010-07-20 9:20:46 AM

By your standard, Don, no one is free, so it's superfluous to start naming countries.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-20 9:26:49 AM

I guess then only white people in Toronto are free because the cops there prefer to go after non-whites.

If a non-white appears in a white area, they're arrested.

If a white appears in a non-white area, they're escorted out.

It's Jim Crow and Apartheid rolled into one in Tronna.

And incidentally, Canada sends its kids overseas to fight and die in Afghanistan and, yes, Iraq too (Chretien/Martin lied about that and you fools believed them - for shame). Toronto's only interested in profiting off each war.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-07-20 10:08:53 AM

Shane can always be depended on to defend Leviathan

Posted by: don b | 2010-07-20 11:29:38 AM

Don can always be depended on to defend Chaos. Which has a better track record of producing enduring societies and cultures, Don? Hint: It ain't your way.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-20 11:50:34 AM

People like don b and Ontarians in particular must realize the difference between freedom and privileges. Since they have only ever known the latter, their expertise on the former is suspect, lacking or non-existent. They've never had to struggle for anything. What they call "achievement" is gaining what they expect, not what they need. They also know nothing about being deprived of anything. So, since the Easterners have led idle, worthless lives, their criticisms of others are meaningless. We can ignore them and their pleas from now on. It's only fair since they did the same to others.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-07-20 12:33:27 PM

It appears the Western Standard is at odds with Toronto's standard.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-20 1:51:57 PM

The NYPD follows the "broken window" theory of crime fighting that was pushed by Rudy Giuliani. The theory is that by cracking down on every small crime that you catch guys that are also involved in more serious crimes. Since 1991, the NYPD has reduced crime by over 60%(city's murder rate fell to about 20% of the 1991 level. The city's population has risen to 8.4 million but its number of yearly murders is at its lowest level since 1961 or 1962. Interestingly, New York City's population was more than 1 million less at the time). Have the Toronto or Montreal police achieved anywhere near this level of success? Isn't the real truth that the police have only a tenuous hold on Toronto? Isn't it true that in Winnipeg the government has lost large portions of the city to gangs? Has community sensitive policing helped to stabilize the crime situation in eastern Vancouver? Isn't it interesting that the Canadian media never seems to point out that while Canada has a lower murder rate that it has generally higher rates of both violent and non-violent crimes? In addition, the percentage decrease in crime since the early 1990's has been larger in America than Canada. An interesting question that is never asked on this site is why aren't Canadian police currently as effective in battling crime as the American cops seem to be. Everyone is talking about "stop and frisk" but no one is talking about police effectiveness. We have this image(CBC promoted) that Canada is a safe country but the truth is far different. Our cities are no longer safe. Can you honestly name a city larger than maybe Charlottetown where you would feel safe walking around at night? We talk about police do and don'ts. Yet, this magazine like almost every other one in this country refuses to accept that criminals have declared war on Canadian society or offer solutions to deal with them! I hear lots of talk like legalize pot or prostitution here. However, I never hear any real answer to the following question on this site(If you were in charge of the police what would you do to reduce the crime rate?).This is serious! Countless Canadians are victims of crime yearly. The libertarian movement like every other political group that enters the public arena has to give the voters specifics on how they will fight crime not platitudes(or a few catchy phrases)!

Posted by: Jacque | 2010-07-20 9:45:46 PM

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