“Stop and Frisk” is a program put into effect by the New York Police Department that basically grants an officer authority to stop and search a “suspicious character” if they deem him/her to be as such. They don’t need a warrant, or see you commit a crime. 5They simply need to deem you “suspicious” to violate your 4th amendment rights without repercussions. Since its inception, New York City’s stop and frisk program has drawn much controversy stemming from the disproportionate rate of arrest.
While the argument that the program violates an individual’s 4th amendment right of protection from unreasonable search and seizure could absolutely be made, that argument pales in comparison to the argument of discrimination. A disproportionate number of African Americans and Hispanics are unreasonably stopped and searched simply for looking suspicious. The original intention of this program was to reduce the level of crime (which it has) and to crack down on illegal weapons. It has now become an excuse for police to play with their authority and target innocent people. In 2002, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 97,296 times. 80,176, or 82 percent, were innocent.
That means that out of 10 people stopped, about 8 were not just innocent, but were being unreasonably harassed by a figure of authority that could probably be assisting in a more exigent situation. In 2010, those numbers skyrocketed to 601,285 people stopped. Of those stopped, 518,849, or 88%, were found to be innocent. The shocking thing about this is the demographics of those stopped. 315,083, or 54%, were black, 189,326, or 33%, were Hispanic, while only 54,810 or 9%, were white.
Despite the fact that there are 3,646,109 white people living in New York City in 2010 (44. 6% of the NYC population for 2010), only 9% of people stopped and potentially harassed by police were white. This is in stark contrast to the treatment of minorities. While the argument that crime has gone down as a result of this policy could be made, the side effect is detrimental to one of the core values of the constitution and as a civil human being. Ethnicity does not predispose someone to commit a crime. The graph shown below sums up my argument best:
There are also serious societal ramifications to this policy. Being a victim of this unfair program, I can give a good example of this. One night when I got off the train from school, I went to my friend’s house, who lives near me. Before entering his house, I had a small amount of marijuana on me. When I left his apartment, he gave me a trash bag to throw out. Once I left the basement to throw out the trash, a police van pulled up and searched me. When I asked what the problem was, he said I was trespassing.
Because I did not know the law, I could not properly defend myself at that moment and say that I was an invited guest, which alone would have stopped the search on the spot, and that I had committed no illegal activity. They ended up finding the marijuana that I had even before I arrived at my friend’s house and arrested me on the spot. 2“The lawmakers argue that young men found with small amounts of marijuana are being needlessly funneled into the criminal justice system and have difficulty finding jobs as a result. Before this, I had never been arrested, ticketed, or pulled over. I was arrested and given a court date. At the time I showed up to court, I was working and studying full time. At the court, I felt like I was a part of a disenfranchised class of people, where court and jail was a regular thing. This was completely unfamiliar to me and quite honestly scary. Imagine this happening to nearly 90% of people stopped and searched. I was victimized, not because I was a criminal, but because I was walking while Hispanic.
Now imagine this happening to 605,328 innocent new Yorkers who probably would otherwise not commit a serious crime in their lives. The cops that searched those innocent people could have just as easily been stopping a robbery or assault from happening. The origin of stop and frisk lies in a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Terry v. Ohio 1968. 3When a group of three men were suspiciously walking back and forth looking into a store, a plainclothes officer suspected that they were planning to commit a robbery.
When he confronted them, he was unsatisfied with the answers they were giving him, so he searched them and found an illegal firearm. A key issue in this case was probable cause. By definition, probable cause is a collection of facts or single fact that would lead a competent police officer to believe that a crime was committed. While the officer suspected a crime was about to be committed, no crime had yet been committed and therefore there was no probable cause. While the cop had reason to suspect an illegal activity was about to occur, he did not have probable cause to conduct the search.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defendant on the grounds that a stop and frisk is less intrusive than a full blown search. They also ruled that requiring probable cause would place the officer and other bystanders in danger. According to the court, the only justification of a stop and frisk is to find illegal firearms, knives, or other weapons that can be used to put the officer in danger. Nothing was stated to the court about drugs. This case has been twisted in a way that almost makes police officers like “Big Brother. ” As time went on, the focus shifted slowly from guns to drugs.
Granted, they still thousands of arrests a year for illegal firearms, but the case has been misconstrued to allow police to search anybody they suspect is up to any illegal activity, and If they so happen to stumble upon a person with a small amount of marijuana, then they were just handed a surprise gift for an arrest. Another astound fact is the disagreement about the policy between Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. While Cuomo wants to limit the power of the stop and frisk policy, even going as far as wanting to lower the number of arrests for small amounts of marijuana,
Bloomberg supports the program in its entirety, arguing that it has led to a decrease in crime. Ray Kelly went on the record and issued a memorandum to his constituents, stating that possession of 25 grams or less should not lead to an arrest unless it is “burning or in public view. ” The problem is that the moment a police officer instructs someone to empty their pockets, the moment they pull any drug out, it is automatically in public view and they can be arrested. The increase in rate of arrest for small amounts of marijuana has been astounding.
Under Mayor Bloomberg, himself a former smoker, over 350,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests have been made. That is more than the three previous mayors combined. Last year alone, about 50,000 people were arrested misdemeanor marijuana possession. When taking into account the $1500-$2000 cost of arresting and prosecuting an individual for marijuana, it cost the city between $75,000,000 and $100,000,000 to pursue misdemeanor marijuana cases. The stop and frisk program being run in New York City is not the problem. The problem is the figures of authority that are chosen to enforce the program.
I believe that the stop and frisk program can reduce crime, but at huge costs. Those costs include relations between the community and police, the collateral damage on a law abiding citizen’s life, and the real criminals left on the streets when innocent people are harassed in lieu of said criminals. Ideally, I wouldn’t be arguing against this policy. I would argue that the drug dealers that were threatening my neighbors’ wellbeing. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world.
1. NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union) Stop-And-Frisk Campaign: About The Issue http://www. nyclu. org/issues/racial-justice/stop-and-frisk-practices . New York Times Cuomo Seeks Cut in Frisk Arrests http://www. nytimes. com/2012/06/04/nyregion/cuomo-seeks-cut-in-stop-and-frisk-arrests. html? _r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss 3. Legal Dictionary Stop and Frisk http://legal-dictionary. thefreedictionary. com/Stop+and+Frisk 4. Huffington Post NYPD Stop And Frisks: 15 Shocking Facts About A Controversial Program http://www. huffingtonpost. com/2012/05/13/nypd-stop-and-frisks-15-shocking-facts_n_1513362. html 5. Findlaw for legal professionals Valid Searches and Seizures Without Warrants http://caselaw. lp. findlaw. com/data/constitution/amendment04/03. html