CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Fradella on Racial/Ethnic and Sex Differences in NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Practices

Henry FradellaWeston Morrow and Michael White (Arizona State University - School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Nevada, Reno and Arizona State University (ASU)) have posted An Empirical Analysis of the Racial/Ethnic and Sex Differences in Nypd Stop-and-Frisk Practices (Nevada Law Journal, 2021) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Though stop-and-frisk has a long, established legal history, recent experiences in many jurisdictions demonstrate a strong disconnect between principle and practice. In many U.S. jurisdictions, most notably in New York City, stop-and-frisk morphed from a constitutionally-sanctioned policing tactic based on particularized suspicion into a mass surveillance crime control strategy that evidenced the persistent undercurrent in racial injustice in U.S. policing. Federal litigation and ensuing political and corresponding policy changes collectively led to major changes in the way the New York City Police Department (NYPD) utilized “stop, question, and frisk” (SQF) practices.

The current study uses SQF data from 2019 (N =12,573) and data from the U.S. Census Bureau to explore the dynamics of SQF encounters after police make stops, paying particular attention to the racial/ethnic and gender disparities evident in those who are frisked or searched, as well as those against whom police use force.
Results indicate that in 2019, 91% of the individuals NYPD stopped were either Black or Hispanic. Police seized weapons in 9.9% of encounters that started with stops and made arrests in 32.1% of stops, representing a marked improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of reported SQFs. Yet, racial/ethnic and gender disparities persist. Of the 7,213 frisks conducted, 93.3% involved Black or Hispanic citizens; of the 4,655 searches conducted, 90.8% involved Black or Hispanic citizens; and males are not only the disproportionate targets of stops (91%), but also the disproportionate targets of frisks (95.3%) and searches (92.6%).

When controlling for other relevant encounter and precinct-level variables, citizen race/ethnicity is not a significant predictor of getting frisked or getting searched, but sex and age are. No precinct-level variables (including measures of concentrated disadvantage and crime) predict frisk or search decisions either. Rather, a series of encounter-level variables, most notably weapon carrying and suspected engagement in violent crime and drug transactions, predict these outcomes. Results show substantial improvement in stop-and-frisk practices, including reduced prevalence and geographic concentration, as well as improved “hit rates” for weapon seizures and arrests. But the NYPD still has work to do to address racial and ethnic disparities that persist with regard to the people who get stopped in the first place.

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