New York stop-and-frisk: a deterrent to crime or racially discriminatory?

The New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy has recently become a controversial issue among city residents. Under the policy, New York police can stop, question and search anyone on the street if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity, about to engage in criminal activity or is armed.

The department's policy is based on a 1968 Supreme Court decision that ruled police can stop or question anyone that they suspect might be doing something criminal-even if they don't have probable cause, which is needed for an arrest. The court held that police only need to have a "reasonable suspicion" that a person may have been (or will soon be) involved in criminal activity to stop and question suspects for a limited time. In addition, the court held that the officer may pat down the suspect for weapons if the officer reasonably suspects that the person is armed.

Under the policy, the number of street stops in New York from January through March 2012 increased to 203,500 from 183,326 during the same period in 2011. In addition, nearly 700,000 people were searched in 2011.

Effective or discriminatory?

New York police and Mayor Bloomberg credit the stop and frisk policy with historically low crime rates. There were 515 killings across the city last year, compared with 2,245 in 1990.

However, the policy has come under fire from civil rights groups, some city council members and minority community leaders. Critics say that the policy has a negligible effect on crime. In support of their point, critics cite statistics saying that 90 percent of the searches did not result in an arrest and of the 10 percent that did, only one percent actually turned up a weapon.

In addition, critics say that the policy discriminates based on race. Police records show that the majority of people who are stopped are male, black or Hispanic. In addition, the records show that the majority of searches are conducted in areas with a high population of blacks.

Supporters of the policy respond by saying that 96 percent of shooting victims in New York are minorities, so questioning suspicious persons in minority communities is justified.

Although the policy has been challenged in many forums at the local level, a federal judge may ultimately decide the fate of the policy. A federal court is expected to rule about whether the policy violates the United States Constitution-specifically the Fourth Amendment which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Consult an attorney

Just because you have been arrested following a search does not mean that the arrest was valid or lawful. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your arrest. An attorney can ensure that your rights are protected and defended to the fullest extent of the law.