The Chicken and the Egg Conundrum as It Pertains to Stop-and-Frisk

Thats a big hand.
  • That’s a big hand.

Here’s a good question:

Which came first?

The implementation of stop-and-frisk in certain New York City hotspots? Or the almost complete lack of guns being discovered in those same spots?

In other words, did more stop-and-frisks lead to fewer guns on the streets in the police-inundated areas that have the highest rate of this dubious law enforcement tactic or were there not as many guns in those areas as the police originally speculated?

Who’s to say?

Oh, right. The NYPD should certainly say something. Mayor Bloomberg should chime in too. After all, what does it mean that a policy that has been touted as the answer to taking guns off the street has only resulted in the seizure of 770 guns from a total of 685,000 stops in 2011. This means that only .1% of all stops resulted in the recovery of a gun. I’m no mathematician, but that seems like an absurdly small number. Even more interesting than the miniscule percentage of guns being found from stop-and-frisk though is the fact that the majority of these guns are being discovered from areas outside of the typical stop-and-frisk zone.

WNYC used data from the NYPD to map the areas where most police are stationed to implement the stop-and-frisk policy in 2011. Then they compared that map with information detailing all street stops that resulted in the discovery of a gun last year. What they found was that most guns were found outside of the stop-and-frisk hot spots.

WNYC reports that “In a small area in Flatbush, where blocks each see fewer than a hundred stops, police found 10 guns last year. But go north to a section that saw thousands of stops, and it turns out police found only one gun through a stop-and-frisk.”

To critics of stop-and-frisk, this means that it is not effectively doing what its mission claims. Rather than serving as a way to protect a community, it is doing little more than needlessly harassing thousands upon thousands of citizens.

The NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union) is just one organization filing a lawsuit against the city, but the mayor has targeted the organization for “view[ing] the Fourth Amendment in absolutist terms. The NYCLU has fired back by saying that, “today, more than 1,800 New Yorkers will be stopped and frisked by NYPD officers. Tomorrow, more than 1,800 New Yorkers will be stopped and frisked by NYPD officers. The day after that, more than 1,800 New Yorkers will be stopped and frisked by NYPD officers. Every day this year, more than 1,800 New Yorkers will be stopped and frisked by NYPD officers. This is not about an argument between the mayor and the NYCLU. This is about the humiliation, frustration and disrespect felt by New Yorkers from communities of color every day as they are subject to the mayor’s stop-and-frisk regime.”

Proponents of the NYPD’s current tactics say that all the new data proves is that people who carry guns are leaving the areas with elevated police presence. The police claim that this is deterrence at work. But, if that’s the case, then isn’t the police presence only deterring gun-carriers to go a few blocks away? How exactly is that effective?

And, once and for all, which came first?

The chicken or the egg or the fact that every single day hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers are stopped-and-frisked for no reasonable cause other than that they are walking in the wrong neighborhood?