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This paper examines the attitude towards the stop-and-frisk policy in New York. New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the USA and it has had lots of tragic events. Clearly, citizens should be protected but this cannot be done at the expense of their constitutional rights.
It is clear that the policy is quite effective but it is also clear that many people (in the vast majority of cases, these are Black and Hispanic people) find this policy unconstitutional. The data show that the policy is seen differently by people and police officers.
Hence, the policy has to be improved. In the first place, it is necessary to start a debate on the policy in the society. People should learn more about it and all views should be considered. It is also necessary to develop particular criteria that will help police officers stop potential offender only.
Recent events in the US society have shown that people are losing trust in many law enforcement policies, as they are often associated with police brutality. Stop and frisk policy is one of most disputable ones as police officers often stop and frisk innocent people (especially those pertaining to minorities).
Gelman, Fagan and Kiss (2007) note that the policy has been rather effective but in the course of time police officers have become more racially biased, which led to certain violations and doubts that stop and frisk policy is unconstitutional.
Researchers as well as the rest of the US society agree that if there is a reasonable doubt that a person can cause harm to people around or police officers, stop and frisk is justified (Ritchie & Mogul, 2007). However, the wording of the policy is quite vague and it is bound to lead to violations. It may be difficult to evaluate potential hazards and police officers choose to stop and frisk a person they find suspicious rather than trying to evaluate possible risks.
Harcourt (2004a) stresses that the policy is unconstitutional as it harasses citizens. It has been estimated that the rate of innocent people stopped and frisked at exit points of the US borders was 98% in 2004 (Fyfe, 2004). It has also been acknowledged that young Black and Hispanic people are major targets of police officers (Gelman et al., 2007). Carbado (2005) points out that Black people are most vulnerable to stopping by police officers and in the majority of cases police officers stop innocent people.
This fact can be partially justified by a large number of offenders that pertain to that cohort. However, the policy still cannot be justified by such statistics. Tyler (2011) notes that the policy was effective when it was first implemented but its effectiveness has deteriorated. It is believed that the policy is outdated and poses inconvenience rather than prevent crime or inappropriate behavior.
Obviously, such practice violates people’s constitutional rights and leads to growing tension between law enforcement agencies and public. Some claim that it can be the best option to ban the practice. Nonetheless, it has been estimated that implementation of the policy has led to significant reduction of the crime rate in New York city as offenders are afraid of having weapons since they know that they can be checked in the street (Weisburd, Telep & Lawton, 2014).
Therefore, it is clear that there can be no simple solution when it comes to stop and frisk policy. However, the solution should be found, as New York City is one of the most diverse cities that have had a history of numerous tragic events. The present research will focus on examining of the way police officers see the policy and the way the public (both offenders and innocent people who were stopped and frisked) reacts. Some recommendations on improving the policy will be provided.
The hypothesis of the present research can be formulated as follows: the stop-and-frisk policy (in the form it exists) is seen as unconstitutional by the majority of people since it violates people’s constitutional rights but it can be improved through implementation of police officers training and development of particular techniques to evaluate risks.
This research is based on a mixed research method. A survey was implemented to collect data from different sources: police records, statistic data, questionnaires, interviews. Since the present research aims at examining the way the policy is seen by people, it is important to identify the number of people viewing the policy positively and negatively.
Hence, quantitative research method was utilized to identify the rate of people who regard the policy as negative or positive. The rate of police officers who use evaluation methods is also necessary so that it could be possible to understand to what extent the policy has to be modified.
To collect quantitative data, police records and statistic data were analyzed. Special attention was paid to such variables as age and race. People also completed brief questionnaires. When analyzing the questionnaires, the researcher paid special attention to age and race of both stopped people and police officers.
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It was important to understand whether age and race of police officers affected the way they evaluated hazards and viewed the policy. It was also necessary to identify attitudes of people of different ages and races towards the policy. The questionnaires for people in parks included questions whether they were stopped and frisked or they saw someone stopped and frisked.
The questionnaires for police officers included questions whether they stopped and frisked people or saw their partners or police officers did that. Both categories of participants were asked to write seven words that described the policy or their experience (seven words with positive and seven words with negative connotations were provided as a hint and they could be used if necessary).
Police officers were also asked questions concerning trainings and evaluation techniques used when deciding whether to stop a person. There were open and close questions that provided data for both quantitative and qualitative research.
As far as qualitative data are concerned, data from the questionnaires were analyzed with the help of grounded theory. Apart from that, police officers completed brief questionnaires and a number of interviews were held. It was essential to analyze the questionnaires to choose interviewees.
The researcher chose people who had different views on the matter. During the interviews, people were asked about the policy in a greater detail. Two groups of participants took part in the research. The first group included police officers involved in street patrolling. 750 police officers (both male and female) aged between 20 and 50 working at different precincts of New York took part in the research.
750 people aged between 20 and 30 in the city parks and other recreational areas completed surveys. It could be easier to address students of colleges (to reach the necessary age group) and send the questionnaires online. However, in that case, the vast majority of that group of participants had a lot in common (quite similar socioeconomic status, attitude towards academics, and certain knowledge in particular spheres).
Hence, the data would be quite irrelevant, as streets of New York are not filled with students exclusively. People of different backgrounds may be stopped and it is essential to understand the attitude of people of truly diverse backgrounds. The researcher tried to address proportionately young people of both sexes and different ethnic backgrounds (mainly Blacks, whites, Hispanic and Asian).
After analysis of questionnaires, interviews with twenty police officers and twenty people (who completed questionnaires in parks) were held. Interviewees were chosen randomly based on their attitude. Thus, the questionnaires could be divided into two major groups: negative and positive attitudes.
At the same time, the researcher tried to choose people coming from different backgrounds to interview. Interestingly, there were Black and Hispanic people who had a positive view on the policy. Clearly, their views were especially valuable as they supported the idea that personal experiences affect people’s attitudes towards the policy. It is necessary to note that all participants signed a written consent. All the necessary permissions to view police records were also provided.
The data obtained show that there is certain correlation between age and people’s attitude towards the policy. Notably, this correlation is almost absent when it comes to police officers. However, there is a trend that suggests that police officers become more positive about the policy when they get older (see Table 1).
There is also a similar correlation between race and attitude of citizens while there is no meaningful correlation between race and attitude of police officers.
Table 1: Correlation between age and attitude
|Age||Positive Attitude, %|
As far as qualitative data are concerned, it is possible to note that young people tend to see it more negatively. In this case, it is possible to note that race had a significant impact on people’s choices. Thus, Black and Hispanic people used more negative words than White and Asian participants (see Figure 1).
It is necessary to stress that the word “constitutional” was used only in 5% of cases among citizens and 30% of cases with police officers. Again, when it comes to police officers more positive key words were used. It is also necessary to add that police officers who have had experience of stop-and-frisk tend to be still positive about the policy but do not use the word “constitutional” when describing it.
Figure 1. Most common key words used by citizens
It is necessary to note that police officers report about quite significant amount of training they get but they state that they “feel” training on stop-and-frisk policy is not sufficient. When talking about evaluation strategies and measurements, 40% of police officers have difficulties.
In questionnaires, police officers provided few details on these strategies. Police officers provided such criteria as behavior (anxious, cautious, nervous), clothing (baggy clothes, big bags, sunglasses) and race. 72% of police officers reported that they paid special attention to Black and Hispanic people, as according to statistics there are more offenders among those two groups of people.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the majority of people see the stop-and-frisk policy as unconstitutional while many still think it is necessary. As seen from the findings, Black and Hispanic people tends to feel more negative about it, as they tend to be stopped by police officers much more often than White or Asian people are.
These data are consistent with the data obtained by Harcourt (2004b) who claims that Black and Hispanic people are common targets for police officers. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of people stopped turned out to be innocent. The data also suggest that police officers (irrespective of race, gender or age) are more positive about the policy as they think that it works.
They are more knowledgeable of the situation in New York and they believe it is better to stops an innocent person from time to time but be able to stop a person that can pose a threat to others. Police officers who report about stopping innocent people feel that they might have violated some of the people’s rights. However, those police officers still believe that the policy is a necessity.
The fact that only insignificant number of people (only 5%) called the policy constitutional suggests that people are not sure about the policy and tend to think it is rather unconstitutional. At the same time, it is clear that many people (including Black and Hispanic participant) think that the policy is needed but it should be improved.
People understand that crime rate in the city is quite high and police officers have to be able to prevent potential offenders from committing a crime or behaving inappropriately. Nonetheless, the vast majority of participants sees the way it is achieved as improper.
As far as evaluation strategies police officers employ are concerned, it is clear that the vast majority of police officers rely on their intuition and experience. They also rely heavily on statistical data and since there are quite many offenders among Black and Hispanic people, police officers try to double-check and stop a person that seems suspicious to them.
This assumption is also shared by Harris (2006) who claims that police officers are quite racially biased. There are some strategies police officers find in their instructions, but these instructions are insufficient as the rate of innocent people stopped is considerable.
Hence, it is possible to provide certain recommendations. In the first place, it is possible to launch a far-reaching debate in the society. It is necessary to make people see benefits of the policy. Clearly, all stakeholders (especially Black and Hispanic people) have to participate, as all voices have to be heard.
When people understand that policy is efficient, certain tension between people and law enforcement agencies will reduce. This discussion will also help identify major flaws of the policy and work on its improvement. It is also essential to develop particular criteria that will help police officers identify potential hazards.
For this purpose, it is necessary to launch a nationwide research. It is possible to study cases of effective use of stop-and-frisk policy to identify these criteria. Clearly, it is essential to launch a wide-scale training program for police officers who will learn how to correctly identify people carrying weapons or posing threat to people around.
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