Stop-and-Frisk does not keep people safe and is rapidly becoming the most discredited policing practice in the United States. Exclusively targeting Black and Brown people, it leads to racially-biased harassment and violent intimidation, and disproportionately targets members of our community who are transgender. Stop-and-Frisk makes people LESS safe.
In theory, “Stop-and-Frisk” (also referred to as a “Terry stop” or “protective pat down”) happens when the police stop an individual, allegedly under suspicion they have committed or are committing a crime, and then conduct a brief, non-invasive search them for weapons only. In reality, “suspicion” applies almost exclusively to Black, Brown, and transgender people, and police regularly conduct illegal searches for things other than weapons without probable cause. Stop-and-Frisk has become code for a mass dragnet of racially-biased harassment aimed at using intimidation as a “crime fighting” tool.
Cities such as New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia have recently been forced to make serious changes to their policies in the face of activism and court opinions declaring elements of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional.
Does Stop-and-Frisk Work?
Stop-and-Frisk does not keep people safe and is rapidly becoming the most discredited policing practice in the United States. Studies of the tactic in a wide variety of cities have revealed clear racial bias and extremely low “effectiveness”: most people stopped hadn’t committed any crimes.
Almost 90% of the 5 million people stopped in New York City since 2002 have been completely innocent. Each of those years, at least 80% of those stops were of Black or Brown people.
A report by the Attorney General of New York examined the years 2009-2012 and found that, of 2.4 million stops, only 0.3% resulted in a jail sentence longer than thirty days. Only 0.1% led to a conviction for a violent crime. Despite the racial disparities in the number of stops, whites who were stopped were 50% more likely to be found with a gun than Blacks.
A study of Chicago’s Stop-and-Frisk program found that people were stopped four times more often than in New York. Black people made up 72% of all stops while representing only 32% of the city's population. A deeper examination of 4 months in 2014 revealed 250,000 stops that did not result in an arrest. Half the reports on stops failed to even list a legal reason for stopping the person.
In Baltimore, police conducted several hundred thousand stops a year from 2010-2015, almost exclusively in lower income Black neighborhoods. But only 3.7% of these stops resulted in any sort of criminal citation or arrest. In Philadelphia in 2009, just 8.4% of stops lead to any sort of criminal consequences. And in Newark, New Jersey, data from 2014 shows that 78% of people stopped were totally innocent.
What Do We Know About Stop-and-Frisk in DC?
Far too little. Despite being required by law to keep comprehensive data on Stop-and-Frisk, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has so far refused to collect and report this data. Of the limited partial data they have released 83% of all Stops-and-Frisks were of Black residents, who make up less than 48% of DC’s total population.
DC residents have years of stories of being stopped, followed, and abused by police who routinely violate their civil rights. And while the MPD has claimed to have ended jump out squads, described as “DC’s scarier version of stop and frisk”—which involve heavily armed teams of undercover officers violently searching and arresting anyone deemed suspicious—these tactics have also continued.
What Are the Alternatives to Stop-and-Frisk?
There is no evidence Stop-and-Frisk is an effective tactic, but more importantly, the very idea of racially exclusive police searches is outrageous. The District can take initial steps away from Stop-and-Frisk by:
Banning the use of Stop-and-Frisk by the Metropolitan Police Department, Metro Transit Police, Housing Police, Library Police, DGS Police, Special Police, and all other law enforcement agencies under the authority of the DC government.
Banning any sort of racial profiling or other discriminatory criteria for making stops.
Fulfilling the statutory requirement to collect and report all the relevant data about stops and searches of all kinds by the Metropolitan Police Department
Using Stop-and-Frisk data and use-of-force reports to terminate officers who have a record of excessive force, harassment, violence, and/or show race-based patterns of behavior.