Stop and Frisk

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Protest against Stop and Frisk during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor of New York
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Stop and Frisk is a popular policing technique where people are "randomly" selected to be detained and searched for contraband. Over the decades since stop and frisk has been implemented, questions have been raised about how useful it is and who they choose to stop. It is known as stop and search in the UK.[1]


Stop and frisk was originally implemented in New York City in 1964 with a statute that allows a police officer to stop, search, and demand identification from minorities a person purely because they suspect that person has committed, is committing, or will commit a felony. From its inception, a lawyer's organization called the Emergency committee for Public Safety which called it a police state measure and said it was "threatening a reign of unrestrained terror in [New York]". However, after a year of controversy, the New York Court of Appeals maintained it was constitutional.[2]

More recently, Stop and Frisk has reentered American national discourse when Donald Trump mentioned it as a possible response to shootings in Chicago stating "It works, and it was meant for problems like Chicago: Stop and frisk".[3] This is despite a federal decision calling it unconstitutional, the recent decrease in violence in Chicago, and the various issues with the law's effects and implementation as stated below.[3]


Despite being widely used by police, there is very little information to show that it works. From a 13-year study by the ACLU, there was no drop in violent crime rates that correlated well with Stop and Frisk, or with a drop in crime in New York City when Rudy Giuliani made Stop and Frisk more prominent nationwide.[4] Any effects found could be from the well-founded effect of simple police presence instead of the searches specifically.[5]

One thing that stop and frisk does do is make people hate the police.[6] Community relations with the police were degraded, and even the police were speaking against it with the NYPD commissioner saying "[A] large reservoir of good will was under construction when I left the Police Department in 1994. It was called community policing. But it was quickly abandoned for tough-sounding rhetoric and dubious stop-and-frisk tactics that sowed new seeds of community mistrust."[7]

The people who were targeted in New York were disproportionately people of color, more specifically black and Latino men, who together made up 90% of stops and only 11% of the stops being done because they looked similar to the description of a suspect. This even happened in neighborhoods that were mostly white people.[7] An example of how harsh this can be can be found in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where police stopped 52,000 people in 4 years alone, which works out to be about one stop per person, with about half the stops being for "furtive movement" or "other". These stops ended with arrests less than 1% of the time and the confiscation of only 25 guns. The cost to the public for this was high: athletes were sent home with sports equipment so they wouldn't be profiled as gang members, people with no record were stopped dozens of times, and in one incident, 20 officers were used to check the contents of one person's orange juice container. This created a climate where the stops felt arbitrary with the rules suddenly changing to harass people for congregating around certain areas. Some ex-officers also stated that they were expected to stop a certain number of people with a minimum of 10 stops per month, extra stops being able to excuse a lack of expected arrests, and stops were so easy to justify to superiors that one former officer called that process "the well".[8]

In the UK, there is also a lack of evidence that it works, with research showing no effect or at best a very small improvement. In 2008, a government study was conducted in London as part of the BLUNT 2 anti-knife crime initiative; it found "no statistically significant crime-reducing effect from the large increase in weapons searches during the course of Operation BLUNT 2".[9] On the other hand a 2017 study by the England and Wales College of Policing, based on data from 2010 to 2014, found "higher rates of stop and search (under any power) were associated with very slightly lower than expected rates of crime in the following week or month", indicating a very weak short-term effect.[10] It is very difficult to measure longer-term effects, such as people becoming alienated from wider society and hostile to the police.