A Frisking 'Frenzy' in NYC, But Only Times Reporters Seem to Care
Reporters Ray Rivera, Al Baker, and Janet Roberts combined on a front-page Monday story questioning the frequency of "stop-and-frisk" policing by the NYPD in high-crime sections of the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn: "A Few Blocks, 4 Years, 52,000 Police Stops." The text box: "Frisk Tactic Draws Questions Where It Is Used Most."
It's a quasi-followup to an overheated May 13 front-page Times story which focused more on the racial aspect of frisking: "City Minorities More Likely To Be Frisked - Increase in Police Stops Fuels Intense Debate." The shoe leather analysis of that story was performed by the hard-left Center for Constitutional Rights, which the Times identified only as "a nonprofit civil and human rights organization."
Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald appeared in the June 26 edition to challenge the premise of the Times initial story: "For several years, the ratio of stops in New York that resulted in an arrest or summons - about 12 percent of the total - was identical for whites, blacks and Hispanics, suggesting that the police use the same measure of reasonable suspicion in stopping members of different racial and ethnic groups."
Monday's story also relied on research from the unlabeled leftists at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Yet the paper's reporters seem more worried about the frisking "frenzy" than do the residents of the crime-ridden neighborhoods that were the alleged victims of excessive stops and searches.
When night falls, police officers blanket some eight odd blocks of Brownsville, Brooklyn...The officers stop people they think might be carrying guns; they stop and question people who merely enter the public housing project buildings without a key; they ask for identification from, and run warrant checks on, young people halted for riding bicycles on the sidewalk.
One night, 20 officers surrounded a man outside the Brownsville Houses after he would not let an officer smell the contents of his orange juice container.
Between January 2006 and March 2010, the police made nearly 52,000 stops on these blocks and in these buildings, according to a New York Times analysis of data provided by the Police Department and two organizations, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union. In each of those encounters, officers logged the names of those stopped - whether they were arrested or not - into a police database that the police say is valuable in helping solve future crimes.
These encounters amounted to nearly one stop a year for every one of the 14,000 residents of these blocks. In some instances, people were stopped because the police said they fit the description of a suspect. But the data show that fewer than 9 percent of stops were made based on "fit description." Far more - nearly 26,000 times - the police listed either "furtive movement," a catch-all category that critics say can mean anything, or "other" as the only reason for the stop. Many of the stops, the data show, were driven by the police's ability to enforce seemingly minor violations of rules governing who can come and go in the city's public housing.
There are, to be sure, plenty of reasons for the police to be out in force in this section of Brooklyn, and plenty of reasons for residents to want them there. Murders, shootings and drug dealing have historically made this one of the worst crime corridors in the city.
The Times issues one sentence perilously similar to its infamously naive headline from 1997, which saw a paradox where there was none: "Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling." As if the two trends are unrelated.
But now, in an era of lower crime rates, both in this part of Brooklyn and across the city, questions are swirling over what is emerging as a central tool in the crime fight, one intended to give officers the power to engage anyone they reasonably suspect has committed a crime or is about to.
Couldn't one explanation for the "era of lower crime rates" be more assertive police work like stop-and-frisk?
Certainly, some say that the New York Police Department has so far failed to convincingly link the explosion in the numbers of stops with crime suppression.
And some, from academics to the residents of these streets in Brooklyn, believe the stops could have a corrosive effect, alienating young and old alike in a community that has long had a tenuous relationship with the police.
To many residents here, care is exactly what is not being used. To them, the flood of young officers who roam the community each day are not equipped to make the subtle judgments required to tell one young man in low-hanging jeans concealing a weapon from another young man wearing similar clothes on his way to school.
The data show the initiative is conducted aggressively, sometimes in what can seem like a frenzy. During one month - January 2007 - the police executed an average of 61 stops a day.
The high number of stops in this part of Brooklyn can be explained in part by the fact that police can use violations of city Housing Authority rules to justify stops. For instance, the Housing Authority, which oversees public housing developments, forbids people from being in their buildings unless they live there or are visiting someone.
Many residents say they philosophically embrace the police presence. They say they know too well how the violence around them - the drugs and gangs - can swallow up young people.
Yet the day-to-day interactions with officers can seem so arbitrary that many residents say they often come away from encounters with officers feeling violated, degraded and resentful.
Near the very end the Times allowed this detail, which put an additional damper on the significance of its prominent front-page journalism:
The Times, for this article, interviewed 12 current or former officers who had worked in this part of Brooklyn in the last five years, and all defended the necessity of the stop-and-frisks.
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