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Mayor Bloomberg's Stop and Frisk Policy: Heads I win, Tails you Lose

Posted By Steven Brill || 14-May-2012

Recently, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NCLU) analyzed the NYPD’s 2011 computerized data base for information regarding stops, frisks, reasons for stop and recovery of weapons. What the report found was troubling. In 2011, the NYPD stop and questioned people 685,724 times. Out of those stopped, 9 out of 10people were not ticketed or arrested for any crime. On top of this, 55.7% of those stopped were frisked, but of those frisked a weapon was found only 1.9% of the time.

Despite this low percentage of success of New York City’s stop and frisk policy, Mayor Bloomberg attempted to put a somewhat disturbing spin on it. The Mayor said “That’s exactly the point. Stops are a deterrent. They prevent people from carrying guns in the first place. If you think you will be stopped on the street. You are a lot less likely to carry a gun.”

As a criminal defense lawyer in New York who has dealt with several stop and frisk issues, I say: Either Mayor Bloomberg does not have a grasp of the reason for our fundamental right to be free from search and seizure or he is using some disingenuous language to mask some bad police policy results. Either way, he is way off the mark. Stop and search law is fundamentally rooted in our 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which allows us to be free from unwarranted search and seizure without probable cause. This constitutional right has evolved to now permitting law enforcement to stop and frisk, less intrusive than search and seizure, with only reasonable suspicion (not probable cause) on the part of law enforcement. In a nutshell, the 4th Amendment was created to impede the vast and overwhelming power of the government from interfering with the rights of privacy of the citizens. It was created to limit government from intruding on our persons and property

Apparently, Mayor Bloomberg sees stop and frisks as way not to actually recover weapons (or other contraband), but in and of itself deter one from possessing weapons in the first place. With that logic, though, why require any level of suspicion before law enforcement can stop and frisk. If you take Mayor Bloomberg’s logic to its end, the more stop and frisks that are conducted to more it deters crime.

And how can Mayor Bloomberg lose? If the numbers of weapons recovered were good, he would say the policy is working by stopping guns from infiltrating New York City. If the numbers are bad, as they appear to be, you still argue that the policy is working because it is deterring people from carrying weapons in the first place.

But as I see it, the real story is the worst of all worlds: More citizens in New York are being unreasonably and illegally stopped and searched and the people that are searched are innocent. What I draw from these statistics is that New York’s stop and frisk policy is not working. Given this many citizens stopped coupled with the low percentage of weapons found, means that the NYPD is clearly without the proper suspicion before they are stopping and frisking. This is a flaw in the NYPD but more importantly, in our government, who sanction these stops in order to deter, as the Mayor says, when the real focus should instead be on the protection of our constitutional rights.

The Criminal Lawyers at Sullivan & Brill in New York work hard to defend clients who have been stopped illegally.