2007-02-16 / Editorial/Opinion

From The Editor's Desk

Stopping, Frisking Suspects: Racial Profiling Or Aggressive Policing?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Commentary By Howard Schwach

The battle lines are drawn as I expected they would be when I first saw the story hit the pages of the daily papers earlier this week.

First came the headlines

NYPD Frisked Blacks At Five Times Rate of Whites, trumpeted the Daily News.

Police Report Far More Stops And Searches, said a more-restrained New York Times.

Angry Sharpton Says He May Sue City Over Frisks, The New York Post posited.

Numbers Show How Police Work Varies By Precinct, and As Officers Stop and Frisk, Residents Raise Their Guard, The New York Times followed up in its Metro Section the next day.

Then came the editorials

Al's Misdirected Anger, the New York Post editorialized.

Stop And Frisk Stops Crime, The Daily News chimed in.

Finally, as with all big stories, came the press releases and the denials.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) chimed in with its absolute concern about the fact that blacks are stopped and searched much more often than whites and added the fact that it did not want the NYPD keeping records on who it stops and searches because that is a violation of civil liberties in the first place.

So, we have a predictable alliance of New York City "powers."

On one side, you have the New York City Police Department, trying to do a very difficult job in a very politicaly correct time.

Allied with the NYPD on this particular issue seem to be the daily newspapers and the vast majority of New York City residents.

Allied on the other side are the Reverend Al Sharpton, Ex-Panther City Councilman Charles Barron and the NYCLU.

What's it all about?

A few years ago, the NYPD was ordered by the court to keep records on the people their officers stopped and searched.

Those records for 2006 were released to the City Council, who requested them, last week.

Those who are more concerned with political correctness and racial politics looked at the statistics as alarming.

The NYPD conducted more than 500,000 stop and frisks last year, with blacks five times more likely to be searched than whites.

In fact, blacks accounted for 52 percent of the 508,540 individuals stopped and frisked during the year, according to the City Council's Public Safety Committee.

While the number of stop and frisk situations has risen greatly, officials say, from little more than 90,000 in 2002 to the half-million last year, the percentages have changed little over the past three years.

In 2000, the percentage of blacks who were stopped and searched was 50 percent. In 1998, the percentage was 52 percent, the same as this year, hardly the major jump that would cause Sharpton and the NYCLU to get apocalyptic.

Hispanics accounted for 29 percent of the searches and whites 10 percent.

Asians, Native Americans and individuals whose race was not noted made up the rest of those stopped and searched.

Police say that the stops were justified.

In fact, police records show that the half-million stops resulted in 21,269 arrests. Of those arrests, black suspects accounted for 51 percent, Hispanic suspects for 30 percent and white suspects for 12 percent.

Police brass said that the cops stop suspects based on crime victim's descriptions, although the majority of the stops were made because cops spotted them in high crime areas or because they "made furtive movements." Other compelling reasons on the reports filled out by patrol officers were "fits a relevant description," "suspect acting as lookout," and "proximity to the scene of a crime."

At a City Council hearing last month, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "officers are stopping those they reasonably suspect of committing a crime, based on descriptions and circumstances, not on a personal basis."

Paul Browne, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, told the council that 68.5 percent of the crimes committed in New York City last year involved a suspect who was described as black by their victims or by eyewitnesses in case of homicides.

"What the stops are about is somebody reporting a crime," he added. "Clearly, one would expect more stops in areas of relatively high crime, particularly violent crime."

If Browne is correct, and I don't have any reason to think that Browne is lying, then there is reason to stop black people who fit the description of the suspect.

Why stop an old, white guy if the suspect is a young, black guy? Makes sense to me and to most people, with the obvious exception of racial arsonists such as Sharpton and Barron, who use any pretext to zing the NYPD.

The stop and frisk program that led to more than 21,000 arrests are a major factor in the 20 percent drop in crime statistics since 2002. Crime in the city last year was at its lowest levels since the drug-gang wars of 1963.

Ask Al Sharpton, however, and he will tell you that none of that matters, that statistics do not lie.

"We're not half of the population in the city," Sharpton told the Associated Press. "How did we get stopped and frisked half, other than there is a measure of profiling based on race that permeates the NYPD?"

We'll let's go to the statistics. Fifty-two percent of those who were stopped and frisked were black.

At the same time, 68.5 percent of the suspects the police were looking for were black.

The New York Post, that bastion of conservative thought, says that the statistics show that there is a problem in this city, but that problem is not with the NYPD.

"Such stop and frisk procedures are particularly valuable in the effort to get illegal guns off the streets," the Daily News said in its editorial. "It makes perfect sense."

Of course, I understand the human problem even though I am not black and have not been stopped (except for vehicle checkpoints) or searched.

In our January 26 edition, I wrote a story about a young, black man and woman who were stopped while driving in Far Rockaway on January 17.

They were pulled from their car and searched. Then, they were released without comment or an apology.

"When does it end," George Gidden asked. "Why are the police allowed to victimize people just because they are black?"

That week, police were looking for the suspects wanted in the shootings of three black men in Far Rockaway late last year.

When will it end? When the black crime spree ends.

That's what the statistics really show. Police are responding in a proper manner to a gun problem that is escalating.

In fact, if victims and eyewitnesses in 68.5 percent of the cases say that the perp was black, then police officers are under-stopping black suspects if only 52 percent of the stops are of black people.

On the other hand, using the same statistics, whites are being over-stopped.

And that is the fact, no matter what Sharpton, Barron and the NYCLU think.

As long as blacks commit crimes in numbers widely disproportionate to their representation in the city, police data is going to show that agency's disproportionate involvement with the black community.

That's just good policing.

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