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How Stop-and-Frisk Is Creating a Generation of Young People Who Don't Trust the Police

How Stop-and-Frisk Is Creating a Generation of Young People Who Don't Trust the Police
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In the fall of 2011, researchers with the Vera Institute of Justice interviewed 474 New Yorkers ages 18 to 25, each of whom had been stopped at least once by the NYPD and who lived "in highly patrolled, high-crime areas." At the same time, Vera also sought out another group of interview subjects: 42 people ages 13 to 21. They spoke to these teens as well as their parents or caregivers.

What the group found was pretty shocking: 71 percent of these combined young adult and teen interviewees had been stopped and frisked; 64 percent had been stopped, frisked, and searched; only 40 percent of them said they would feel comfortable calling the police if they needed help; and only 25 percent would report someone for committing a crime.

Those statistics aren't coincidental. Vera's study reaffirms what has long been considered a hidden cost of violating the Fourth Amendment. "Far from making it easier to preserve order," NYU's Stephen J. Schulhofer wrote in More Essential Than Ever: The Fourth Amendment in the Twenty First Century, programs like stop-and-frisk "usually have the opposite effect, because they do so much to weaken the mutual trust that sustains the stability of a law-abiding society." 

In short: Young people in New York who have been stopped and frisked appear to trust the police less, which makes them less likely to call the police when they should, which in turn makes it harder for the police to do their jobs. This was true even of respondents who were themselves victims of crime. "Each additional stop in the span of a year," Vera's report says, "is associated with an eight percent drop in the person’s likelihood of reporting a violent crime he or she might experience in the future." 

As a middle class white person who lives in a nice neighborhood in Washington, D.C., I can't imagine not calling the police after, say, being mugged. I also can't imagine what it would be like to have a police officer treat me like a criminal simply on account of my skin color and my neighborhood. 

But then, New York City police officers under stop-and-frisk routinely treat young people of color in poor neighborhoods a lot differently. Here's how differently: 
  • Less than a third—29 percent—reported ever being informed of the reason for a stop.
  • 45 percent reported encountering an officer who threatened them, and 46 percent said they had experienced physical force at the hands of an officer.
  • One out of four said they were involved in a stop in which the officer displayed his or her weapon.
  • 88 percent of young people surveyed believe that residents of their neighborhood do not trust the police.

Even armed with all of this information, Vera isn't advising ending stop-and-frisk completely. Instead, the group suggests that the NYPD continue to "recalibrate" the specifics of the policy, train more officers on how to police respectfully, collaborate with communities of color, and partner with researchers to find out which of the department's policing strategies actually reduce crime, and which ones might just be alienating young people and minorities. 

Top image: Demonstrators hold signs protesting the New York Police Department's "stop and frisk" crime-fighting tactic outside of Manhattan Federal Court in New York, March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Mike Riggs is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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