Home > data science, news, statistics > Stop, Question, and Frisk policy getting stopped, questioned, and frisked

Stop, Question, and Frisk policy getting stopped, questioned, and frisked

May 20, 2012

I’m happy to see that Federal District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has granted class-action status to a lawsuit filed in January 2008 by the Center for Constitutional Rights which challenged the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics.

The practice has been growing considerably in the last few years by way of a quota system for officers: an estimated 300,000 people have been stopped and frisked in New York City so far this year.

From the New York Times article on the class-action lawsuit:

In granting class-action status to the case, which was filed in January 2008 by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of four plaintiffs, the judge wrote that she was giving voice to the voiceless.

“The vast majority of New Yorkers who are unlawfully stopped will never bring suit to vindicate their rights,” Judge Scheindlin wrote.

The judge said the evidence presented in the case showed that the department had a “policy of establishing performance standards and demanding increased levels of stops and frisks” that has led to an exponential growth in the number of stops.

But the judge used her strongest language in condemning the city’s position that a court-ordered injunction banning the stop-and-frisk practice would represent “judicial intrusion” and could not “guarantee that suspicionless stops would never occur or would only occur in a certain percentage of encounters.”

Judge Scheindlin said the city’s attitude was “cavalier,” and added that “suspicionless stops should never occur.”

I feel pretty awesome about this progress, since I was the data wrangler on the Data Without Borders datadive weekend and worked with the NYCLU to examine Stop, Question, and Frisk data. Some of that analysis, I’m guessing, has helped give ammunition to people trying to stop the policy – here is the wiki we made that weekend, and here’s another post I wrote a few weeks later.

For example, if you look at this editorial from the New York Times from a few days ago, you see a similar kind of analysis:

Over time, the program has grown to alarming proportions. There were fewer than 100,000 stops in 2002, but the police department carried out nearly 700,000 in 2011 and appears to be on track to exceed that number this year. About 85 percent of those stops involved blacks and Hispanics, who make up only about half the city’s population. Judge Scheindlin said the evidence showed that the unlawful stops resulted from “the department’s policy of establishing performance standards and demanding increased levels of stops and frisks.”

She noted that police officers had conducted tens of thousands of clearly unlawful stops in every precinct of the city, and that in nearly 36 percent of stops in 2009, officers had failed to list an acceptable “suspected crime.” The police are required to have a reasonable suspicion to make a stop. Only 5.37 percent of all stops between 2004 and 2009, the period of data considered by the court, resulted in arrests, an indication that a vast majority of people stopped did nothing wrong. Judge Scheindlin rebuked the city for a “deeply troubling apathy toward New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.” The message of this devastating ruling is clear: The city must reform its abusive stop-and-frisk policy.

Woohoo! This is a great example of data analysis where it’s actually used to protect people instead of exploit them, which is pretty rare. It’s also a cool example of how open source data has been used to probe shady practices- but note that there was a separate lawsuit to force the NYPD to open source this Stop, Question, and Frisk data. They did not do it willingly, and they still don’t have the first few years of it publicly available.

Here’s another thing we could do with such data. My friend Catalina and I were talking yesterday about one of the consequences of the Stop, Question, and Frisk data as follows. From a Time Magazine article on Trayvon Martin:

in the U.S., African Americans and whites take drugs at about the same rate, but black youth are twice as likely to be arrested for it and more than five times more likely to be prosecuted as an adult for drug crimes. In New York City, 87% of residents arrested under the police department’s “stop and frisk” policy are black or Hispanic.

I’d love to see a study that breaks this down in a kind of dual way. If you’re a NYC teenager walking down the street in your own neighborhood with a joint in your pocket, what are your chances of getting put in jail a) if you’re white, b) if you’re black, c) if you’re hispanic, or d) if you’re asian?

I think those numbers would really bring home the kind of policy that we’re dealing with here. Let’s see some grad student theses coming out of this data set.

Categories: data science, news, statistics
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