radically cut back their use
of stop-and-frisk policies. To the surprise of some, crime didn’t
spike, but tumbled yet again.
By Joe Sexton, ProPublica
(NEW YORK, N.Y.) -- If you grew up in New York City in the
1970s, the number can be hard to get your head around: 291. If you
were a reporter in New York City in the early 1990s, the number can
almost make your head explode: 291 murders in 2017, the lowest total
since the 1950s.
But the number is perhaps most striking when set not against
numbers of murders in other years, but against this figure: the
roughly 10,000 police stops conducted in 2017.
The longstanding rationale for the New York Police
widespread use of what came to be known as stop-and-frisk —
encounters between officers and people they suspected of suspicious
behavior — had been that it was an essential crime-fighting
Such stops got guns off the street, the theory went, and
enforcement helped sweep up criminals destined to commit more serious
The number of stops skyrocket
over the years
The rationale was employed as the numbers of stops skyrocketed
during the 12 years of Michael Bloomberg’s mayoralty. Such
stops, endorsed and aggressively enforced by then Police Commissioner
Raymond Kelly, rose from roughly 100,000 in 2002 to nearly 700,000 in
The rationale was critiqued, by the New York Civil Liberties
among others, but Bloomberg and Kelly pushed back, armed with year
upon year of falling murder totals and other broad reductions in
Ultimately, a federal judge, Shira Scheindlin, found the
enforcement of stop-and-frisk racially unfair and unconstitutional. A
new mayor, Bill de Blasio, and the judge’s orders for reform,
prompted a radical scaling back of stop-and-frisk.
Critics predicted a disastrous return to, depending on one’s
age and experience, the 1970s or the 1990s.
The disaster never happened. Instead, what many scholars and
police officials thought nearly unthinkable — further
reductions in crime after two decades of plummeting numbers —
Holding murders under 300 was just the headline of 2017
that saw considerable reductions in almost every category of major
Conservative writer admits
wrong about what would happen
“Like many conservatives, I had grave concerns about
curtailing the New York City police department’s controversial
tactic of stopping and frisking potential suspects for weapons,”
Kyle Smith wrote this month for the National
“Restricting the tactic, I thought, would cause an uptick,
maybe even a spike, in crime rates,” he added. “I and
others argued that crime would rise. Instead, it fell. We were
The achievement — curtailing both murders and stops —
forced me to revisit my own decisions. I had the fun and privilege of
serving as the metro editor of The New York Times for five years, but
along with the occasional satisfactions came plenty of regrets.
For me, none greater than my wish that I’d done a better job
directing coverage of stop-and-frisk. My years as metro editor, 2006
to 2011, corresponded directly with the surge in stop-and-frisk.
Let me be clear. The New York Times was blessed with the
elite law enforcement reporters, and they did lots of fine and
Al Baker and Ray Rivera, for instance, did a breathtaking
on a handful of blocks in one section of Brooklyn where over four
years police had conducted 52,000 stops.
Numerically, it amounted to one stop a year for every one of
14,000 people living on the four blocks looked at. In the more than
50,000 stops from 2006 to 2010, the police recovered 25 guns.
Reporting raises the question
quotas for officers
That said, I still wish we’d had the series of
stop-and-frisk stories Graham Rayman, then of the Village Voice,
produced. An officer in a Brooklyn precinct had recorded his
commanders as they sent their men and women into the streets to
conduct random stops. The reporting, among other things, brought to
light the potential that quotas had been set for officers.
I sent an email Tuesday morning to Kelly, the former
to see if he had thoughts looking back. I also emailed an invitation
to the spokesperson for current Police Commissioner James O’Neill
to talk about his department’s dual accomplishments.
“No one could possibly believe there could be 685,000
legitimate stops in a year,” the spokesperson, Stephen Davis,
said. “We just focused more on learning how crime works. There
are a small number of people responsible for a disproportionate
amount of crime.”
O’Neill has taken some heat from the monitor charged with
overseeing the department’s reform of stop-and-frisk. A report
from the monitor late in 2017 said there was credible reason to
believe a large number of police stops were not being counted.
Still, the true total could be twice the roughly 10,000
and remain a small fraction of the nearly 700,000 recorded in 2011.
Regrets have an upside. They can provoke personal reform. And
when reporters for ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union set out to
report on the enforcement
of pedestrian tickets by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office,
we were sure to ask some hard questions.
The sheriff’s office has said they viewed pedestrian
violations as probable cause to stop and question suspicious people.
It was a sensible crime-fighting tactic.
We asked what might form the basis for considering someone
suspicious, but the office was not able to say much beyond it could
be “tips” about possible drug dealing or the like.
We asked about how well the pedestrian tickets were tracked —
who was receiving them and where. The office
stops were captured incidentally with call logs
reports, but were not specifically tracked. Officials said it
would be “too burdensome” to capture the full scope of
every pedestrian encounter and associated demographics.
The reporting, which showed pedestrian tickets were issued
disproportionately to blacks in Jacksonville and that hundreds of
tickets had been issued in error in recent years, has prompted
several local legislators to call for reforms to the state pedestrian
statutes and the issuing of tickets by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s
Joe Sexton is a
senior editor at
Before coming to ProPublica in 2013, he had worked for 25 years as a
reporter and editor at The New York Times.
report originally ran at ProPublica and is reprinted here with
permission. ProPublica is a non-profit news platform that produces
investigative journalism in the public interest.
was a recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for public service, the
2016 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, the 2011 Pulitzer
Prize for national reporting and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for
April 10, 2017 ProPublica and the New York Daily News won the
Pulitzer Prize for public service, honoring their joint investigation
on abuses in the New York City Police Department’s enforcement
of the nuisance abatement law. The award was the fourth Pulitzer
Prize for ProPublica and the 11th for the Daily News.
presented in the above report is the product of ProPublica's
reporting and does not necessarily represent the views of the staff
or management of the Sky Valley Chronicle.
tags: Criminal justice, stop-and-frisk, New York City Police,
ProPublica, Michael Bloomberg, New York Civil Liberties Union