Wow, that Stop-and-Frisk Policy Sure Looks Suspicious. Let’s Stop and Frisk It.

Citing Charlottesville Police Department data, the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, has found that African-Americans are stopped and frisked at a rate nine times greater than whites.

The statistical report from the 2017 calendar year detailed that of the 173 total recorded stop incidents, 70 percent of the individuals were black. Of the 125 stop incidents with search-and-frisk, 91 of the individuals  — or 73 percent — were black.  According to 2016 estimates of Charlottesville demographics, only 19 percent of the City identifies as black or African American.

Predictably, Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he found the statistics “alarming.”

Don Gathers, a deacon at the First Baptist Church and founder of Charlottesville’s chapter of Black Lives Matter — said that stop and frisk is a racist policy: “[Stop and Frisk] is a very race-based, racist, failed policy,” he said. “[The police] get … returns from the instability that they create in the community.”

My first reaction (to borrow a line from the Instapundit blog): Why are municipalities run by progressives such cesspools of discrimination?

My second reaction: Maybe there is a problem, but I’m not going to believe it on the authority of the Cavalier Daily, the ACLU or Black Lives Matter. Here’s the obvious counter: If African-Americans in Charlottesville are nine times to be guilty of crimes as whites, then the stop-and-frisk disparity is not unreasonable.

However, the Cavalier Daily did present evidence suggesting that the disparity was real, though not as bad as a nine-to-one ratio would indicate.

In 2016, a more comprehensive report revealed that out of the 97 detentions, 74 of the cases involved black individuals, but only 15 — or about 17 percent — of the individuals were arrested or served summons. Comparatively, out of the 35 white people that were stopped in 2016, 11 — roughly 31 percent —  of them were arrested or summoned to court.

In either case, a minority of those frisked were worthy of arrest. But blacks were only half as likely to be arrested or summoned — a big disparity, to be sure, but far short of a nine-to-one ratio. What we don’t know is if there are legitimate reasons for that smaller disparity. The assumption of racism is often unwarranted. Conversely, the fact that assumptions of racism are often unwarranted does not mean that they are always unwarranted. This may be such a case.

“Another important step is to dig deeper into the data,” said City Manager Maurice Jones. “We’ve got a group of folks who will be doing that with the City Manager’s Office, the police department, the City Attorney’s Office [and] the Commonwealth Attorney’s office as well and getting a better understanding of some of the issues associated with [the data].”

When stop-and-frisk was a hot controversy in New York City a few years back, I sympathized with the police and those who argued that eliminating the policy would make it more difficult to combat crime. I did not think it would end well when Mayor Bill DeBlasio ended the practice. As it turns out, the New York City crime rate has continued to decline. It’s not often that I find myself changing my mind about left-wing politicians, but in this instance DeBlasio proved correct. Stop-and-frisk was causing unnecessary resentment among minorities, and police have other crime-fighting tools that work as well or even better.

Bacon’s bottom line: Let’s see if Charlottesville’s police can provide a convincing defense of the racial disparity in stop-frisks. If they can’t, the practice should end, and the police should devise other tactics for fighting crime.

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6 responses to “Wow, that Stop-and-Frisk Policy Sure Looks Suspicious. Let’s Stop and Frisk It.”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    My civil libertarian leanings have always been offended by stopping individuals without any probable cause (except perhaps for sobriety checkpoints), but I would also note this happened less than once every other day in Charlottesville – 176 times in 365 days – so it doesn’t sound like cops are making this a major part of their daily rounds.

    1. Before getting to race, consider the danger of a policy that is named stop-and-frisk. Libertarians should break out in hives at any law enforcement net cast this widely. If it helps to put this practice into perspective, consider the difference between a sobriety checkpoint at which ALL cars are stopped to protect the roadways vice random pullovers that may lead to an occasional DUI but will certainly net violators of parole, firearms, stolen property (crimes, yes, but not immediate hazards to roadways, the stated goal of such checkpoints). And my personal favorite, the invasive on-water safety invasion er I mean inspection. If you’ve ever been on a boat that’s been boarded by Coast Guard or other, it’s hard not to feel libertarian bile rise in your throat. I’m rooting hard for the guy in this case whose represented himself through 3 court triumphs and only now is aided by the ACLU.

      Now, tack race onto the discussion and I am easily persuaded that it must be very hard to drive while black, take an evening walk while wearing a hoodie, and so forth.

  2. djrippert Avatar

    The reason more African Americans get stopped and frisked is that the police use stop and frisk as a crime deterrent in high crime areas. In many cities the high crime areas are also places where a large percentage of the residents are minorities. The reason the arrest rate for white is higher than blacks in stop and frisks is that white people (in lower crime areas) actually have to be doing something suspicious to get stopped and frisked. I’ll furthermore wager than many of the arrests during stop and frisk incidents are for relatively small amounts of marijuana.

    Now, before the screams of racism start in earnest ask your self what you would want if you lived in Detroit, St Louis or Baltimore. Those cities have become murder hotspots. However, if you look at a map of where the murders occur they are concentrated in certain high crime areas. If you’re an honest African American (the vast, vast majority) living in a high crime area … what do you want? Stop and frisk will turn up a certain number of guns, knives, etc. The threat of stop and frisk will discourage some people from carrying guns. Is the apparent racism of stopping and frisking primarily African Americans in high crime areas worth the preventative value of the practice?

    I get stopped and frisked several times a week when I enter an airport. In fairness, so does everybody else. If some airport discontinued passenger screening I would never fly out of that airport again. I get stopped every year by the US Coast Guard. They usually don’t board my boat but they do run me through a safety check where I need to have life preservers, an air horn, a throwable flotation device, a fire extinguisher, etc. They write me up a compliance form and give it to me. The first thing they ask when they see me again is whether I have been stopped and searched recently. I show them the compliance form and the go on their way if I’ve been stopped this season. Maybe that’s what the police need to do. If they stop and frisk somebody the person gets a “stopped and frisked card” with a date on it. If they get stopped again they can show the police the card and the police can go on their way.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    In those “high crime” areas – you have to trade off how that policy is received by the law abiding. If that policy leads to animosity between the law abiding folks in a community and the police – it’s a problem.

    When you do something like this – you have to be willing to see not only your own justification for doing it – but if there is a downside also – and to be honest enough to admit that your “good idea” is maybe not so good if most of the community – criminals and law abiding are opposed to it.

    Seems like all we need to do to blow something up these days is use the race word, eh?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad idea. I just don’t think it’s a racist idea. If stop and frisk dilutes the faith of the community in the police they will cooperate less and fewer crimes will be solved. There’s definitely a downside.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        And I still stick with my view that a “good idea” has to stand on it’s own merits with respect to the larger community. If the larger community of law-abiding citizens thinks it’s a bad idea and you go forward anyhow – there is a serious question as to what exactly you are trying to achieve in the end if the community itself is opposed and will not cooperate …

        Why did we not consult with these communities BEFORE we instituted such policies and why did we not alter course when it became apparent that such policies did not have the support of those communities?

        Stop and frisk is basically a military approach to law and order.

        People in the community end up fearing the police almost as much as the criminals because more than “criminals” get drawn up in the dragnet – and gobbled up by the criminal justice system. i.e. some kid with pot …bad judgement – now drawn into the prison pipeline.

        We talk about this in fairly sterile terms but real people .. ordinary people and their families feel like their community has been “occupied” and that the whole community is “guilty” and needs heavy policing.

        If the entire community is perceived to be a crime zone… then that pretty much includes everyone in it… and stop and frisk is one size fits all.

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