Police stops of New Yorkers hit record high in 2011

New York City police stopped 684,330 New Yorkers last year on suspicion of criminal activity, the most ever recorded and 8,573 more stops than in 2010. The record number of “stop, question and frisk” incidents in 2011 were revealed today as the NYPD released new quarterly figures. Of those stopped last year, 85 percent were black or Latino, and 94 percent were male.

By far the most stops last quarter, more than 3,400, took place in Far Rockaway, Queens. Tribeca in Manhattan had the fewest stop, question and frisk incidents, with just 273.

The 2011 tally brings the total of stops made in the last decade to 4.3 million, only 13 percent of which have led to an arrest or summons.

“It is not a crime to walk down the street in New York City, yet every day innocent black and brown New Yorkers are turned into suspects for doing just that,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which obtained the data from the NYPD. “It is a stunning abuse of power that undermines trust between police and the community.”

The Police Department has vigorously defended the practice. Paul Browne, spokesman for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, said to The Wall Street Journal, “Stops save lives.” He told journalists that there had been a dramatic decrease in crime on the streets of New York since stop-and-frisk was introduced by the Giuliani administration.

As in past years, the reasons police have given for the majority of their stops remain vague. The new figures show that as in 2010, slightly more than half of all stops last year were made after an officer reported witnessing “furtive movements” by an individual. NYPD officers stopped 88,016 individuals between October and December on the premise of furtive movements, up from 72,889 in the same period a year earlier.

The label’s lack of specificity has led some scholars and civil liberties advocates to charge that the NYPD is questioning individuals on the street without sufficient justification.

Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia Law School, calls the furtive movements label a “catch-all” excuse to stop people NYPD officers think might be carrying drugs. “It’s a vague standard that invites subjective appraisals by police officers,” said Fagan. “It’s unlikely that different officers would agree more than half the time that certain behaviors are ‘suspicious.’ ”

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