Holmes talks NYPD's stop and frisk policy

Carter G. Woodson Institute fellow says NYPD’s policy targets racial minorities


The New York City Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy has garnered criticism for its tendency toward racial profiling since it took effect in the 1990s. Kwame Holmes, a post-doctoral fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies Monday evening led a discussion about the policy, which allows police officers to stop, question and frisk individuals who they deem suspicious.

Holmes screened the film “The Hunted and the Haunted: An Inside Look at the New York Police Department’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy,” which suggests the policy targets minorities.

Eighty-seven percent of individuals stopped by the NYPD, including the more than 1800 “stop and frisk” stops each day, are Hispanic or African-American, according to NYPD reports. The Supreme Court established the constitutionality of “stop and frisk” programs in its 1968 Terry v. Ohio ruling.

The law went into effect in 1971, but the past decade has seen a marked increase in stop-and-frisk reports to a record-breaking 203,500 stops in the first quarter of 2012. From January to June 2011, police reported 362,150 stop-and-frisks.

Proponents of the policy say it helps keep guns off the streets by giving officers more authority to conduct weapons searches.

Although crime rates have decreased since 1990, critics of the policy say the increased police presence in recent years has been oppressive.

The New York City homicide rate peaked in 1990, with 2,262 murders reported, and has since dropped to 512 in 2011. Robberies have fallen from more than 100,000 in 1990 to about 20,000 in 2011, and burglaries have fallen from 122,055 in 1990 to 18,835 in 2011.

In contrast, the national homicide rate has fallen from 23,440 homicides per year in 1990 to 16,272 homicides per year in 2008, according to U.S. Census data — much smaller than the dramatic decline seen in New York City.

Angela Tabler, crime prevention coordinator for the University Police Department, said University Police do not stop individuals for looking suspicious. But Woodson Institute Director Deborah McDowell said she had heard of similar practices in Charlottesville.

La Marr Bruce, a pre-doctoral fellow at the Woodson Institute, said he thought the University police department is not as racially sensitive as it could be. Bruce cited University Chief of Police Michael Gibson’s description of a suspect who tried to violently force his way into a fraternity party, describing him simply as “a black male” in an email sent to the University community Sept. 9.

“What does that accomplish?” Bruce said. “Does the reference to a black male assailant actually help police in capturing the criminal?”

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