Stop and Frisk: It’s More About HOW It’s Done!

stop n friskI suggest that the primary problem with the use of “stop and frisk” by police in many of our cities has more to do with how it is done rather than if it is done. The first “how” is that it must be lawful; secondly, it must be respectful.

“Stop and frisk” has been a bone of contention in most minority communities and more recently in New York, our nation’s largest city. I have addressed this issue numerous times on this blog (on Dec. 18, 2011 and in 2012 on March 24, May 18, and June 27). I also wrote about this in my book Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off… and how Nicholas Peart, a young college student in New York had experienced it.

“[Peart] reported to the New York Times in December, 2011, that he has been stopped and frisked by police officers at least five times.  He is one of more than 600,000 citizens of color stopped by police in New York last year; 84 percent of those stops involved blacks or Latinos (only nine percent were of whites).

The police use the excuse that they’re fighting crime to continue the practice, but no one has ever actually proved that it reduces crime or makes the city safer. Those of us who live in the neighborhoods where stop-and-frisks are a basic fact of daily life don’t feel safer as a result.

We need change. When I was young I thought cops were cool. They had a respectable and honorable job to keep people safe and fight crime. Now, I think their tactics are unfair and they abuse their authority. The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more crime.[1]

“To illustrate this problem further, a recent study at Columbia Law School and reported in The New York Times, found that tens of thousands of times over a six year period, the police stopped and questioned people on New York City streets without the legal justification for doing so. And residents in an area of Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct, an area in which the residents are predominately poor and black, were most likely in the city to be stopped and frisked by police officers.”[2]

Basically, it comes down to this: good police officers know how to stop and frisk a suspect without stripping away the person’s dignity. The ability to stop, inquire, and even frisk a person on the street without stripping away their dignity is the mark of a good cop. To me, the issue of stop and frisk has always been not about “whether to” but “how;” that is, treating another person with respect and courtesy.

Recently, Bill Bratton, New York City’s newly appointed police commissioner (again) wisely took this approach in a recent interview in the New York Times.

“Bratton said he wants to bring in a language expert, as he did back in 1994, to train police on the best ways to use language to ‘calm down incidents’ by being respectful rather than ratchet them up by being confrontational.

“Noting that you have to use stop-and-frisk ‘with skill,’ he said: ‘We have an expression in policing that it’s not the use of force that gets cops in trouble, it’s the use of language.’

“He said an officer who says, ‘Sir, can I speak to you?,’ rather than ‘Hey, you, get over here,’ will be more productive. They also need exit strategies, he said, to depart from encounters without ‘demeaning’ people.”

Bratton is talking like a smart cop. I think he gets it. Now he has to lead and train other cops to get it, too. He must be able to “walk his talk” from the top down. This is a huge job when you’ve got more than 30,000 cops under your command and the existence of a strong subculture that may work against a more dignified approach to policing and race relations.

[You can read the full article HERE.]

[1]Peart, Nicholas K. “Why is the N.Y.P.D After Me?” The New York Times, December 17, 2011.

[2] Study Finds Street Stops by N.Y. Police Unjustified. New York Times, October 26, 2010.


  1. Things have changed since the 20th Century. For openers, trust Bill Bratton. I say this not because he was a pal (he used to call me by my first name, and stopped twice while I was making arrests, to see if I needed help), but because he is intelligent in policing. What I have been saying, and nobody, on any webpage has been listening to, is something that you, Chief, should understand and take into consideration as a cop, a reverend, a community leader, a grandfather. The Stop & Frisk, years ago, relied upon an officer having either probable Cause, or reasonable cause to believe. Hands is in pocket, budge where is should not be, etc. OK. Fast forward to the 21st Century. When people complain the police are racist/harsh/domineering, police are told by politicians, to back off. Crime then goes up. The people in the communities, make demands to lower crime and end violent crimes. Pro-active policing then goes back into mode, rather than re-active policing. Now, people are stopped and frisked. No longer can they carry the illegal gun, the switchblade knife, the bag of marijuana, any drugs, any property at 2:00 a.m., or burglary tools. Wait! nobody can party or drive drunk! That’s no fair, so bar owners get people riled up because business is ruined. People complain about police tactics to politicians. Most politicians side with whom, is filling pockets with campaign contributions. But, the attack is on the guy on Patrol.
    How do the people want it? Crime will go up, and they will attend funerals; And, everyone knows it, because it is, the truth. Stop & Frisk works. If things are a little over-the-top, it is only because, the people in the communities, are complaining for police to do something, and a proper police action, when dealing with an unknown, is to stop everyone, until they find out what, is what, and who is in an area, for what lawful purpose or reason. Somebody complained about a year ago to me, that the 77th Precinct stopped and frisked him. He cried to me like a baby, about it. I explained things, and since he was harmless, what was wrong? Maybe something like, three sentences later, he goes ranting about legalizing marijuana and drugs. I have noticed that to be a common thread of all arguments against the Stop & Frisk policy. Think about it. Ghetto residents complain about drug activity in the community. Me and you, are the sector car. White guy aimlessly driving around, and around. Maybe he is looking for a parking space? Maybe he has a black girlfriend or wife? First thoughts I have are, it’s 2 a.m., white guy down here = prostitutes, or, drugs. Maybe he is carrying an illegal handgun? Maybe he is a drug transporter? Let’s stop him and find out what his story is. If he is legitimate, he might even make a friend, with a badge. Things aren’t always where the cops are the bad guys, and most of those whom I worked with, in a ghetto, would be the very first ones, to help people, or LAY DOWN THEIR LIVES TO PROTECT THEM. Let’s not lose sight of that either. We’ve all been to, Police Funerals.


    1. Cop-to-cop, Brittius, I think we are talking about the same thing – smart, intelligent policing. You know every stop does not have to “go south.” Yes, a few do, but it was my experience that I can contact someone, keep me and my partner safe, see what’s up and if not, leave the stop without dissing the guy (or gal) so that I have sown more hatred in the community. We know at times the policeman’s (sic) lot is not a happy one. But I think we can still do good things in the community and we do that best when we have their support – and that often takes a lot of work – but it’s do-able! Thanks for the comment!


  2. A very pertinent article given the unfolding of events in the UK, with the circumstances surrounding the death of Mark Duggan and the emerging ruling by the jury in the Inquest.

    Additionally we have the conviction of a Police Officer, involved in the ‘Plebgate’ affair.

    Listening to a late night current affairs program the reoccurring theme was that of a loss of respect, in the widest sense of the word, for Police in the UK.

    No matter how many lives are saved each and every day the Police will be judged and assessed on a small number of wrongs.

    It makes the job so much more difficult for Police now trying to do their job, and can create a tinder box of emotions that can manifest themselves very rapidly given the right/wrong trigger.

    There is a requirement to stop/search which must be legally done, but the key, and you have hit it on the head, is respect.
    This carries an even greater weight when issues of diversity are in the mix.


  3. Two comments:
    Respectfully, the use of S/F, especially in NYC, is not ONLY a question of how. Yes, people want to be talked to and treated with respect. But even if you do that, and you continue to S/F at the rate that NYPD was, with very meager results, you will send the message to people — and, if you focus almost only on Latinos and blacks, to the entire minority community — that the police consider them suspects based on the way they look. That causes an erosion of trust and confidence in police.
    Second, Brittius is incorrect about a basic fact. Over the year or so up to the court’s ruling in the S/F case, the NYPD began to curtail its S/F activity dramatically. That continues to the present day. Result? Crime DID NOT go up, murders did not go through the roof, as many predicted. In fact, both crime generally and homicide particularly have continued to fall.

    Thanks very much for this interesting post.

    David Harris


    1. Good points, David. Thanks for engaging in this conversation. It seems like most of America has not had the experience of being stopped and frisked — the only thing similar to this experience by white, affluent Americans going through security at an airport. But of course, the stakes are very much lower…


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