New York City police officers made more than 673,000 traffic stops last year, the majority involving Black and Latino motorists. Only 2% of those stops led to arrests, raising the specter of the stop-and-frisk tactics that were ruled unconstitutional a decade ago, reported Bloomberg.
New York Police Department officers also stopped nearly 15,000 pedestrians — most Black or Latino — in 2022, the highest number in any year since 2015, according to an analysis of police department data by the New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Most were released without any arrest or citation issued.
“We're very concerned about a department that's going back to a regime where it's engaging in very aggressive stop and frisk,” said Christopher Dunn, legal director for the NYCLU. “It's a program that does very little to produce public safety.”
The numbers are concerning, advocates say, because such encounters can become violent. Last year 7% of all police killings in the US began with a traffic stop, according to Mapping Police Violence. Studies have also shown that frequent encounters with police can have negative effects on communities’ mental and physical health and lead to unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system. One survey of New York men found that those stopped experienced elevated anxiety and trauma as a result.
This is the first year the NYPD has published vehicle stop data. The department said it is still analyzing and understanding its traffic stop activity. In a statement, the NYPD also defended the increase in pedestrian stops, calling it an “essential tool in helping to reduce violence,” and noting that its officers are expected to follow department guidelines when carrying them out.
It isn’t just New York. Nationwide, police stop and search Black people at higher rates than their White counterparts. For example, in Los Angeles, Black motorists are stopped at a rate of 32 per 100, compared with 11 per 100 for White drivers, according to a Stanford University analysis of 200 million traffic stops. However, those searches aren’t more likely to turn up contraband, research shows.
Those disparities are clear in the New York City data for both vehicle and pedestrian stops, raising “red flags” about racial profiling, Dunn said. “Police officers can pretty much stop anyone for any reason,” Dunn added. “That opens the door to racial profiling.”
In New York City, pedestrian stops last year increased 61% over the previous year, according to the NYCLU analysis. NYPD guidelines ask officers to report formal stops, which occur when there is suspicion that a crime was committed or is in progress, regardless of outcome. The department is also required to publish that data publicly, a reform that came after four plainclothes NYPD officers shot and killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Black man, in 1999.
Almost 90% of the pedestrians stopped by NYPD officers in 2022 were Black or Latino, and in more than two-thirds of the encounters the person was let go without arrest or a ticket, according to the NYCLU data. There are likely more pedestrian stops than the data show, since officers don’t always record encounters, Dunn said.
Stop-and-frisk, as practiced by the NYPD during the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013, who found that the way the department deployed the tactic was racially biased. That ruling didn’t bar its use, but required the department to create and follow guidelines for stops. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
The number of stops in the city has dropped substantially since the court ruling, from a high of 685,000 pedestrian stops in 2011. But the 2022 figures represent a reversal of that trend.
“The numbers are really astonishing,” Dunn said. “We're talking about 675,000 vehicle stops, almost the same number of stops as the highest point of pedestrian stop and frisk.”
The NYPD pointed to a 22% increase in major felony crimes and a 26% jump in low-level infractions in 2022 as part of the reason for the uptick in stops. However, the stop data show that in 2022 the outcomes of the stops increasingly resulted individuals being let go. In the last quarter of the year, 67.4% of stops resulted in a person being released with no enforcement action taken, the highest level since 2019.
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