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The stop and Frisk policy was mandated in 1968 so that the city of New York would be safe. The law allows officers to stop, question, and frisk anyone suspicious i.e. anyone who acts unusually. It has come under scrutiny in the past decade for the unfair treatment of African American and Latino citizens. Ethnic minorities feel that the policy has come down on them and has made it difficult to live a normal life in New York City. In August Judge Shira Scheidlin, a respectable federal judge that has served since 1984 served in the recent case “Floyd vs. the city of New York”. Floyd reported to the courtroom that officers stopped him twice because his African American ethnicity. She took into account the statistical analysis of Criminologist at Columbia Law School (Jeffery Fagan) and ruled that “stop and frisk” policy in New York was a form of indirect racial profiling. In her verdict, she indicated that enforcers of the “stop and frisk” violated the Fourth Amendment which protects the public against unreasonable seizes and searches. She also specified that implementers of the policy undermined the Fourteenth Amendment that assures equality for US citizens of all racial origins. Michael Bloomberg mayor of New York who supports the “stop, question, and frisk” law appealed her ruling and removed her from the case. He hired scholars Robert Purtell of the SUNY system’s University at Albany and Dennis Smith of New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service to critique the work of Jeffery Fagan. In their critique Smith and Purtell address the misuse of subjectivity within the courthouse that Fagan used in his statistical analysis.

I am not sure why the city chose Smith and Purtell to critique Fagan. The two professors are less knowledgeable on the subject of race and criminal law than him. In fact, Smith is an associate professor who teaches courses on Cooperative Federalism. His research is directed towards the management of non-profit and public agencies. Purtell is also an assistant professor whose expertise is in financial market regulation and government finance. Dr. Fagan on the other hand teaches courses on criminal law, juvenile justice, seminar on policing, and seminar on community courts. Unlike Smith and Purtell, Dr. Fagan’s article, “An Analysis of the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias” was published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. His research went through peer revision in order to be published, while the criticism that Smith and Purtell brought to the table was not. It is apparent that Judge Shira Scheidlin knew what she was doing when she chose to cite the work of Fagan. He is well established and informed in the field of criminal law and policing. This solidifies Scheidlin’s take on the fact that Dr. Fagan is more qualified in the field to make judgments whether or not racial profiling occurs in the jurisdiction of New York.

Dr. Fagan examined data from the UF-250 database (data compiled from police reports) in which police reported why the stop was initiated, where it took place, and whom the officer stopped (ie: the persons sex and racial background). Dr. Fagan then categorized each “stop, question, and frisk” into 1 of 3 categories, “apparently justified”, “apparently unjustified”, or “ungeneralizable”. He accounted for 6% of the stops to be “apparently unjustified police encounters”. Judge Shira stated that the numbers compiled from the UF-250s were more than fair to the police since the UF-250’s were one-sided accounts from officers. She viewed Jeffery Fagan’s judgments as conservative, and went so far as to say that if she were to categorize the cases she would have reported more than the 6% (200,000) of stops that Dr. Fagan reported as “apparently unjustified”. Fagan’s critics, Smith and Purtell found that the 6% of “apparently unjustified encounters” was not enough to make a solid case against the cities “stop and frisk policy”. According to the scholars, the percentage was too weak to show that New York Police violated the Fourth Amendment. ” However, 26% of the cases were uncategorized, 55% of the cases were simply marked high crime area, and that 42% of the cases were based on “furtive movements”.  The boxes titled, “Uncategorized,” “High crime area”, and “furtive movements” were subjective terms, hence not applicable in Fagan’s statistical analysis on the UF-250’s. Fagan was trying to be as objective as possible in his research, which caused a low percentage of unjustified encounters.

In an additional analysis, Fagan plotted the number of stops in each enforcement area against the race of the people stopped in order to compare them to his own “racially neutral chart”. The racially neutral chart represented what the distribution of stops would have looked like if police were not personally or institutionally biased in their “stop, question, and frisk” procedures. He concluded that African American and Latino stops were more common than that of Caucasian stops even in areas where populations were equally distributed or mostly Caucasian. His analysis also displayed that African Americans and Hispanics once stopped, were more susceptible to the use of police force, although the likelihood of the stop resulting in arrest, or a summons was lower than that of the cases that involved Caucasians. Robert Purtell and Dennis Smith argued that Dr. Jeffery Fagan’s “racially neutral chart” had been subjective and thereby “misleading”. They then proceeded to make their own cart. In it, they included data that implied approximately 90% of all violent crime suspects were Hispanic and African American. In Smith and Purtell’s analysis, the city was not guilty of racial profiling. The disproportionate stops were in correlation to the disproportionate number of racial minorities in the crime pool. It is sill unclear where Fagan was subjective in his research. To account for racial composition and social and economic factors that were predictive of police behavior he made sure to allow the fact that African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to live in high crime rate areas in his statistics.

Shira Scheidlin’s ruling against New York’s “Stop and Frisk” policy was just and in no way subjective. It was based on the evidence that Jeffery Fagan provided. He gave a lot of time and thought to his research and carried it out in a careful and concise manner. It was unfair for Purtell and Smith to critique Fagan’s statistical analysis. Unlike Smith and Purtell, Fagan was not hired to make a case on the spot. His research was purely factual and not vindictive towards the NYPD or the city of New York.


2 Comments to “”

  1. I find the fact that minorities were found to be stopped (and have force used on them) more often than caucasians, in spite of the greater arrest rate for caucasians very convincing. Perhaps I’m just being influenced by the commonplace idea of police officers coming down more harshly on minorities, but this data seems to corroborate the everyday anecdotal experiences of minorities in the US. It’s just like Kanye West said, “Racism’s still alive, they just be concealing it”.

  2. I think saying Scheidlin’s ruling was in no way subjective is going a bit too far. A major reason why she was removed from the case was due to her discussions of the case outside of the courtroom. Scheidlin told the press how she felt about the case, and due to that she wasn’t considered to be able to rule objectively. Stop and frisk definitely has its problems, I’m sure even employees of the NYPD can recognize that. However, Scheidlin wanted to halt the program altogether until reforms were made. Although I’m sure the crime rate most likely would have stayed the same, we can never really know. Hopefully when De Blasio comes into office he can make the reforms that are clearly needed.

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