Demonstrators hold signs protesting the NYPD's "stop and frisk" crime-fighting tactic outside of Manhattan Federal Court in New York

Walking While Black — the Stop-and-Frisk Nightmare: London Is Bad, New York Is an Epidemic

Most Americans don’t know it, but stop-and-frisk has a doppelganger across the pond.

In London, police employ a protocol called stop-and-search that closely mirrors the New York Police Department’s controversial tactic.

Both programs have attracted heavy criticism for disproportionately targeting racial minorities, but stop-and-frisk and stop-and-search are both still going strong. In fact, the NYPD notched its five millionth stop-and-frisk under Bloomberg, since 2002, on Thursday — even as riots raged for a fourth night in Brooklyn following the shooting death of a 16-year old African-American boy by police. In London, authorities logged 400,000 stops last year, even after announcing in 2011 that stop-and-search was being dialed back.

But are the tactics really racist — and how do New York’s and London’s programs stack up against each other?

Well, certainly both affect minorities more than they do the white majorities in the two cities. But the burden of New York’s program clearly falls much more disproportionately on the city’s black population than London’s.  Here are the latest racial breakdowns:

London’s numbers were actually starker — more like New York’s — before the reforms, which were prompted in part by the city’s race riots in 2011. That year, blacks accounted for 41 percent of all stops, compared to just 16 percent of the population. The overall number of stops from 2011 to 2012 also came down by more than a third.

How New York’s leaders react to the current wave of scrutiny — Monday was the first day of hearings in a federal class-action suit charging that stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional — remains to be seen. For the moment, the status quo is holding: Between 2011 and 2012, the number of stop-and-frisk detentions of blacks rose by 2 percent, and just last month, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly defended the current form of the policy to Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart.

But a key question is whether the results justify the roiling controversy. Here is a look at the record of arrests or convictions in both cities last year:

Critics cite the relatively small number of weapons found as evidence that program is unnecessary. Defenders contend it is evidence of stop-and-frisk’s deterrent effect.

But what does a stop-and-frisk or a stop-and-search entail? In both cases it’s a two-step process: cops may approach and question any individual deemed suspicious; that person may also be patted down for weapons if the officers involved “reasonably suspect” danger of physical injury. But, as critics point out, the criteria are highly subjective.

Given the data, it seems more reasonable that a minority should find himself suspicious of a passing cop.

graphics by Simran Khosla

research by Amanda Bancroft and Mateo Askaripour

source: NYPD and Metropolitan Police of London

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