Hundreds of thousands of other Americans in big cities have been stopped on the street by police using a law-enforcement practice called stop-and-frisk that alarms civil libertarians but is credited by authorities with helping reduce crime, The Associated Press reports.
Police in major U.S. cities stop and question more than a million people each year — a sharply higher number than just a few years ago. Most are black and Hispanic men. Many are frisked, and nearly all are innocent of any crime, according to figures gathered by AP.
And the numbers are rising at the same time crime rates are dropping.
Black leaders and civil libertarians argue that the practice is racist and fails to deter crime. Police departments maintain it is a necessary tool that turns up illegal weapons and drugs and prevents more serious crime, AP reports.
Police records indicate that officers are drawn to suspicious behavior: furtive movements, actions that indicate someone may be serving as a lookout, anything that suggests a drug deal, or a person carrying burglary tools such as a slim jim or pry bar, AP writes.
The New York Police Department is among the most vocal defenders of the practice. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said recently that officers may stop as many as 600,000 people this year. About 10 percent are arrested, the news agency reports.
"This is a proven law enforcement tactic to fight and deter crime, one that is authorized by criminal procedure law," he said.
The practice is perfectly legal. A 1968 Supreme Court decision established the benchmark of "reasonable suspicion" — a standard that is lower than the "probable cause" needed to justify an arrest, according to AP.
But in the mid-1990s, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton made stop-and-frisk an integral part of the city's law enforcement, relying on the "broken windows" theory that targeting low-level offenses helps prevent bigger ones, AP reports.
Street stops started to go up, and overall crime dropped dramatically in a once-dangerous city.
Last year, New York police stopped 531,159 people, more than five times the number in 2002. Fifty-one percent of those stopped were Black, 32 percent Hispanic and 11 percent White, according to AP.