Stop and frisk: Why are police departments moving away from it?

Donald Trump called for police departments to use stop-and-frisk to curb violence across the nation, even as cities are scaling back the contentious practice. 

Evan Vucci/AP
Don King, the boxing promoter, holds up the hand of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the Pastors Leadership Conference at New Spirit Revival Center, Sept. 21, 2016, Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Trump urged for broad use of the contentious stop-and-frisk policy in violent cities.

In his bid to court African-Americans at events in Cleveland on Wednesday, Donald Trump urged for the broad use of stop-and-frisk policing to curb national violence.

The Republican presidential nominee’s call comes as police departments in cities that include Chicago, New York, and Newark, N.J., have started to reevaluate or end the contentious practice popularized during the “tough on crime” era of the 1990s. Amid protests, legal challenges, and mayoral campaigns that promised to end the anti-crime tactic, however, opponents have said stop-and-frisk policing is unconstitutional because officers disproportionately target minorities.

In stop-and-frisk policing, an officer will stop pedestrians for questioning and then search them for weapons or contraband. Even before Mr. Trump started his presidential campaign, he was a vocal supporter of the practice in his hometown of Manhattan, according to The New York Times.

When asked how he would reduce crime and violence in black communities at a town hall-style event Fox News hosted in Cleveland Wednesday , Trump said stop-and-frisk was one answer.

“I think you have to,” he said, with the largely white crowd breaking into applause. “We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive.”

The Trump campaign expanded on these remark later Wednesday.

A “locally tailored version” in Chicago should be used to help reduce “skyrocketing violence,” said spokesman Jason Miller.

The murder rate in Chicago is predicted to increase 9.1 percent because of a reduced police force and an intensification of gang violence, according to a report the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law released Monday. The city announced Wednesday it will hire 970 new officers in effort to reduce the crime rate, the largest round of hiring there in three decades. But, in Chicago and other cities, investigations and legal challenges have found stop-and-frisk policing can lead departments to unfairly target blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. This was the case in New York too.

The anti-crime tactic gained traction under Rudy Guiliani, mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001, and Police Chief William Bratton, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Harry Bruinius reported when Mr. Bratton retired last week.

These techniques were a revelation, and when Bratton became commissioner of the NYPD the first time around in 1994, crime in New York began its dramatic, if not epic, decline. Although scholars disagree on the complex web of causes that led to similar drops in crime around the country and even around the globe, the drop in New York’s crime rate was breathtaking. 

Michael Bloomberg, Mr. Guiliani’s successor, continued the tactic. But a federal judge at the US District Court in Manhattan, Shira Scheindlin, found in 2013 stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional because it violated the rights of minorities. In New York, blacks and Hispanics were searched 84 percent of the time, even though they make up 50 percent of the city's population, according to The New York Times. The city's mayor Bill de Blasio also made ending stop-and-frisk a central part of his 2013 campaign.

Nearby Newark, N.J., has also started to reexamine its use of the tactic in the wake of a US Department of Justice investigation. In March, the city’s police department reached a deal with the Justice Department, as well as create a watchdog complaint board to provide civilians a forum to voice their concerns. The deal came following a 2014 Justice Department investigation, where the federal agency worried stop-and-frisk policing unfairly targeted blacks, which comprise 54 percent of the city’s 277,000 residents.

In Chicago, where the Trump campaign advocated for more stop-and-frisk policing, the city reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberities Union in 2015 to reform its police department. Under the agreement, an officer that performs a stop-and-frisk is required to fill out facts about the person’s name, race, sex, and why they were contacted. The ACLU's March 2015 report also found “African Americans represent nearly 72 percent of all the stops in the city of Chicago, as compared to the reality that African Americans represent only about 32 percent of the city’s population.” 

Trump hasn’t been the only presidential candidate to endorse stop-and-frisk-like policies. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) advocated in March for American law enforcement to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” following a model New York established through a program its now-defunct Demographics Unit carried out from 2003 to 2014.  

Trump’s call Wednesday polarized audience members. Connie Tucker, a white pastor at Father Heart Ministries in Cleveland, told Reuters that if stop-and-frisk helped stop crime, she’d back it.

But Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, was worried about its consequences. 

“The idea of creating a national stop-and-frisk policy is the equivalent of advancing martial law and is beyond the constitutional power of the presidency,” he wrote in an email to the Times.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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