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JPAM Point/Counterpoint Articles: Stop & Frisk (G. Ridgeway)

May 23, 2017 08:00 AM

As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.

By: Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D.

You began your research on police stop-and-frisk procedures in 2007 when you conducted analysis on NYPD’s UF250 data. What data was included in this analysis and what spurred your interest in research? 
 
In 2007 I was working with a team of researchers reviewing use-of-force at NYPD, particularly officer-involved shootings. At the same time NYPD was involved in a court settlement, the Daniels case, and Commissioner Kelly asked me to analyze their UF250 data for evidence of racial bias in their stop, question, and frisk practices. I received data on all stops that occurred in 2006, about 500,000 stops, including information on when and where the stop took place, why the stop took place, and what happened during the stop.
 
Were there any challenges to conducting your analysis on this data, either internal or external?
 
I’m a statistician and a scientist. So in my view most of the challenges were methodological. It is difficult to tease apart the effect of race from other aspects of policing and communities. For example, officers frisked 45% of stopped black and Hispanic pedestrians compared with 29% of white pedestrians. But black, Hispanic, and white pedestrians were stopped at different times, places, contexts, and for different reasons. So I needed to figure out whether a white pedestrian stopped at the same time, place, and context as the black and Hispanic pedestrians would be frisked at the same rate.
 
What is the main conclusion of your research on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk data? 
 
My analysis addressed several questions. First, it is not surprising that NYPD would stop 500,000 pedestrians per year (it’s a big city, with a fair amount of crime, and a lot of cops). Second, I identified 15 officers who were conducting inexplicably more stops of black and Hispanic pedestrians when compared with their peers working the same times and places. Third, there were unexplainable disparities in frisk rates, black pedestrians frisked 45% of the time and white pedestrians stopped at the same time, place, and for the same reason were frisked 42% of the time. However, in Staten Island the disparity was much larger. Lastly, when frisked or searched, white pedestrians were equally likely to have a weapon as black pedestrians.
 
Were there any surprises found while conducting the research on the stop-and-frisk data?
 
When I was doing the research, many people were saying that the majority of the stops resulted in no citations or arrest and, therefore, these were bad stops. I spent a lot of time at NYPD and watched officers make stops. It’s true that not many of them resulted in arrest or citation, but I couldn’t say that the stops I observed were bad stops. As I wrote in the paper, there was an assault late one night and police broadcast a suspect description. Immediately I could see officers on foot stopping pedestrians that matched the description. In the process of identifying the actual perpetrators they did stop numerous innocent pedestrians, but I couldn’t say that those stops were unreasonable. I’m aware that there are bad stops and unprofessional police officers, but after observing several stops I had a better understanding of how stops might not result in any further action and still be reasonable stops.
 
In your article, you note that “individuals have the right to be free from unconstitutional intrusion. At the same time, communities should have access to effective and non-discriminatory crime control.” Based on your research, how is that balance achieved?
 
In a democratic society community members can decide what policing looks like in their communities. The constitution, our legislatures, our city councils, and our courts provide boundaries on police actions, but community members can advocate for more attention on traffic fatalities, or less aggressive law enforcement actions against our youths, or a greater focus on high crime locations. Through voting and direct appeals to elected officials, police chiefs, and city managers community members can shape the style of policing they want for their communities. And it can change over time as the volume of crime increases or decreases and as public safety concerns change.
 
What would be the ideal next step for your research findings? How would you like to see the findings of your research on the stop-and-frisk data used?
 
I would like policymaking on policing to be driven by good analysis, not shocking events or statistics that do not shed light on the issues. I think my analysis of NYPD stops present a reasonable template for other communities to follow in their efforts to understand police stops in their communities. If they collect the same data and apply the same methodologies, then they can see for themselves whether racial disparities exist, how large they are, whether particular officers are contributing greatly to the disparity, and identify problems they can address with good management.
 
 
Author's Bio
ridgeway_copy
Greg Ridgeway, PhD, is currently an Associate Professor of Criminology and Statistics, Director of the M.S. Program in Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to working at Penn, Prof. Ridgeway was the Acting Director of the National Institute of Justice, and as such, a member of the Senior Executive Service, the highest leadership position in the federal government's civil service. NIJ is the Justice Department’s science agency with 80 employees and a budget of $250M and charged with strengthening the social, physical, and forensic sciences in order to improve our understanding of crime and advance justice. Previously, Prof. Ridgeway was Director of the RAND Safety and Justice Program and the RAND Center on Quality Policing where he worked with numerous criminal justice organizations around the world. Dr. Ridgeway is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, a distinction he received for being one of the world’s foremost statisticians engaged in crime research. He is the inventor on seven awarded US patents.

 

Check out this and other Journal of Policy Analysis and Management articles online.

 

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