Stop-and-Frisk Doesn’t Yield Many Convictions

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Those in favor of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactic like to talk about its effectiveness as a crime deterrent, not a crime solver, though its specific effectiveness in either realm has never quite been established. That changed on Thursday when the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a study — the first of its kind, according to Reuters — that found about half of those arrested as the result of stops-and-frisks wound up getting convicted. Of those convicted (mostly for drug violations and "quality of life" crimes), just 1.5 percent received a sentence of more than 30 days in jail, which would suggest it's not terribly effective at yielding meaningful convictions. That, says the NYPD, was never the point.

The report was "clearly flawed," NYPD spokesman John McCarthy told The Wall Street Journal. He pointed out that the 51 percent conviction rate found in Schneiderman's report was "nearly identical" to the city's overall conviction rate. But the report did not compare the stop-and-frisk arrests to the overall city numbers. "This analysis somehow just ignores situations where an officer’s action deters or prevents a crime from occurring in the first place," McCarthy told CBS New York.

The problem is, the research doesn't back up the police department's claim that stop-and-frisk effectively deters crime, either. As Benjamin Wallace-Wells reported recently, increasingly precise but as-yet unpublished research suggests stop-and-frisk is, at best, marginally effective in reducing crime, to the point where it's barely worth investing in the manpower.

But as the New York Times' Jim Dwyer reminds us, stop-and-frisk is still a very effective way to make small-time drug arrests that get people into the system, as marijuana possession was the most common charge in the arrests stemming from the tactic: "The few whites and Asians arrested on these charges were 50 percent more likely than blacks to have the case 'adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,' the report showed."