This small army of officers, night after night, spends much of its energy pursuing the controversial Police Department tactic known as “Stop, Question, Frisk,” and it does so at a rate unmatched anywhere else in the city.
The officers stop people they think might be carrying guns; they stop and question people who merely enter the public housing project buildings without a key; they ask for identification from, and run warrant checks on, young people halted for riding bicycles on the sidewalk.
One night, 20 officers surrounded a man outside the Brownsville Houses after he would not let an officer smell the contents of his orange juice container.
Between January 2006 and March 2010, the police made nearly 52,000 stops on these blocks and in these buildings, according to a New York Times analysis of data provided by the Police Department and two organizations, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union. In each of those encounters, officers logged the names of those stopped — whether they were arrested or not — into a police database that the police say is valuable in helping solve future crimes.
These encounters amounted to nearly one stop a year for every one of the 14,000 residents of these blocks. In some instances, people were stopped because the police said they fit the description of a suspect. But the data show that fewer than 9 percent of stops were made based on “fit description.” Far more — nearly 26,000 times — the police listed either “furtive movement,” a catch-all category that critics say can mean anything or “other as the only reason for the stop. Many of the stops, the data show, were driven by the police’s ability to enforce seemingly minor violations of rules governing that can come and go in the city’s public housing.
The encounters — most urgently meant to get guns off the streets — yield few arrests. Across the city, 6 percent of stops result in arrests. In these roughly eight square blocks of Brownsville, the arrest rate is less than 1 percent. The 13,200 stops the police made in this neighborhood last year resulted in arrests of 109 people. In the more than 50,000 stops since 2006, the police recovered 25 guns.
The Fourth Amendment means we are all supposed to be safe from unlawful, unwanted, and unwarranted searches and seizures.