Study Reveals Stop and Frisk Significantly Impacts Trust in New York City Police

New York, NY–The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) today released a study that examined how being stopped by the police, and the frequency of those stops, affects young people and public safety in highly patrolled areas in New York City.  The Coming of Age with Stop and Frisk: Experiences, Self-Perceptions, and Public Safety Implications study found that 88 percent of young people surveyed believe that residents of their neighborhood do not trust the police, and only one in four surveyed would report someone whom they believe had committed a crime. Findings also revealed that young people who have been stopped more often in the past are less willing to report crimes, even when they themselves are the victims.

The study surveyed nearly 500 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and included in-depth interviews with a smaller, sample of 13 to 21-year-olds. Researchers focused exclusively on young people in highly patrolled, high-crime areas who have been stopped by police at least once in their lives. The study explored how often young people are stopped, the nature of stop and frisk and its consequences.

“Our research demonstrates that stop and frisk is compromising trust in law enforcement and discouraging young people from speaking up and reporting crimes, even when they are the ones that need help,” said Jennifer Fratello, research director at Vera’s Center on Youth Justice and the study’s principal investigator. “We can only improve public safety through cooperation between police and the community, which means we need to repair the damage caused by excessive use of stop and frisk.”

Findings Point to Public Safety Implications

According to the study, trust in law enforcement in high patrol, high-crime communities is extremely low, and some young people are not willing to ask police for help in times of need and report crimes.

Study findings revealed that:

  • 88 percent of young people surveyed believe that residents of their neighborhood do not trust the police.
  • Only four in 10 respondents said they would be comfortable seeking help from police if in trouble.
  • Only one in four respondents would report someone whom they believe had committed a crime.
  • Willingness to report crime declines in young people who have been stopped more often in the past, even when they themselves are the victims. Each additional stop in the span of a year is associated with an 8 percent drop in the person’s likelihood of reporting a violent crime he or she might experience.

Stop and Frisk in Action

In researching the number of stops and the police actions that took place, the study found frisks, searches, threats and the use of force are a common occurrence. Findings include:

  • 44 percent of young people surveyed indicated they had been stopped repeatedly—9 times or more, and 20 percent said they had been stopped just once.
  • 71 percent of young people surveyed reported being frisked at least once, and 64 percent said they had been searched.
  • 45 percent reported encountering an officer who threatened them, and 46 percent said force had been used against them at least once.
  • One out of four said they were involved in a stop in which the officer displayed his or her weapon.

The study also took a closer look into the nature of the stop and frisk experience for young people and found that stops are often perceived to be unjustified, unfair and biased. For example:

  • Less than a third—29 percent—reported ever being informed of the reason for a stop.
  • When asked what the person had been doing prior to being stopped, 90 percent of the 42 interview subjects said they were engaged in routine activities such as walking home from school, crossing the street, standing in front of a store, or hanging out in the park.  
  • Half of young people surveyed believe the officers who stopped them were biased against them—51 percent believe they were treated worse because of their race/ethnicity, and 61 percent believe the way the police acted towards them was influenced by their age.

Recommendations for Improving Police-Community Relations

“Vera has a long history of working to improve public safety by strengthening the ties between police and the community,” said Fratello. “Our hope is that the findings provide a starting place for fostering dialogue – a constructive dialogue aimed at increasing cooperation and rebuilding trust between law enforcement and our communities.”

In an effort to collaborate and foster discussion around remedying the impact and consequences of stop and frisk, Vera offers the following recommendations in response to the study findings:

  • The NYPD, which decreased the number of stop and frisks by 22 percent from 2011 to 2012, should continue to recalibrate the practice with an aim to restoring trust and public safety.
  • Emphasize respectful policing throughout the organization by revising trainings to better inform people of the reason for stops and reducing the number of stops that escalate to the point of threats and use of physical force—making community members feel they are treated fairly.
  • Closely collaborate with the predominately black and Hispanic/Latino communities where stop and frisk has been concentrated to find tangible strategies that rebuild trust and repair relationships.
  • Partner with researchers to better understand the costs and benefits of various proactive policing strategies as well as individual practices such as stop and frisk.

About The Study

Vera conducted a survey with 474 young adults ages 18 to 25 years between May 2012 and September 2012. Researchers also conducted in-depth interviews with 42 younger people ages 13 to 21 and at least one parent or caregiver throughout 2012. Interviews were conducted in English, French or Spanish, according to the subject’s preference. Participation was limited to young people who had been stopped by the police at least once in their life. Focus groups with community leaders were also held in each study site in July and August 2012. The study took place in five New York City neighborhoods: Bedford Stuyvesant and East New York in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens, East Harlem in Manhattan, and the South Bronx.

About Vera

The Vera Institute of Justice combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety. Vera is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit center for justice policy and practice, with offices in New York City, Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. The organization’s projects and reform initiatives, typically conducted in partnership with local, state, or national officials, are located across the United States and around the world.

View a PDF of the press release here.