Federal Civil Litigation as an Instrument of Police Reform: A Natural Experiment Exploring the Effects of the Floyd Ruling on Stop-And-Frisk Activities in New York City
81 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2016
Date Written: May 3, 2016
Stop-and-frisk has emerged as a popular crime control tactic in American policing. Though stop-and-frisk has a long, established legal history, the recent experiences in many jurisdictions demonstrate a strong disconnect between principle and practice. Arguably, stop-and-frisk has become the next iteration of a persistent undercurrent in racial injustice in American policing, perhaps best demonstrated by the recent police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray — all during stop-and-frisk encounters. Recent events have facilitated a national dialogue on police accountability and police reform, and federal civil litigation has been central to that discussion. Although federal court relief can be pursued through a variety of avenues (most frequently by individuals or class actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or by the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 14141), very little research has examined the impact of federal civil litigation on unconstitutional police practices. The current study examines the New York City confluence of racial injustice in policing, misuse of stop-and-frisk by officers, and federal civil litigation designed to precipitate police reform. Authors employ a natural experimental design to conduct a year-to-year comparison of stop-and-frisk activities and outcomes conducted by the NYPD in 2011, during the height of their stop-and-frisk program, and 2014, one year after a federal court deemed the program unconstitutional and ordered reforms. Results show substantial improvement in stop-and-frisk practices following the federal civil litigation, including reduced prevalence and geographic concentration, as well as increased rates of arrest and weapon and contraband seizures. Moreover, crime continued to decline in New York as the NYPD reformed its stop-and-frisk program. Even though racial disparities in those subjected to stops by the NYPD persist, the overall findings show positive progress in New York and highlight the role of federal civil litigation as an instrument of police reform.
Keywords: Stop-And-Frisk; Consent Decrees
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