The department recently announced an expansion of the program to allow officers in the department’s Traffic Unit to pull-over and question suspicious drivers.
The controversial police practice known as stop-and-frisk may be synonymous with the New York Police Department, but the policy has also been widely used by law enforcement in another U.S. city: Detroit.
Hoping to prevent street crime, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the department has used the policy for “some years” and says he has no plans to do away with it despite the fact that just last week a federal judge ruled that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional because it leads to racial profiling — specifically of Blacks and Latinos — by police officers.
Not only does Detroit plan on keeping its stop-and-frisk program, but the department recently announced an expansion of the program to allow officers in the department’s Traffic Unit to pull-over and question suspicious drivers.
The Detroit Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program was crafted by consultants from the Manhattan Institute and Bratton Group, which also developed the program for the NYPD. Now, those same consultants will be working with the department’s Traffic Unit officers to “evolve its mission from principally the issuance of tickets toward the prevention of crime.”
Detroit Police Assistant Chief Eric Ewing said the new campaign will just be an extension of a longstanding practice. “We’re already a stop-and-frisk agency; we’ve been doing it for years,” he said, adding, “That’s just another way to say ‘proactive policing.’”
Ewing said he understands the public’s concerns about racial profiling, but said that since Detroit’s population is predominantly African-American, “of course we’re going to stop more black people. That’s not racial profiling; that’s just good police work.”
Specific details of the city’s program have not yet been revealed, other than traffic officers will now be able to stop and frisk “suspicious” individuals on the road. However, a recent poll from a local news outlet found that 58 percent of the city’s residents support the stop-and-frisk policy, while 37 percent oppose it and 20 percent of respondents were unsure.
Cuban Williams, 34, is a Detroit resident who says he was stopped and frisked this past April at a gas station. He said he supports the stop-and-frisk policy because “realistically speaking, that’s what’s needed to prevent crime.
“Any effort is greatly appreciated. The police need to stop all these knuckleheads from shooting people and doing carjackings. It’s all about how they approach you.”
Debate over value of stop-and-frisk continues
Heather MacDonald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute — one of the organizations that helped design the stop-and-frisk policies in New York and Detroit. She said stop-and-frisk policies help minorities and the poor, and said U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s decision about the NYPD should not affect Detroit.
In her August 12 ruling, Scheindlin said that both statistical and anecdotal evidence regarding the NYPD’s program was indicative of racial profiling, which prompted her to rule it as an unconstitutional policy. In her decision, she said that while many police practices may be useful for fighting crime, if found to be unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective they may be.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long argued that dismantling the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program “would be chaotic, dangerous and even deadly for our police officers and for our city,” since he said the program was responsible for a reduction in crime.
However, as Mint Press News previously reported, since controversy regarding the stop-and-frisk program began in recent years, the NYPD reduced its use of the tactic. While the number of stop-and-frisk incidents decreased by 51 percent in the first three months of 2013, murder rates also dropped by 30 percent and overall crime fell by 2.7 percent.
MacDonald called Scheindlin’s decisions a “very big setback” and said “Scheindlin has embraced a flawed statistical model for determining when officers are racially profiling that uses a population benchmark rather than a crime benchmark that guarantees if officers are patrolling high-crime neighborhoods, which are primarily minority communities, they’re going to be vulnerable to racial profiling lawsuits. There’s no way a police department can avoid generating racially disproportionate arrests, because the crime patterns are what they are.”
She went on to say that “The reason police do proactive policing is to try to bring the same degree of public safety to poor communities as rich ones. This is done to equalize people’s opportunities for success, and to make sure everyone has the same right to live in freedom from fear. It’s actually a pro-civil rights policy, I would argue.”
But Ron Scott, the director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said his concern about the expansion of the city’s stop-and-frisk program is not just about racial profiling.
“It becomes a slippery slope where police feel they can stop people just because they think they’re about to do something,” he said. “You can’t just indiscriminately stop people; that’s not how a democracy works.”
In response to Scott’s concerns, Ewing said the officers don’t stop people without reason. “If we have reasonable suspicion someone is about to commit a crime, we’re allowed to stop that individual,” he said. “If we have a good reason to believe they may be armed — say, if we see a holster, or a bulge that looks like a gun — then we’re allowed to search them. That’s just being proactive.
“We’re not telling our officers they have to go out and stop x-number of people each day,” Ewing said. “But we are telling them to do police work.”
He added that the department is already under federal oversight, and that the department’s officers are “in the business of constitutional policing, which means there are policies we have to adhere to,” adding, “We understand that citizens have rights.”
While Detroit Police Officers document every interaction with the public, according to Detroit police union president Mark Diaz, the race of those persons stopped as well as any information about weapons recovered, has not been analyzed, at least publicly.
However, crime statistics from the department show that while crime has dropped 1.62 percent since last year, there have been 197 murders so far and the city is still one of the most dangerous places in the U.S.