Kicking Ass (aka Stop and Frisk) – Deterrence or Labeling?

August 2, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

Critics of stop-and-frisk claim that the policy, when used on a large scale, is counter-productive. Being stopped and frisked is not a pleasant experience, and the vast majority of people searched are not carrying illegal weapons or drugs.* To them, it just looks as though the police are “throwing their weight around.” 

The critics argue further that these aggressive police tactics reduce the cops effectiveness in doing what cops are supposed to do –  catch criminals and prevent crime.  For that, the police and the city need the help of ordinary people. If the community is largely alienated from the police and the government they represent, people will be less likely to help the police. 
The counter argument is that stopping a large number of people in the pool of potential criminals – i.e., young males – will reduce crime not only among the tiny fraction that are arrested but among the others as well.  Police weight-throwing will act as a general deterrent. As the cop says (the one approvingly quoted by Wilson and Kelling, in their classic “Broken Windows” essay), “We kick ass.”

Does kicking ass deter, or does it alienate?  It would be nice to have evidence rather than assertions.  A recent study by Stephanie Wiley and Finn-Age Esbensen speaks to this very question. It tracked children and teens in seven cities, interviewing them at three intervals ranging from six months to a year.
The key finding is that with participants matched for propensity, those who had contact with the police at time two (compared with those who didn’t) said at time three that they’d feel less guilt if they committed various offences from theft to violence; they expressed more agreement with various “neutralisation” scenarios (e.g. it’s OK to lie to keep yourself out of trouble); they were more committed to their deviant peers (e.g. they planned to continue hanging out with friends who’d been arrested); and finally, they said they’d engaged in more offending behaviour, from skipping classes to taking drugs or being violent. This pattern of results differed little whether police contact involved being arrested or merely being stopped. [emphasis added]

The study lends support to wishy-washy, liberal criminological ideas like labeling and neutralization(if you took the basic crim course, you recognized this old friend in the above paragraph). This does not mean that deterrence doesn’t work. It just means that stopping kids on a massive scale is not an effective deterrent.

The article itself in Crime and Delinquency is here, gated for $25. The summary is free at Research Digest

*Of the 533,00 police stops in New York last year, 729 turned up firearms.  Whether a hit ratio of 0.14% is high or low is of course a judgment call.  (The police also scored 4,700 knives – lucky for me and the Swiss army that I wasn’t stopped.  Including those raises the batting average to 1 in 100.)

1 comment:

DREGstudios! The Art of Brandt Hardin said...

“Stop and Frisk” is a breach of civil rights for anyone stopped, regardless of their race. The actions and abuse by the NYPD are filling the very definition of a “Police State” where citizens are under never ending scrutiny in order for cops meet a quota designed to turn profits. You can read much more about our Justice System running amuck and how they’ve violated civil liberties across the country in the name of the almighty dollar at