3 Reasons Stop-and-Frisk is Still Wrong, Despite Rising Crime Rates

It’s racist, it doesn’t work, and it can endanger public safety

Tim Wise


NYC police officer, Image: Drop of Light, Shutterstock, standard license, purchased by author

As homicide rates rise across much of the country — along with those for offenses like burglary — politicians and commentators are sounding the call for a practice that many believed had been discredited.


Or, as some now call it, “Stop, Question, and Frisk” (SQF).

Presumably, the “question” part has been added to make the process seem less authoritarian.

As if police asking some simple questions before they frisk you means they must have had probable cause once they did.

So, ya know, no harm, no foul.

Except there is harm. And there is most definitely something foul about the practice, especially as it has been carried out in places like New York, where its use was found unconstitutional nearly a decade ago.

Although SQF policies are not inherently unlawful, in city after city, such efforts have been administered in ways that run afoul of Constitutional rights.

And so long as crime rates were dropping, even after stop-and-frisk was formally ended in New York, few called for the practice to return. Even those who had supported it and predicted massive crime spikes after it was thrown out had to admit they’d been wrong.

But now, nine years later, with rates of homicide rising again, it’s as if the last decade of lessons have been forgotten.

From right-wing Senators to the Democratic Mayor of New York City — himself a former cop — calls for one version or another of SQF have been relentless as of late.

Indeed, many argue that the cutback in SQF led to the rise in violent crime.

But the evidence undermines this conclusion.

For instance, although some have blamed cutbacks to stop-and-frisk for the rise in Chicago’s homicide rates after 2015, careful analysis throws cold water on the claim, especially since stop-and-frisk didn’t actually end in the city.

The only change in Chicago was a requirement that police document and explain their reasons…



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)