NEW YORK – New York City police stopped, questioned and frisked more than half a million people last year, 80 percent of them black and Hispanic, a civil-rights group said Thursday.
The new data was in a report issued by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which sued the New York Police Department last year over the stop-and-frisk policy. The report is based on raw data, some of which was obtained by the civil rights group's attorneys from the police department.
The center's study, using data available for the first half of 2008, estimated that 543,982 people were stopped last year, compared with fewer than 400,000 in 2005. It said 80 percent of those stopped were black and Hispanic, and that they were more likely than whites to be subjected to physical force during a stop.
New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said the number of minorities who were singled out under the policy was consistent with overall descriptions of race provided by victims and witnesses of crime.
Browne also said the assertions in the report are a restatement of unfounded accusations in the center's lawsuit. Browne noted that RAND Corporation, an independent research agency hired to analyze the same data, found no racial profiling in its examination, and "warned against the kind of simplistic comparisons made by the plaintiff."
"It should not be surprising that in a city of over 8 million, where police make approximately 400,000 arrests annually based on probable cause, they would also make approximately 500,000 stops based on the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion," Browne said.
The center also said that of the cumulative number of stops made since 2005, only 2.6 percent resulted in the discovery of a weapon.
"At that low a rate of return, you have to question whether this is a legitimately good crime-fighting strategy," said Darius Charney, an attorney working on the lawsuit.
Browne said it wasn't surprising or unusual that there were more stops than arrests. Police investigating crimes may stop several people who fit the general description of the suspect and only one, or possibly none, might be arrested, he said.
"It is part and parcel with police work, in a city where police have driven crime down to historic lows," Browne said.
David Ourlicht, 21, is one of four named plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city. He said he was stopped by police, thrown up against a wall and frisked three times in four months last year because police told the mixed-race St. John's University student that he looked suspicious.
"I'm not a criminal, I shouldn't be treated like one," he said.