I think we can all agree that New York’s stop-and-frisk campaign is an epic fail. If there’s any doubt, a cursory perusal of the New York Civil Liberties Unionwebsite will allay your skepticism. Since 2002, scores of New Yorkers have fallen prey to this procedure and the overwhelming majority have been black and Latino. (In ten years, the highest number of whites stopped and frisked was 12 percent. In every year since 2002, the number of blacks stopped and frisked has been over 50 percent. No lower than 82 percent of the total number of stopped and frisked have been innocent.) When we think of those stopped on police suspicion of criminal activity, it’s probable we’re thinking primarily about young men. But of the 685,724 stopped by the NYPD last year, 46,784 women. Nearly 16,000 were frisked. Only 59 resulted in gun charges, though 3,993 arrests were made. You can bet that the majority of those 16,000 frisked women were black or Latino.

A recent New York Times article details the humiliation women feel when stopped by the NYPD. Since most are innocent, they’re being needlessly harassed and embarrassed. Male officers are routinely stopping women, asking them to empty the contents of their purses, rifling through their personal effects, and asking them to shake their bodies to see if anything illegal drops. Many women believe frisking by male NYPD officers is illegal, but this is false. Male officers are, in fact, allowed to frisk women:

The laws governing street stops are blind to gender. Male officers are permitted to frisk a woman if they reasonably suspect that she may be armed with a dangerous weapon that could be used to harm them. A frisk can escalate into a field search if officers feel a suspicious bulge while patting down the woman’s outer layer of clothing or the outline of her purse.

Though male frisks are lawful, women often feel violated by them. Certainly the women interviewed in the Times piece did–and with good reason. Among those featured, there were accounts of gender-specific discomforts: tampons and birth control pills unearthed or opened; waistband jostled and buttocks patted; a bra and panty set pulled out of a purse. These discomforts intensify if a crowd gathers to witness the search or the frisk.

Stop-and-frisk laws are clearly failing to reduce crime and they’re doing precious little to lessen the distrust of the community toward the NYPD.

Have you ever been stopped or frisked? Do you think this practice has any merit? Should male officers be allowed to frisk women?

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