This story is over 5 years old.


Here's what Trump got wrong about stop and frisk

The two candidates sparred over crime and race during the first presidential debate, at Hofstra University
REUTERS/Mike Segar

During the first presidential debate Monday night at Hofstra University, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both said that guns shouldn't wind up in the hands of the wrong people. But as their sparring on criminal justice and race showed, the definition of "the wrong people" can be slippery, and the candidates have very different ideas on how to keep guns away from these people.

Where they most sharply disagreed was on stop and frisk, a policy used for a decade in New York City that allows police to search people without a warrant. Trump reaffirmed his support for the policy during a campaign event at a predominantly African-American church in Cleveland last week, saying he would implement stop and frisk nationwide if elected.


One problem: The practice, in effect in New York from 2002 to 2012, was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, because it disproportionately targeted blacks and Hispanics.

When moderator Lester Holt pressed Trump on the constitutionality of stop and frisk as it was implemented in New York, Trump responded, "No, you're wrong," insisting it was ruled only "partly" unconstitutional.

"It went before a judge who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her," he added.

This is incorrect. Judge Shira Scheindlin's 195-page ruling was criticized by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a federal appeals panel. But two weeks later, the panel issued a second opinion softening their earlier criticism and saying they had found "no misconduct, actual bias or actual partiality" in the judge's ruling. Current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio withdrew the appeal against Scheindlin after he was elected.

Prior to the stop and frisk ruling, Scheindlin wasn't known for handling police cases; she'd presided primarily over business and terror-related cases.

Trump said that stop and frisk "had a tremendous impact on the safety of New York City."

But criminologists increasingly agree that stop and frisk had very little effect on the decline in crime in New York, which was already happening long before the practice was implemented. Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University, led a study that concluded stop and frisk "contributed marginally to overall crime reductions but generated a high volume of unproductive police stops that had little crime-reduction benefit."


Despite concerns that crime would skyrocket if stop and frisk was ended, violent crime actually declined in the years after de Blasio's efforts to phase it out: There were 515 murders in 2011, 419 in 2012, 333 in 2013, 328 in 2014 and 356 in 2015. "No one misses the days of stop and frisk in New York," the Center of Constitutional Rights, a progressive nonprofit advocacy group, wrote in a statement Tuesday. "It's not a policy that should be expanded in any city."

This graph by the Brennan Center for Justice shows the decline in murders relative to the number of "stop and frisk" stops.

Other cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston and Chicago, experimented with stop and frisk and drew similar accusations of racial discrimination.

Clinton hit back on Trump's stop and frisk proposal for its unintended negative consequences, such as disproportionately pulling black and Hispanic kids into the criminal justice system.

"It's just a fact that if you're a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted and incarcerated" Clinton said.

In response, Trump dredged up a sound-bite from Clinton's past that has haunted her campaign. "I do want to bring up the fact that you were the one that brought up the words 'super predator' about young black youth."

Clinton has since apologized for the terminology, which she used in a 1996 speech in New Hampshire to express her support for legislation being enacted by then-President Bill Clinton to tackle crime. Trump is correct that she used those words, although in the context in which she uses them, she doesn't actually mention race.

One tenuous point of agreement: Clinton wants to make sure people on the No Fly list – a terror watch system that civil rights groups say is discriminatory and error-prone – can't buy guns, too. On this point, Trump mostly agreed, but he also argued the policy could unfairly hinder gun ownership rights.

"I think we have to look very strongly at No Fly lists and watch lists, when people are on there, even if they shouldn't be on there, we'll help them, we'll help them legally, we'll help them get off," he said.