Study Focuses on NYPD Racial Profiling
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
The Bell protests are just the latest example in an ongoing battle over how far police can go to do their job. The RAND Corporation, a non-profit think tank, took a look at these issues, of how the New York Police Department treats pedestrians to see if racial profiling really exists. Joining us today to discuss the study's findings is the man who did the research, Greg Ridgway. He's the director of the Center on Quality Policing at the RAND Corporation. Hey, Greg.
Mr. GREG RIDGWAY (Director, Center on Quality Policing): Glad to be with you today.
CHIDEYA: So the New York Police Department actually asked you to conduct this study. Tell us about why they asked you to, and then of course, what you found.
Mr. RIDGWAY: Well, the commissioner was concerned about the issue of racially-biased policing in New York. So he asked me to look at the data that they'd been collecting. I hear the reference to the 425,000 stops so far this year, sounds like. I got data on about 500,000 stops that occurred in 2006, and I took a look at them to see if there was evidence of racially-based policing in there.
CHIDEYA: So what specifically - when you stay stops, what specifically are we talking about?
Mr. RIDGWAY: These are pedestrian stops. There are officers on the street that see some kind of suspicious behavior. They are suspecting a crime. Someone's trying to steal a car or a report that someone just stole my purse. And so they stop people and question. And if they suspect the person has a weapon, they will proceed to frisk.
CHIDEYA: So what did you find? What were you looking for and what did you find?
Mr. RIDGWAY: Well, the question was whether there's evidence of racially-biased policing. And the big question that comes up is in fact 90 percent of the stops involved people that were non-white. About 55 percent of those stopped in 2006 were black. And I think the big concern is when you compare that to the race distribution of the city, there is only about 25 percent black, so that immediately kind of generates concerns. Social scientists have kind of decided and figured out that comparing to the census isn't quite a reasonable comparison.
The New York Police Department allocates a lot of officers to areas that have high crime, receive lots of calls for service and in New York City those are predominantly non-white. When I made a comparison to the public's reporting of who crime suspects were, this is the public reporting to the police. These are the kinds of people that are stealing my purse or assaulting and things like this. We found about 65 percent of those crime suspect descriptions were black. So in fact, who the police are stopping is not that inconsistent with who the public is reporting are involved in crime.
CHIDEYA: Now, this week a reporter filed a suit against the NYPD, the case was filed by the New York chapter of the ACLU. It involves Leonardo Blair, he was stopped by police while going home from work. How does this incident compare to your findings? Or, you know, basically, groups like the ACLU argue that there still is racial bias if not extreme racial bias. How do your findings track with that? Or contrast to that?
Mr. RIDGWAY: Right. So my analysis doesn't look at individual incidents. I'm looking at patterns. I have lots of stops, I look cross all the stops to see if there's general patterns and trends that are indicative of racial profiling. For example, I also looked at individual officers. There are about 3,000 officers that are regularly involved in these sorts of stops, and I went one by one through them. I compared each one to their colleagues who are patrolling the same time, same place in the same context. I identified 15 officers that were stopping a lot more black and non-white pedestrians than their colleagues who were in that same neighborhood. Some of these were very extreme, you know. One stopping 86 percent black while his colleagues are stopping 55 percent black. And so this is something that the NYPD can actually take action on.
CHIDEYA: You actually provided some recommendations. Give me an example of one or two of them.
Mr. RIDGWAY: Well, one of the important things is that the stops go well. That the police are professional, that they're there and it's clear that they are trying to serve the public. Mistakes will happen, they'll pick the wrong person up, someone will happen to fit a crime suspect description, but the way the police conduct themselves needs to be extremely professional. Very polite. And one of the recommendations I made was that they hand the person a receipt when they make a mistake that says I've made a mistake, here's my name, here's the name of my supervisor, here's his phone number, give him a call. Here's how you file a complaint, this is why I stopped you. You're wearing a white T-shirt, black jeans, that's the same description that I just received over the radio. And that can go a long way to improving things.
CHIDEYA: Give me one more.
Mr. RIDGWAY: Well, the other thing was that they need to find out who these 15 officers are and take some action to resolve those issues.
CHIDEYA: Well Greg, thanks so much.
Mr. RIDGWAY: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Greg Ridgway is the director of the Center on Quality Policing at the RAND Corporation, and he joined us here at our NPR Studios in Culver City.
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