Complexity Explorer Santa Fe Institute

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Lecture: Crime and Punishment

Lead instructor:


1.1 Criminal justice » The legacy of stop-and-frisk

Stop-and-frisk was a policing practice put into effect by the New York City Police Department in the early part of the the 2000s under mayor Rudy Guiliani. Police were allowed to temporarily detain and search civilians for weapons, illegal drugs, or other contraband on the streets of New York with negligible cause. At the height of the practice, in 2011, almost 700,000 people were subject to stop-and-frisk, with an average of over 100,000 stops per year between 2003 and 2013. The program made heavy use of racial profiling, such that 90% of individuals stopped in 2017 were Black or Hispanic or Latinx, with the majority aged 14–24 years. Only 30% of those stopped were found to be carrying contraband. The practice had little detectable affect on crime. The fact that so many innocent Black and Hispanic or Latinx individuals were stopped and searched engendered feelings of injustice and denegration at the hands of the police.

As Dr. Sethi addresses in his lecture, racially biased policing can lead to mistrust and hostility toward the police, which initiates a perpetuating feedback loop that ultimately can lead to an increase, rather than the intended decrease, in crime.