The Efficiency of Frisks in the NYPD, 2004–2010

Date01 June 2013
Published date01 June 2013
AuthorJoseph Ferrandino
Subject MatterArticles
The Efficiency of Frisks
in the NYPD, 2004–2010
Joseph Ferrandino
NewYork Police Department(NYPD) stop and frisk policyhas come under increasingscrutiny in recent
years and has been analyzed exclusivelyin terms of its equity and effectiveness. This study adds a third
approach of policy outcome analysis—technical efficiency—by employing a pooled data envelopment
analysis of all Stop, Question, and Frisk data from all NYPD precincts from 2004 through 2010
(3,410,300 total stops resulting in 1,721,955 total frisks). The results reveal that the NYPD is input
inefficient in many precincts (mean IOTA score ¼.40) but slightly more output efficient (mean IOTA
score ¼.50). The most efficient precincts and boroughs are also identified to set performance
benchmarksfor frisks within the NYPD.According to the input-oriented results(the equity side), there
shouldhave been 1,091,846fewer frisks given theoutputs produced (arrests,guns, and contraband),and
the output-oriented results(effectiveness side)suggest the NYPD shouldhave produced 179,056 more
arrests, found 6,306 more pistols and found 59,883 more instances of contraband to be technically
efficient, given the level frisks throughout the NYPD. Though a certain amount of inefficiency is
enshrined in the friskdecision, these results are placed in the context of police actionsand outcomes
in the NYPD over this time period, and are used to inform both sides of the current debate. This
researchis unique to the police efficiencyliterature andsets the foundation for futureresearch that fully
models efficiency antecedents as well as the outcomes that result from inefficient frisks.
NYPD, stop and frisk, technical efficiency, data envelopment analysis
The stop and frisk policies of the New York Police Department (NYPD) have come under increasing
scrutiny throughout the past decade. As Jeremy Travis (in Jones-Brown, Gill, & Trone, 2010)
For the past several years, there has been a lively debate in New York City on the efficacy of the stop,
question and frisk policies of the New York City Police Department. Strong claims are made on both
sides of the debate. Proponents of these practices claim that they have made substantial contributions
Indiana University-Northwest, Gary, IN, USA
Corresponding Author:
Joseph Ferrandino, Indiana University-Northwest, 3400 Broadway, Gary, IN 46408, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
38(2) 149-168
ª2012 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016812466570
to the crime decline in New York City and have become an essential tool in the Police Department’s
crime prevention toolkit. Critics of these practices claim that the stop, question and frisk policies have
had an unwarranted disparate impact on communities of color and have undermined the legitimacy of the
police and the justice system.
The two sides of this debate have been imbalanced in terms of the research dedicated to each
perspective. A vast majority of NYPD stop and frisk policy analysis has been approached from
an equity standpoint, that is, the race/ethnicity of the suspect stopped and/or frisked relative to their
respective demographics (Center for Constitutional Rights, 2009; Civilian Complaint Review
Board, 2001; Geller & Fagan, 2010; Gelman, Fagan, & Kiss, 2007; Jones-Brown et al., 2010;
Ridgeway, 2007; Spitzer, 1999; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2000). Most of this research,
using various methodological approaches, has found significant disparities in both stops and frisks
among Black and Hispanic citizens. Thus, equity outcomes of NYPD stop and frisk policy have
increasingly become a research focus.
The effectiveness of the policy has been introduced into the debate less often and mainly from the
police perspective to justify the local crime control approach. This framework views the stop and
frisk as a tool of policing that has been effective in reducing crime in New York City and as such,
it has been used aggressively by the NYPD toward that end (see Spitzer, 1999, p. 70). The aggressive
policing methods in New York City are founded in Broken Windows theory combined with
technology-based management and zero-tolerance patrol at the street level (Bass, 2001), which
suggests that enhanced stop and frisk is a purposive course of action to reach a desired end (i.e.,
a policy) rather than an isolated social phenomenon. Maintaining order, a main focus of this
approach, requires proactive police action, increased arrests for lower level offenders (Kelling &
Bratton, 1998) and corresponds with an increased application of stops and frisks (Davis, Ortiz,
Galinskiy, Ylesseva, & Briller, 2004; Geller & Fagan, 2010; Schneider, Chapman, & Schapiro,
2009; Spitzer, 1999; Wilson, 1994). Overall, there is less empirical evidence on the effectiveness
of NYPD stop and frisk policy than on the equity of its application.
Missing altogether is the third focus of policy analysis that has the potential to objectively inform
the other two sides of this debate: technical efficiency. While the equity perspective is mainly
concerned withlimiting inputs (frisks) and the effectiveness perspective mainlyfocuses on increasing
outputs (e.g., finding of weapons and contraband), the efficiency perspective integrates both to deter-
mine the relationship between frisksemployed and outputs produced. The present study represents the
first-known empirical longitudinal efficiency analysis of NYPD ‘‘stop and frisk’’ policy and seeks to
inform the broader debate through exploration of four specific research questions:
1. How technically efficient are NYPD precincts in their frisking of suspects and what is the
departmental trend over time?
2. Given the level of outputs produced, how many fewer frisks should occur in New York City
each year for the department and its precincts to be efficient?
3. Given the amount of frisks performed each year, how many more gun seizures, contraband
discoveries, and arrests should the NYPD be producing for the department and its precincts
to be efficient?
4. What are the most and least efficient precincts in the NYPD relative to stop and frisk policy?
To study these research questions, data envelopment analysis (DEA) is introduced and a review of
the police efficiency literature utilizing DEA is undertaken to place the current study in context as
well as show its unique value within the existing research. Next, the methodology is discussed within
the framework of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions—Terry and Dickerson—which guide the
selection of outputs. The DEA results are then presented, leading to a discussion of NYPD frisk
150 Criminal Justice Review 38(2)

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