Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly argue the main purpose of stop-and-frisk is to get guns off the street. Out of more than 685,000 stops in 2011, about 770 guns were recovered. That means about one tenth of one percent of all stops result in the seizure of a gun.
But those guns are not showing up in the places where the police are devoting the most stop-and-frisk resources.
Using data from the New York City police department, WNYC mapped all street stops by police that resulted in the recovery of a gun last year. The digital map shows an interesting pattern. We located all the "hot spots" where stop and frisks are concentrated in the city, and found that most guns were recovered on people outside those hot spots—meaning police aren't finding guns where they're looking the hardest.
Take the East Concourse section of the Bronx, where each block typically sees fewer than a hundred stops a year. Police found 25 guns there. But travel a short way toward Hunts Point, to three blocks that each saw more than 400 stops last year, and police found only two guns there.
The same pattern happens in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In a small area in Flatbush, where blocks each see fewer than a hundred stops, police found 10 guns last year. But go north to a section that saw thousands of stops, and it turns out police found only one gun through a stop-and-frisk.
So what does this pattern mean? Well, that depends on whom you ask.
Police critics say the map proves cops don't know where to look for guns and are making excessive suspicion-less stops.
But commanding officers within the NYPD tell WNYC the police concentrate their stop-and-frisk activity where violent crimes have been reported. Violent crimes, not past gun recoveries, determine where police officers are sent, they say.
Further, these officers point out, the WNYC map is evidence that stop-and-frisk tactics are working. They say people don’t carry guns in the areas they expect to get stopped by police — that's deterrence.
According to these cops, the map shows they're still finding the guns in high-crime areas, just not on the specific blocks that happen to be saturated with police.