HARLEM — A panel of criminal justice experts said the city needs to develop alternatives to the controversial stop and frisk policing strategy because it is alienating entire neighborhoods.
The panel, organized by Manhattan Borough President and mayoral hopeful Scott Stringer, said the number of guns recovered as a result of stop and frisk doesn't justify the damage the tactic inflicts upon police and community relations.
"Stop and frisk has become a defining civil rights issue of our time," Stringer said during opening remarks of the forum, which was held at Touro College on 125th Street.
In 2011, the NYPD conducted 685,724 stop and frisks and recovered 780 guns, according to a study of stop and frisks by the New York Civil Liberties Union. That's 176 more guns than collected in 2003, when 160,851 stops were made.
Young black and Latino males between the ages of 14 to 24 account for only 5 percent of the city's population but comprised 42 percent of those stopped. Meanwhile, the 168,126 stops of young black men exceeded the actual number of young black men—158,406— in the city.
Even in neighborhoods where blacks and Latinos make up a small portion of the population, they were still stopped and frisked at higher rates. In Greenwich Village and Soho, blacks and Latinos comprise just 8 percent of the area population but make up almost 77 percent of those stopped and frisked.
Ninety percent of those stopped and frisked were released without charges or any finding of illegal activity.
"How do you justify 800 stops to get one gun?" NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman asked.
"This is a program specially designed and targeted to people of color," she added.
Glenn Martin, vice-president of development and public affairs for the Fortune Society, which works with ex-offenders, said an arrest based on a stop and frisk could lead to the loss of housing, employment, and most importantly, hope.
"You set these young folks up for failure," said Martin, an ex-offender who spent six years in prison and said he has been stopped and frisked three times in the last year since he moved from Park Slope to Harlem.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have staunchly defended stop and frisk, saying it has led to record drops in crime and helped to keep guns off the street.
Panelist David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said there are much more effective ways to reduce crime than stop and frisk. He said a small subset of young men in dangerous neighborhoods are responsible for the violent crime.
Targeting those men by offering them choices to violence and applying community pressure can reduce crime.
In addition, an NYPD program that seeks to reduce juvenile robbery perpetrators by going to their home, putting them on notice that police know who they are, and providing services, has helped to reduce robberies in those areas by 80 percent, Kennedy said.
"It's amazing how far away from common sense we've gotten on this issue," Kennedy said.
Michael Hardy, executive vice president and general counsel for the National Action Network, said the solution lies in using the power of the ballot to elect a person willing to change the policy.
"Many communities would not tolerate this. They would use their vote to make a change," Hardy said. "The next administration will have an opportunity to change policing."
Lieberman said the decision by a federal judge Wednesday to allow a lawsuit challenging stop and frisk to become a class action suit is indicative of the type of efforts it would take to change the policy.
Stringer deflected a question about him running for mayor.
"We've got to build this agenda and come up with alternatives," Stringer said.
Terrell Trip, who lives in Wagner Houses in East Harlem, said he has been stopped and frisked and arrested multiple times for minor infractions such as trespassing while trying to visit a friend.
"I sometimes feel like I'm living in Uganda. It doesn't make sense that this occurs in America," said Trip, who said he wished the forum had offered more alternatives to stop and frisk.
Not everyone at the forum was opposed to stop and frisk.
Mary Pannell attended the forum with her daughter Victoria, who is a national youth leader for the National Action Network. Victoria said she felt that stop and frisk did help keep people safe, but the policy should be altered to eliminate racial profiling.
Some of the panel's speakers said they were concerned that too many people used public safety to justify what they feel is a discriminatory policy.
Pannell defended her daughter.
"The criminals follow the news just like law enforcement. If stop and frisk is eliminated, the criminals will feel it is safer for them to carry guns," said Pannell, who emphasized that community involvement was the key to stopping violence in a heated, but friendly discussion with participants who disagreed with her.
"It starts with us. It doesn't start with the police," she said.