How One Piece Of Paper Could Fight Racial Profiling

An important step toward accountability.

The New York Police Department just announced their latest approach to addressing complaints of racist policy: receipts.

From now on, officers will be required to give receipts to people they stop but do not arrest. The "What Is A Stop?" slips are meant to improve accountability and transparency surrounding stop-and-frisk, the practice of stopping people on the street and searching them for weapons, drugs, or other contraband.

The tactic peaked during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term — with 700,000 in 2011 — and gained notoriety for disproportionately targeting people of color. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, between 2002 to 2011, almost 90 percent of people stopped by police were black or Latino, and 88 percent of the stops did not result in arrest. The NYCLU holds stop-and-frisk has had no documented contribution to decreasing crime, and in fact cultivates distrust between communities of color and police.

The receipts explain the legal basis of stopping people on the street and requires officers provide their names and indicate the reason for the stop. Categories include concealing a weapon, participating in a drug transaction, being near a crime scene, and matching a suspect's description. There's also an "other" category, but officers are asked to specify the reason.

Two important, frequently-cited categories have been banned as legal cause to stop civilians. The first is "furtive movements," or just generally looking suspicious. The other is being in a high crime area, which frequently translates to poor and minority areas. Both factors were citied by critics as excuses for not having legitimate reasons for stops.

The forms were mandated in an order this month that also explicitly stated people can't be searched "because they are members of a racial or ethnic group that appears more frequently in local crime suspect data."

Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the NYCLU, told the New York Daily News that the changes are "important first steps in reducing illegal and discriminatory stops, while the new receipt will improve accountability and hopefully de-escalate tensions."