As the sun set on a spring evening in 2010, Crystal Pope and three of her friends sat on a park bench in Harlem Heights.
It was around 6:30 p.m. and Pope says she and her friends were outside talking near her home when a police van pulled up and parked alongside the bench.
Moments later, Pope, 23, says three officers jumped out of the van and soon stood before them.
“They told us they were looking for a male rapist who was on the loose,” she tells theGrio.
Immediately after, Pope says the girls were asked for identification and the male officers then proceeded to search and pat down the girls.
“They patted us down and ran their hands through my front and back pockets,” Pope says. “They patted around my waistline and butt. They were so aggressive.”
Confusion and community outrage
Pope says she is still unsure why the officers decided to stop and frisk her and her friends when, according to Pope, they said they were looking for a male rapist.
“I don’t know why they searched us,” Pope says. “I felt like they were testing my intelligence but there wasn’t much we could do.”
As the women were patted down, Pope says she and her friends, along with nearby community members, shouted back in retaliation.
“They gave us tickets for disorderly conduct,” she says. “But we were all just feeling a lot of mixed emotions. It was all so intense and very upsetting.”
Stop-and-frisks not limited to men
Pope’s story is one example of nearly 16,000 women who were stopped-and-frisked in 2011, according to The New York Times.
Their analysis shows that of the 16,000 women who were frisked, guns were found in 59 cases.
Many civil rights advocates argue that the practice is ineffective due to the low number of guns recovered from the practice and believe it uses racial profiling..
This has all led the Center of Constitutional Rights to file an ongoing class action lawsuit against the city.
The CCR says the practice, which allows officer to stop, question and search individuals based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, often goes beyond what is permitted and violates constitutional amendments that prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures and protect against racial profiling.
However, city officials say they don’t allow racial profiling and assert that officers don’t stop people without reasonable suspicion. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former NYPD Chief Joseph Esposito are among the city’s most vocal supporters of stop-and-frisks. They both defend the practice, saying it is effective in deterring crime.
The trial, Floyd v. City of New York is now in its seventh week.
Women feel humiliation
While most statistics on stop-and-frisks and plaintiffs in the trial primarily focus on situations involving men, women who have been stopped by the police say they feel a deeper sense of embarrassment.
“Women who are stopped and frisked by male NYPD officers report feeling particularly violated,” Rosa Squillacote, a policy advocate for the Police Reform Organizing Project, tells theGrio.
“Stop-and-frisks are often described as humiliating experiences, and when the interaction is between male officers and women, this humiliation is exaggerated.”
Officers trained to follow procedure
TheGrio has repeatedly contacted NYPD officials for comment on the stop-and-frisk practice and has not heard back.
However, Police Inspector Kim Y. Royster told The New York Times that police officers are trained on how to conduct a frisk, which includes specific procedures on how to search external clothing areas around the waistband and groin.
“Yes, it’s intrusive, but wherever a weapon can be concealed is where the officer is going to search,” Inspector Royster said, adding that the search is a result of actions that raise an officer’s suspicion and the information provided to them.
“Safety has no gender,” Inspector Royster said. “When you are talking about the safety of an officer, the first thing he or she is going to do is mitigate that threat.”
Inspector Royster also says that it is both unsafe and impractical for male officers to wait for a female cop to arrive to the scene.
Still, Pope and her friends argued with the officers as they were being searched and witnesses demanded the officers summon a female officer to conduct the frisk – a request that went ignored, Pope says.
Squillacote says, “If circumstances really call for stopping a woman because of suspicious behavior, then, if at all possible, a woman officer should conduct the stop-and-frisk.”
Decrease in stop-and-frisks not good enough
Still, Pope says that her incident left her feeling uncomfortable and shocked.
But while she has been stopped almost seven times, Pope says she used to witness individuals being stopped and frisked at least four times a day in her Harlem neighborhood.
Now, she says the number has reduced to about five or six times a week – as the number of police stop-and-frisks has reduced by more than 34 percent last year.
Despite the decrease, Squillacote believes the practice should be eradicated altogether.
“The NYPD should abolish the tactic of stop-and-frisk as it is currently practiced in our city,” Squillacote says.
Pope also echoes this belief.
“I hope the practice stops completely.”
This is part three of theGrio’s series on New York City’s decade-long stop-and-frisk practice, which has prompted an ongoing class action lawsuit. Click here for part two of the series.
Follow Lilly Workneh @Lilly_Works