Study finds anxiety after street stops by police

October 16, 2014 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — Young men stopped by police reported they had elevated anxiety levels and other trauma from the encounters, according a new study published Thursday, raising fresh concerns about the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policy.

The study published in the American Journal of Public Health surveyed 1,261 New Yorkers age 18-26 — those most likely to be stopped by police, mostly young black and Hispanic men. The results add to the growing dialogue about the contentious tactic known as stop, question and frisk.

The NYPD didn’t immediately respond to a message Thursday seeking comment about the study.


More than 5 million stops have been made in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men. A federal judge ruled last year the NYPD’s policy sometimes discriminates against minorities and ordered reforms to the process and a monitor to oversee changes. The ruling is on hold pending an effort by the city’s police unions to appeal it after Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would not pursue such action. De Blasio, the former public advocate, was elected on a platform that centered on police reform and had been a vocal critic of the department’s policy before he took office this year.

The study was authored by sociologist Amanda Geller, now at New York University but formerly of Columbia University, and Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia law professor who testified at the federal stop and frisk trial last year for the plaintiffs arguing they were wrongly targeted by police because of their races.

“Although proactive policing practices target high-crime, disadvantaged neighborhoods ... our findings suggest that young men stopped by the police face a parallel but hidden disadvantage: compromised mental health,” the authors wrote.

They interviewed participants from 37 neighborhoods around the city, mostly where many stops occur but also where few stops occur. Interviewers asked dozens of questions about encounters with police and the justice system. Participants were also asked questions related to anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, they were asked whether they tried to remove the time they were stopped from memory, and whether they felt nervous or restless in the past week.

The analysis found anxiety symptoms were related to the number of times men were stopped and how they perceived the encounter, and more anxiety among participants who have had more intrusive encounters.


“Our findings suggest that any benefits achieved by aggressive, proactive policing tactics may be offset by serious costs to individual and community health,” the authors wrote. “Less invasive tactics are needed for suspects who may display mental health symptoms and to reduce any psychological harm to individuals stopped.”

The questioning lasted about 25 minutes. The authors acknowledged that participants may have exaggerated their experiences and that those who had mental health symptoms may have seemed more suspicious to police or responded to police in a way that escalated their situations. However, they said they determined their findings were significant enough to merit further study.