NYPD Stop and Frisk in Action

This video includes a recording of a typical stop and frisk by the NYPD. A 17 year old kid who has been stopped repeatedly asks an officer why they always stop and frisk him, at which point the officers threaten to slap him, to break his arm and to arrest him for being a “mutt.” The officers take the typical “who do you think you’re talking to” line. The video also includes several NYPD officers, testifying under cover, that this is absolutely routine. The NYPD does this 1800 times a day.


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  • Mutt? Isn’t there a rule that you’re supposed to pretend that you aren’t being racist?

  • scienceavenger

    Well what do you want them to say, “because you’re black”?

  • julian

    Everyone the police are targeting to make their quotas know this is happening. The problem is those not directly impacted by this want to pretend it doesn’t happen. That the police, by virtue of being police, are more trustworthy than the rest of the population.

  • captstormfield

    Simple solution: papers. Everyone would need papers to leave their own block, so right away you could tell if they were where they belonged without all the arm twisting. Plus, then they would have to wear proper jackets with pockets inside so that they could slickly whip out their papers when needed. So right away the kids are looking better in their new jackets, and the police are going to be more polite because they would get to say cool shit like “Vee chust need to see your paperssss, may vee see your papersss, PLEASE”. Win – win!

  • khms

    That the police, by virtue of being police, are more trustworthy than the rest of the population.

    Well, they’re supposed to be.

    Except, of course, that doesn’t just magically happen by itself.

    I’m pretty sure you can make that happen. Not perfect, but significantly more trustworthy than average. I’m also pretty sure it takes work, and isn’t cheap.

    Essentially, I suppose something similar to general anti-corruption measures would work for this, too. Stuff like don’t have people work the same job in the same place too long. Or with the exact same colleagues. Pay people enough so they are more resistant to corruption. Don’t overwork them. Design incentives so they actually measure effectiveness, not number of people harassed. Regularly instruct people what the current job expectations are. Stuff like that.

    Incidentally, I’m told one of the main reasons for incidents when the police stop a car is that in the US, those officers are generally single, while over here, they usually work as pairs – one to do the control, one to do the security. Makes them much less nervous. Don’t know how true this is, though it does match what I’ve heard and seen. Point, this is of course significantly more expensive – and it also means that you need one officer to at least protect a misbehaving officer for the second to get away with it.

    One other significant difference is that over here, police are state employees (unless they’re feds), not city employees. More options to ship them around to places where they don’t have a set of connections to use. Also, not as vulnerable to cities going broke, which happens much more often than states going broke, though I’m sure this part is accident, not design.

  • Paul W., OM

    Ace, is “mutt” racist, in cop usage?

    I always thought it was just sorta classist, and often used for a white man of no means–just some mutt off the street–where the contrast to purebreds is metaphorically about value, not literally about mixed breeds or races.

    A mutt is somebody who probably wouldn’t be much missed (by anyone who matters, anyway), and maybe a stray of no value to anyone, which society would be better off without.

    Or so I always gathered from TV and detective fiction & crime nonfiction, which may not be realistic.

    My tentative guess would be that even if they’re personally racist (and not just following a racist policy), they would choose to say “mutt” because it’s not racist and they wouldn’t want to be caught saying “nigger.”

    Of course, if they do that too often, the meaning could shift to a racist one.

  • Urban Dictionary lists it both ways. The idea that it’s a slur for a mixed-race person is way higher in votes, though.

  • Paul W., OM


    Hmmm… this is not something I’d necessarily trust UD about, at least not in terms of what cops intend by the term. (It might be suggestive of how hearers are likely to (mis-?)interpret it.

    If you do a google “define: mutt” search, you get

    1. A dog, esp. a mongrel.

    2. derogatory. A person regarded as stupid or incompetent.

    and links to five dictionary entries from “real” dictionaries, all of which give two definitions similar to these two, and none of which mentions race at all.

    Several say the term goes back to at least the 1890’s or early 1900’s in the second sense, and at least two say it originally it was short for “muttonhead.”

    The five definitions vary a little, but they’re similarly emphasizing foolishness, stupidity, or incompetence and (usually) insignificance or uselessness.

    I guess I was wrong about it being analogous to a dog off the street, at least in terms of its original etymology, though I’m guessing that people have more often interpreted it that way than as a short form of “muttonhead” for a long time. (I.e., as a folk etymology.)

    My guess is that cops have been using it continuously for over a hundred years to mean a useless or insignificant or valueless person, and/or a dumbass or a lowlife fuckup, typically with no racial implications.

    On the other hand, I asked my wife she’d think it means if a cop called her a mutt, and she did not know that sense of the word; having to guess, she guessed it would be a reference to being of mixed race. (She’s black, and like most US blacks, has a little white ancestry too.)

    Not a good thing to call a black person, and at least racially insensitive. Cops shouldn’t expect non-cops to know it isn’t derogatory about race—that interpretation is obvious, and the “right,” non-racist one isn’t.

  • trinioler

    Paul W. Part of the systematic racism of the US is that dictionary definitions aren’t complete and often don’t carry the racist meanings.

  • Take away their guns, the guns of average beat cops. Let detectives and armed response units carry – and make sure that there are armed officers strategically located to back up the unarmed bastards on the streets. But take the guns away from most cops and I am willing to bet they learn to respect the people they are supposed to be serving and protecting. Making sure there are armed cops in relatively close proximity and the respect might be mutual.

    Most cops can’t fucking shoot straight anyways, many of them seem all too capable of shooting bystanders (see the recent shooting of the shooter in front of the Empire State Building). These asshats should *not* be armed anyways. Incompetent, trigger happy morons, most of them. And when we limit the numbers of cops with guns, we can ensure that the ones who do carry are competent to do so.

  • matthewhodson

    @#4: … and the police could give gold stars to some citizens.

  • I agree with DuWayne.

  • Paul W., OM

    Paul W. Part of the systematic racism of the US is that dictionary definitions aren’t complete and often don’t carry the racist meanings.

    Sure. That’s why I’m looking at multiple sources and having to guess.

    If you google “police jargon mutt,” and/or “cop slang mutt,” you’ll find a bunch of references to “mutt” being standard cop jargon for something like a lowlife scumbag/dirtbag/skell or suspect/perp, or “a very unsavoury character.”

    Of the dozen or so I’ve looked at, none mentions race at all. A couple relate it to other canine terms for suspects and criminals, e.g., pedigree meaning basic biographical info on a dirtbag.

    Which reminds me that I recently saw a funny TV scene in which some new cop or hanger-on refers to a perp as a “perp,” and gets corrected by a cop who says “nobody says perp.” The newbie asks what they do call perps, and the cop reels off a long funny list of terms of which I remember only three—“scumbag,” “mutt,” and “skell”—as though they were all pretty much equivalent. (Skell was the only one in the list that made me go huh?)

    I picked up that bit of cop jargon (mutt) decades ago, and have encountered and noticed it numerous times since, and my mental image of the prototypical “mutt” is oddly clearly a scuzzy white guy. That may just be me, or it may be that in on TV, they always are white, because the writers don’t want you to see them calling a black or brown guy a “mutt” and guess that they’re being racist. I wonder.)

    Maybe cops and writers-about-cops misrepresent how they use the term in practice, but it seems to be well-known jargon and at least overtly not a racist term, just another derogatory one like dirtbag.

    But as I said before, I think that’s bad, if cops say it to non-cops, especially in anger, because the racist interpretation is just way, too easy, and may seem “obviously” the right one, as in Ace’s comment #1. (To non-cops, it’s an obscure term like “niggardly” that sounds obviously racist.)

  • Paul W., OM

    Re-watching the video, it seems pretty clear to me that when the victim asks why he’d be arrested, and the cop says “for being a fucking mutt,” the cop is sorta reiterating what he’d said shortly before—that the victim was singled out for “acting suspiciously,” e.g., wearing his hoodie hood up, and repeatedly looking back at the cop car he’d walked past.

    The cop was saying that he was being harrassed for looking and acting like a lowlife criminal type; he wasn’t saying that he was being singled out for appearing to be of mixed races.

    The title of the video is misleading for anybody who isn’t familiar with cop jargon.

    The situation is still fucking ridiculous, of course—the victim had every reason to be afraid of the cops, who’ve repeatedly harrassed him and anyone who looks like him. Brown guys in hoodies who are apprehensive about NYC cops shouldn’t be stopped or arrested just for being brown guys in hoodies being apprehensive about NYC cops—brown guys in hoodies have plenty of reason to be apprehensive about cops, so it does amount to stopping people for being brown, or wearing hoodies, or for not being cool about being systematically harrassed.)

    I thought it was interesting that one of the cops recognized the victim, and knew that the victim’s father was “on the job,” i.e., a fellow cop, and that the victim himself had participated in Explorers, which is a NYPD program for young people 14 to 20, to educate them about law enforcement.

    In other words, the victim was the son of a cop, and likely a future cop, or a previously wannabe cop, who was being treated like a criminal for… what? Being brown?… wearing a hoodie?

    Given the “professional courtesy” cops usually show each other, I’m very surprised that they kept harrassing the victim even after they recognized him as the son of a cop and a former Explorer.

    But the father cop is a traffic cop. Traffic cops are low on the totem pole of cops—the classic threat by a superior cop against a lower-ranking cop is to have him/her “directing traffic” if he/she fucks up bigtime or doesn’t do whatever he/she’s being pressured to do.

    Which makes me genuinely curious about what the fuck the cop who recognized him thought he was doing. Did he assume that the victim wouldn’t believe he’d break a fellow cop’s kid’s arm, and would know that it was just theater, and not too scary, but with a point? Or did he think that the fellow cop didn’t count, and it was okay to harrass his kid, because he’s just a traffic cop? Did he think the kid’s dad, a fellow cop, would understand and appreciate him being an asshole to his son, to keep him on the straight and narrow? Or did he think it didn’t matter? Or even that it was a good thing to kick a guy who was down, by harrassing his son?

    And I have to wonder about the dad, and whether his being a cop, and a traffic cop specifically, has something to do with his son making this video.

    Is the dad a disillusioned cop, who maybe has to direct traffic because he won’t stop and frisk enough innocent people, for no good reason to meet his quota and be a regular beat cop or get promoted from there?

    Did the kid make the video because he knows that NYPD sucks in a lot of ways, and precisely how to demonstrate it, partly because of what has happened to his father?

  • schmeer

    Paul W.,

    I can’t believe that you are serious. I have never heard an American cop say “mutt”, a tv show which does so does not mean that it

  • schmeer

    Paul W.,

    I can’t believe that you are serious. I have never heard an American cop say “mutt”. A tv show which does so has no bearing on the actions of real cops. I have, however, heard cops in private using code language for all kinds of racism. That’s where I learn those code words in the first place. For example “…you know why I call them crickets? Because they’re noisy, black and only come out at night.”

  • Paul W., OM

    I can’t believe that you are serious. I have never heard an American cop say “mutt”.

    And that proves what?

    What cops have you hung out with, under what circumstances, and where, and how old were they? Cop jargon varies somewhat by region and by age cohort, as you’ll find with a little googling.

    A tv show which does so has no bearing on the actions of real cops.

    That depends. I just did some googling about whether cops in New York City specifically say “mutt.”

    “Mutt” is on the jargon list for the old cop show NYPD Blue, which may be where I first picked it up, but the producers said that they didn’t make the jargon up—they got it from New York City cops.

    If you do a bit of googling, you’ll find they didn’t just make it up.

    For example, in the book NYPD: On the Streets with the New York City Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit, by Samuel M. Katz, it’s in a list of jargon, and later in the book it’s in a quote from a cop.

    But the fact that it was used in the show NYPD Blue may not be irrelevant—it’s well-known that actual NYPD cop jargon was influenced by the TV show.

    For example, before the show, one of the terms for mope/mutt was “shitbag,” but they couldn’t say that on TV, so they substituted “dirtbag.”

    And actual NYPD cops, lots of whom watched NYPD Blue religiously, picked it up and started actually saying “dirtbag.” Some cops really do say “dirtbag” now, because they grew up watching cop shows, or picked it up from TV after they became cops.

    Given that at least some NYPD cops said “mutt” before the show, and they said it on the show, too, I think it’s a safe bet that many NYPD cops would still at least be familiar with the term in that sense. (Even if the usage would have otherwise died out, you know a lot of NYPD cops and wannabe NYPD cops watch old NYPD Blue reruns, to this day.)

  • Paul W., OM

    My speculation about the victim’s dad (who he lives with) being a disillusioned cop may be way off base. (Or not.)

    The victim says that he got the idea to record a stop-and-frisk from his stepdad, who’s an anti-stop-and-frisk activist, after he’d complained to his stepdad about being frequently stopped.


    Here’s a related story about anti-S&F activists being harrassed by cops:


  • Suido

    Um, Paul, you seem to be trying really hard to come up ways to defend this cop.

    Are you really claiming that it is possible/plausible that a Sergeant in the NYPD who uses the word mutt would have never noticed the racist meanings? AND that no one has ever mentioned it to him in all his years of policing? Quatsch.

    First definition of mutt is mixed-breed dog. What’s a more insulting version of calling someone a dog? Aha, calling them a mongrel dog, because being mixed race is worse. Oh, what a coincidence, the victim has light brown skin, possibly indicating mixed race. And you’re claiming that the Sergeant could be using it ‘innocently’.

    Words fail.

  • Paul W., OM


    Um, Paul, you seem to be trying really hard to come up ways to defend this cop.

    You seem to be going out of your way to deny that I’ve made a point—that the term “mutt,” in NYPD jargon, is apparently not a patently racist term, as many people are assuming it is.

    And you don’t seem to thinking very hard about the points I’ve made, and even seem annoyed that I’d bother. Oh, well.

    Cops don’t usually say “mutt” to the public; they usually say it to other cops, who know it’s like “mope” and “perp,” and not like “nigger” or “spic” or “half-breed.”

    I do think that’s the kind of word people can slip and use in the wrong context without thinking, especially in a moment of anger, with no racist intent.

    And if the cop saying it was the one cop who recognized the kid as a cop’s son, and knew that the kid had been in NYPD Explorers, he may not have made that mistake at all—he may have been talking like he’d talk to an insider, not an outsider. He may have expected the cop kid to know what “mutt” means, in a way he wouldn’t expect a random kid on the street to know.

    You can ignore that kind of situation and context if you want, but I’m not going to just so that I can say all the easiest and worst possible things about the cop. I think that’s sleazy.

    I think the cop is a brutal authoritarian asshole and that he was enforcing an illiberal and racist policy. That’s plenty fucking bad, IMO, and I don’t think it’s necessary to jump to the conclusion that when he used a piece of jargon that is not overtly racist, he must have meant it in a racist way.

    That kind of accusation is unfair IMO, and we shouldn’t do it.

    Yes, I do go “out of my way” to point out unsubstantiated accusations and invalid arguments, if I notice them, even when they’re coming from my side. (For example, I’ll even defend William Lane Craig, who I utterly detest, if I think he’s being misunderstood falsely accused.) I’m known for being careful about interpretations and accusations.

    I acknowledge that the cop might have meant the term in a patently racist way, or might have used it in a weaker racist way, refusing to tailor his potentially-racist-sounding language to the public because he just doesn’t care enough. Or neither.

    I can’t know for sure, and you clearly can’t either, and my honest guess is that it wasn’t meant to nearly as racist as it clearly sounds to a lot of people, and is being hyped by some as being.

    I’m pretty sure that I at least have a lot better evidence for my uncertainty about that issue than some people have for their easy certainties.

  • Paul W., OM


    If you think that the first definition of “mutt” (mixed-breed dog) makes it impossible for someone to use the term “innocently,” think about somebody calling someone else a bastard.

    Do you assume that they mean to say the person is worthy of contempt because of their parents’ sinful sexual practices, and to implicitly insult all people born out of wedlock?

    Do you assume they realize that “bastard” is a racist term? (It is. Black people are much more likely to have been born out of wedlock than white people.)

    Everybody knows the first definition of “bastard,” but they say it anyway, and everybody knows that they typically don’t mean that at all, even people who are literally bastards, and even black “bastards” who recognize that it’s fucking unintentionally racist.

    Words fail!