It's more accurately called stop, question and frisk. People were stopped and questioned 4.4 million times between 2004 and 2012. But the large majority were not frisked.
The effectiveness of this police practice, initiated by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1994 and continued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is not in doubt. The number of homicides -- the most accurately measured crime -- in New York fell from a peak of 2,605 in 1990 to 952 in 2001, Giuliani's last year in office, to just 414 in 2012.
Nevertheless, the three leading Democratic mayoral candidates in the city's September primary all have pledged to end stop and frisk. And last week, federal judge Schira Scheindlin, in a lawsuit brought by 19 men who have been stopped and frisked, found that the practice is unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.
Bloomberg has promised to appeal, and several of Scheindlin's decisions in high-profile cases have been reversed. But the leading Democratic candidates for mayor promise, if elected, to drop the appeal.
The two leading Republican candidates support stop and frisk, but their chances of election seem dim in a city that voted 81 percent for Barack Obama in 2012.
What riles opponents of stop and frisk is that a high proportion of those stopped are young black and Hispanic males. Many innocent people undoubtedly and understandably resent being subjected to this practice. No one likes to be frisked, including the thousands of airline passengers who are every day.
But young black and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic males are far, far more likely than others to commit (and be victims of) violent crimes, as Bloomberg points out. I take no pleasure in reporting that fact and wish it weren't so.
This was recognized by, among others, Jesse Jackson, who in 1993 said, "There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see it's somebody white and feel relieved."
You can get an idea about what could happen in New York by comparing it with Chicago, where there were 532 homicides in 2012. That's more than in New York, even though New York's population is three times as large.