30 Monitor on Psychology • February 2015
a 42-block section of the South Bronx centered at Morris
Avenue near the Yankees baseball stadium. The low-income
neighborhood was a “hot spot” with one of the highest rates
of police stops in New York City. The Morris Justice Project
became an enduring partnership between neighborhood
residents and researchers from the Public Science Project and
the City University of New York (CUNY).
“We thought it was going to be a six-week project, and
it’s gone on for more than three years now,” says Yates, a
nutritionist at a local Head Start program. “Sooner or later,
someone is going to hear you and want to help when you start
telling your story.”
The participatory action research project has involved
residents as co-researchers in every stage of the research to gain
their input and spotlight needed reforms, says Brett Stoudt,
PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at CUNY’s John Jay
College of Criminal Justice. He leads the project with Maria
Elena Torre, PhD, a faculty member in critical psychology at the
CUNY Graduate Center and founding director of the Public
“The community members are not stakeholders, or people
being served by the research, but actual colleagues,” says Torre.
Community members have helped develop surveys on
police tactics, provided input on research findings, attended
rallies opposing the stop-and-frisk policy, and participated
in presentations at community events and conferences,
including APA’s Annual Convention in August in Washington,
D.C. “Expertise is distributed quite widely, even though the
knowledge in the ivory tower is often what gets most validated,”
New York’s stop-and-frisk policy was adopted as part of the
controversial “broken windows” theory, which argues that
more serious crime can be reduced if police crack down on
minor infractions, including vandalism and trespassing.
Police stops in New York City have skyrocketed over the past
decade, peaking at 685,724 stops in 2011, a more than 600
percent increase since 2002.
Of those stopped in 2011, 53 percent were black and 34
percent were Latino. White people accounted for only 9 percent
of the stops, even though they make up a third of the city’s
population. Nearly 90 percent of the stops didn’t result in an
arrest or citation.
The stop-and-frisk policy has been reined in recently by
rulings in a class-action lawsuit and a new city law that installed
an inspector general overseeing the police. In 2013, New Yorkers
were stopped 191,558 times. In the first half of 2014, that
number declined to 27,527 stops.
While its impact on crime has been debated, the stop-and-frisk policy has seriously damaged the reputation of the
South Bronx police, according to surveys of more than 1,000
South Bronx residents conducted in 2011 by the Morris Justice
Local residents helped design the survey questions, received
training in surveying techniques, and hit the streets with researchers to conduct interviews using a systematic grid of locations.
More than two-thirds of the survey respondents reported
they had been stopped by police within the past year, often just
for standing outside their apartment buildings or in a group on
street corners. More than half of the respondents felt that police
abused their power, and almost two-thirds said they felt targeted
by police because of their age, gender, race, immigration status
or sexual orientation.
“You are seeing the next iteration of policing on black and
brown people,” Stoudt says. “If you think about growing up
policed in New York City, it’s just a constant presence and a
constant assumption of criminality. That type of inference then
gets applied to an entire community.”
“Early on, there was some mistrust that we were going to take
the data, make our careers off it, and not come back and share
it, but it was easy to connect with members in the community.
In psychology, it’s often seen as really difficult to get community
members involved in the research, but that wasn’t our experience.”
Brett Stoudt, PhD
City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice