Living under surveillance: Gender, psychological distress, and stop-question-and-frisk policing in New York City

Soc Sci Med. 2016 Jun;159:1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.04.024. Epub 2016 Apr 22.


A growing body of research highlights the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, including stop-and-frisk policing tactics. Living in a neighborhood with aggressive policing may affect one's mental health, especially for men who are the primary targets of police stops. We examine whether there is an association between psychological distress and neighborhood-level aggressive policing (i.e., frisking and use of force by police) and whether that association varies by gender. The 2009-2011 New York City (NYC) Stop, Question, and Frisk Database is aggregated to the neighborhood-level (N = 34) and merged with individual data from the 2012 NYC Community Health Survey (N = 8066) via the United Hospital Fund neighborhood of respondents' residence. Weighted multilevel generalized linear models are used to assess main and gendered associations of neighborhood exposures to aggressive police stops on psychological distress (Kessler-6 items). While the neighborhood stop rate exhibits inconsistent associations with psychological distress, neighborhood-level frisk and use of force proportions are linked to higher levels of non-specific psychological distress among men, but not women. Specifically, men exhibit more non-specific psychological distress and more severe feelings of nervousness, effort, and worthlessness in aggressively surveilled neighborhoods than do women. Male residents are affected by the escalation of stop-and-frisk policing in a neighborhood. Living in a context of aggressive policing is an important risk factor for men's mental health.

Keywords: Gender; Mass incarceration; Men's health; Mental health; Neighborhoods; New York City; Police; Psychological distress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilevel Analysis
  • New York City
  • Police / psychology*
  • Police / statistics & numerical data
  • Police / trends
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexism / psychology*
  • Sexism / statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires