An NYPD patrol car is shown in this file photo...

An NYPD patrol car is shown in this file photo taken on March 18, 2012. Credit: Getty Images

Most New York voters want to keep the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk tactic but believe the practice should be modified and improved, an amNewYork-News 12 poll finds.

An overwhelming majority of likely voters surveyed -- 77 percent -- want to continue, in some form, the practice of officers stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people they believe match a crime suspect or are acting suspiciously.

However, 58 percent want the practice modified and improved, 19 percent think it should stay as is and 20 percent want it abandoned, according to the poll conducted Oct. 15-19 by Penn Schoen Berland.

Most African-Americans and Hispanics -- the groups whom police figures show are most often stopped and frisked -- support the practice in some form. Two-thirds of black voters think it should remain, but nearly as many, 60 percent, want it modified. Only 7 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Latino voters would leave it unchanged.

Critics of the existing policy point to statistics presented in a court suit that 90 percent of those the police stop are not arrested or issued a summons, and nearly as many are from racial minorities.

The two major-party mayoral candidates have voiced sharply contrasting views on stop-and-frisk. Republican Joe Lhota would keep it essentially as is, and better explain it to communities.

Democrat Bill de Blasio would purge the tactic of what a federal judge in August ruled unconstitutional as "indirect racial profiling." Judge Shira A. Scheindlin installed a monitor to oversee compliance with her order to end discriminatory stops.

Eugene O'Donnell, a former NYPD cop who's now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the quality and legality of the police stops could be improved if the department de-emphasized the CompStat system, under which commanders are grilled over crime statistics in their jurisdictions. Such a system, he said, creates pressure down the chain of command to do questionable stops to meet implicit quotas.

"The villain here, if there is a villain, is the acceptance of the notion through CompStat, that the police department can be managed like a factory," he said.But however stop-and-frisk is changed, officials need to make sure they don't make cops fear they will get into trouble for active crime-prevention work, O'Donnell said.

"If the police become paper tigers, there's no question that if the cops start thinking, 'We're not getting involved' that there's a silent majority [of residents] in neighborhoods that are going to be sacrificed."

Sunita Patel of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the lawyers who won the court ruling, said there is no proof that stopping and frisking large numbers of mostly innocent people combats crime. Patel said stop-and-frisk can be fixed by better training officers in what makes for a constitutional stop, better documenting the specific reasons for stops and improving supervision across the department.

Currently, officers can justify stops by checking off one of 10 or so boxes on a form, such as "furtive movement" -- a rationale the judge found constitutionally insufficient.

But Heather Mac Donald, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said that tinkering with stop-and-frisk would likely result in fewer stops -- and more crime.

"I think the next police commissioner is going to be in a very difficult situation. The hope is that de Blasio" -- if he wins -- "will grow up and realize that the police in this city are responding to crime where it's happening. They are driven by crime activity, not race."

De Blasio said he wants to reduce emphasis on stop-and-frisk, do more with gang-intervention programs and reinvigorate community policing, in which officers are regularly assigned to particular areas so they become familiar with the people who live there."By having a new commissioner who will end the de facto quota system around stops -- right there, that's going to change the reality on the ground," he told Newsday on Monday. "A constitutionally done stop is appropriate."

Lhota said the police can't keep crime down without a vigorous stop-and-frisk policy. He supports the Bloomberg administration's challenge to the court decision -- an appeal de Blasio says he would drop.

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