updated 3/1/2007 12:37:32 PM ET 2007-03-01T17:37:32

The New York City Police Department has hired the RAND Corp. to examine its stop-and-frisk policy for evidence of racial bias after statistics surfaced showing more than a half-million pedestrians were searched last year.

Police officials deny that race influences the stops, but Commissioner Raymond Kelly said they “thought it was important to have a separate, independent review.”

Statistics provided by the police department to the City Council earlier this month showed a fivefold increase since 2002 in the number in stops and searches to more than 500,000 in 2006.

The majority of people stopped, 55 percent, were black, the numbers show. About 30 percent were Hispanic, and 11 percent were white. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 25 percent of the city’s population is black, 28 percent is Hispanic and 44 percent is white.

Kelly said the research group’s experts would observe how officers on the streets conduct and record the stops and would review data on past stops to assess whether there are any racial disparities. RAND Corp. has long been known for research and analysis on national security.

Police put the cost of the review at about $100,000 and said it would be paid for by a private fundraising foundation.

‘Contagious’ shootings examined
Earlier this year, the NYPD also said it had commissioned RAND to look for ways to reduce the risk of so-called “reflexive” or “contagious” shooting — the phenomenon of officers firing an excessive number of rounds in a chain reaction — after the fatal shooting of an unarmed man outside a club.

The five officers involved in that shooting fired semiautomatic pistols a total of 50 times while trying to stop a car on Nov. 25 outside a bar in Queens, killing the driver, Sean Bell, and injuring two of his friends.

Police, who were conducting an undercover operation at the bar, have said they suspected the men were going to retrieve a gun, but no weapon was recovered.

The shooting sparked community outrage and prompted a grand jury investigation to determine whether the officers should face criminal charges.

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