Mayor Bloomberg Asserts Owning Poodles Lowers Crime

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Ok, no, he didn’t.  His assertion the Stop, Question and Frisk law has been instrumental to the city’s crime rate is equally as absurd.  The data simply doesn’t back him up on this.  The mayor gave a press conference this afternoon about today’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional. At that press conference, the mayor cited some impressive things about his record on crime.  According to him, NYC is the safest city in the country, the murder rate has gone down 50 percent since he took office and 8,000 guns have been removed from the city’s streets.  He called NYC “the poster child for the nation and maybe even beyond that.”  He also said the police conduct an average of one stop a week.

But those facts don’t match the actual facts.

Today, U.S. District Court JudgeShira Scheindlin ruled the law unconstitutional.  In the Executive Summary of that ruling (you can read the entire thing here) they list statistics that were uncontested by both sides.  These uncontested facts are: (Any bolding for emphasis is mine.)

  • Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million Terry stops.

  • The number of stops per year rose sharply from 314,000 in 2004 to a high of 686,000 in 2011.

  • 52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found.

  • 8% of all stops led to a search into the stopped person’s clothing, ostensibly based on the officer feeling an object during the frisk that he suspected to be a weapon, or immediately perceived to be contraband other than a weapon. In 9% of these searches, the felt object was in fact a weapon. 91% of the time, it was not. In 14% of these searches, the felt object was in fact contraband. 86% of the time it was not.

  • 6% of all stops resulted in an arrest, and 6% resulted in a summons. The remaining 88% of the 4.4 million stops resulted in no further law enforcement action. 

  • In 52% of the 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was black, in 31% the person was Hispanic, and in 10% the person was white.

  • In 2010, New York City’s resident population was roughly 23% black, 29% Hispanic, and 33% white.

  • In 23% of the stops of blacks, and 24% of the stops of Hispanics, the officer recorded using force. The number for whites was 17%.

  • Weapons were seized in 1.0% of the stops of blacks, 1.1% of the stops of Hispanics, and 1.4% of the stops of whites.

  • Contraband other than weapons was seized in 1.8% of the stops of blacks, 1.7% of the stops of Hispanics, and 2.3% of the stops of whites.

  • Between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of stops where the officer failed to state a specific suspected crime rose from 1% to 36%.

That last point is particularly relevant because the mayor and Commissioner Kelly went out of their way to say the police were always either responding to some sort of “suspicious activity” (the mayor referred to someone “covering something up”) or the person selected to be stopped resembled a suspect in a recent crime.

The mayor would counter my assertion that this law has not impacted the crime rate by saying its efficacy lies in deterrence but there is reason to doubt that.  Many believe that this law increases the public’s distrust of the police and interferes with the officers’ ability to preform their jobs because it disuades people from developing the relationships with the police that can be so vital to crime deterrence.

And there is data to back that up.  In 2001, the People’s Justice Coalition looked at the law and studied data from a Polling for Justice report examining the impact the law had on residents’ feelings about the NYPD.  You can find that here. Among their findings:

  • Nearly half of the young people reported having negative interactions with police in the previous six months. Just 20 percent said they would feel comfortable going to the police if they needed help.

  • Young people who reported negative incidents with police were likely to have experienced them multiple times over the previous six months, with more than 40 percent reporting three or more stops. Twelve percent of the survey participants reported unwanted sexual attention from the police, or that they were touched inappropriately during a search.

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth were significantly more likely to have experienced negative interactions with police (61 percent) than young people who identified as straight (47 percent.)

  • Unsurprisingly,young people's perceptions of their own interactions with police corresponded with their general feelings about the NYPD. Among the survey participants who reported having only positive interactions with police, nearly 70 percent agreed with the statement that "in general, the police in NYC protect young people like me," though even that category of young people were unlikely (28 percent) to say they'd feel comfortable turning to police for help.

  • Among respondents who reported negative contacts with police, just 31 percent said they felt protected by police, and only 16 percent said they'd turn to police if they were in trouble.

  • That lack of trust may actually facilitate crime, says Stoudt, since it can limit police officers' ability to partner with community members. "We need to start considering what it means for the youth in NYC to grow up policed; to grow up as perpetual suspects because of how they look or where they live," he says.

  • The cycle of mistrust won't be broken until police are trained to look for individual behaviors that indicate possible criminal activities, rather than relying on contextual indicators like neighborhood or style of dress, says Delores Jones Brown, who directs the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College. "A very small minority of young people, even in areas of high crime, are involved in serious criminal activities," she says. "Police need to learn to distinguish between those kids, in the same way as they do in white communities."

And to the mayor’s assertion that an average of one stop a week is performed:

The NYPD data show that young people were frisked in the majority (61 percent) of the stops and 1 percent of stops resulted in the discovery of a weapon. They also show that young people were stopped at an average of once every 90 minutes in high-poverty, majority black and Latino neighborhoods like East New York and Brownsville, Brooklyn, while whiter, wealthier areas averaged one stop every 18 hours.

So much for once a week.

Mayor Bloomberg has a right to crow about his police record but maybe he should cite policies that work rather than policies that intimidate and frighten people.  He should remember the city has a history of crime reduction, yes but of rampant police brutality, too.

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