New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s NYPD (the largest and most heavily armed police force in the country; the mayor brags that it’s the seventh largest army in the world) has a stop-question-and-frisk program that has generated not just a lot of heavy criticism from civil libertarians, but lawsuits that cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars. The reason for the controversy is that when police figures on how many such stops made were finally released, they showed that not only were the numbers of stops increasing at an alarming rate every year, but that nearly 90% of those stopped were young black or Latino males. And about 90% of those stopped were completely innocent of any kind of wrongdoing. It has gotten so bad that the Justice Department has joined a lawsuit against the city’s policies.
The debate over stop-and-frisk became a focal point for NYPD critics last May after the New York Civil Liberties Union released statistics showing police stops have risen sharply during Bloomberg’s administration – from 160,851 in 2003 to 685,724 in 2011. About half of the 2011 stops resulted in physical searches.
The analysis also concluded that the policy disproportionately targets minorities, and noted that in 2011, NYPD records showed police conducted more stops of black males between the ages of 14 and 24 than the total number of young black males living in New York City. Just 1.8 percent of searches of minority suspects that year resulted in weapons seizures.
The DoJ supports having a court-appointed monitor look over the program, while the Mayor and NYPD vehemently disagree (of course). Proponents of the program claim (as they often do when they exceed their authority under the Constitution) it is a vital part of how murder rates have fallen to historic lows, but the ends do not justify the means, nor does the logic. The murder rate in NYC was on the decline before stop-and-frisk became the policy, and other major US cities have seen their murder rates drop without the use of any stop-and-frisk policies. Proponents also claim that the program is removing guns from the street, but the NYPD’s own statistics do not support that claim – less than 0.2% of all stops result in the seizure of a gun.
You may wonder how such a program could be Constitutional. You would be smart to do so. The mayor claims the program is permissible based on the Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio. But as I read about that case, one striking difference is that the suspects in that case were actually engaging in behavior that any reasonable person would conclude was suspicious. (They walked back and forth in front a store, peering each time to see inside, then Met at the end of the street to converse before going back to look inside again. I think any reasonable person would have suspected that they were casing the joint in preparation for a robbery, possibly even a murder of someone inside. I’m a liberal libertarian and even I would have said the cop had a right to suspect a crime was about to go down.) In many stop and frisk cases there is no real suspicion that any criminal activity is going on at all. But they do have a form they’re supposed to fill put explaining why they made the stop. They also give quarterly reports to the NYC Council, but those reports do not have the same level of detail that the forms do.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) issued a report in May that suggests, among other things, that the stop and frisk program is less about getting guns off the street and more about making marijuana arrests. While the program got 792 guns off the street, it also resulted in more than 5,000 arrests for possession of pot. In New York State, possession of small amounts of pot not in plain view is a violation punishable by a fine and not a criminal arrest. But cops would insist that detainees empty their pockets, and when a joint or bag of weed comes out, the cops charge them with possessing pot “in plain view.” That is, of course, bullshit, because the pot would never have been visible if the cops hadn’t ordered the detainee to empty his pockets. The cops were, in essence, forcing their detainees to violate the law and then arresting them for it.
So why bring this up now? Because despite all the apparent evidence that minorities are being disproportionately stopped and frisked, Mayor Mike Bloomberg thinks that white people are getting stopped too much and minorities too little. I’m not making that up.
“I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show, in response to the City Council passing two bills aimed at reining in the controversial policing tactic.
His justification for doing the stops is devoid of logic.
To buttress the mayor’s remarks, his office released a set of statistics. The numbers showed that 87% of the people stopped under stop-and-frisk in 2012 were black or Latino, and that 9% were white. That same year, more than 90% of those identified as murder suspects were blacks or Latino; just 7% were white.
Of course, that rationale assumes that every murder or violent crime has a reliable witness. Many crimes don’t have witnesses, which is how the criminals get away. Then there are the crimes that go unreported, which is impossible to measure because you don’t know if a crime has been committed if nobody says anything. Also witnesses do lie. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson, the only black mayoral candidate, said of Mayor Bloomberg, “He basically said that if you’re black or Latino, you’re automatically a murder suspect,” Mr. Thompson said. “It just continues to show how out of touch the mayor is.”
But Bloomberg also ignores the fact that a study found that the white people stopped and frisked were twice as likely to have a gun than minorities. When you couple that with how few stops result in the confiscation of a weapon, where is the justification for Bloomberg’s assertion that white people are getting stopped too much? Too much for whom, the white mayor of New York?
This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Stop and Frisk or anything else you wish to discuss. Please, no weapons.