The debate over the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy is in full swing this week with a proposal from the public advocate prompting a badmouthing match between the mayor and the elected official who hopes to replace him in 2013.
Yesterday, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, an expected mayoral candidate, launched a campaign to reform stop-and-frisk, urging Mayor Bloomberg to dramatically reduce the number of unwarranted stops. That led Bloomberg, via a statement from his deputy mayor, to criticize de Blasio and dismiss his ideas as out of touch with the realities of crime in the city. De Blasio kept the momentum going this morning with a conference call with reporters to, well, respond to the mayor’s response to him.
The back-and-forth criticisms have gotten somewhat personal, though it’s worth noting that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose name continues to be tossed around as a possible mayoral candidate, has largely stayed out of the fight.
The issue at stake is the city’s practice of stopping and frisking New Yorkers as a crime-prevention method. Bloomberg and the NYPD say it’s an effective practice that has played a part in reducing crime over the last ten years. Critics, however, say that stop-and-frisk rarely catches criminals and disproportionately targets minority residents.
De Blasio’s announcement comes on the heels of a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union released yesterday that analyzed the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk database for 2011. The organization found that the NYPD stopped and interrogated people 685,724 times over the year — which marks a more than 600 percent increase in street stops since Bloomberg took office. Nine out of 10 of people stopped were innocent, meaning they were neither arrested nor ticketed, and about 87 percent were black or Latino.
Stop-and-frisk, with a push from police accountability advocates, has definitely become an important talking point for the pols who hope to replace Bloomberg in 2013. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, an expected mayoral candidate, has held several events on the subject throughout the year, emphasizing that all New Yorkers, not just people of color, need to speak up about this issue. City Comptroller John Liu, another mayoral hopeful, applauded de Blasio in a statement yesterday, but took it a step further saying that stop-and-frisk is racial profiling and must be abolished. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is a big fan of Ray Kelly, has advocated for a retooling of the policy, but has said that it has played an important role in reducing crime.
Yesterday, de Blasio, armed with a new website, (he loves those), recommended that the mayor reduce unwarranted stops by using CompStat, the city’s comprehensive crime-tracking system, to hold officers accountable, and he also called for an increase in community policing initiatives.
“If thousands and thousands of innocent New Yorkers who have done nothing wrong [are stopped]…it is understandable that that creates a distance between the police and the community,” de Blasio said today on the conference call.
His announcement yesterday prompted the mayor’s office to release this statement from Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson:
“When Bill de Blasio last served in the City’s Executive branch there were 2,000 murders a year. Today we are on track to have less than 500 – a record new low. Mr. de Blasio may be nostalgic for the days when the ACLU set crime policy in this city, but most New Yorkers don’t want rampant crime to return. The fact is Stop, Question and Frisk keeps guns and other weapons off the streets and saves lives. Make no mistake, we will not continue to be the safest big city in America if Mr. de Blasio has his way.”
(Wolfson was referring to de Blasio’s work under former Mayor David Dinkins).
It was this quote that prompted de Blasio to reach out to reporters today.
“I do think the arrogance of the response…[shows] that the mayor is not taking the issue seriously,” said the public advocate, who engages somewhat regularly in a song-and-dance of back-and-forth criticisms with the mayor.
De Blasio said that the “strikingly unserious response from the Bloomberg administration” is troubling. “There are voices all over the city…[that are getting] louder and louder, saying this current dynamic is not acceptable…[We are] asking for reform, asking for change. And the mayor is turning a blind eye.”
He emphasized that stop-and-frisk can be productive in reducing crime but used in excess can have the reverse effect, by harboring bad community-police relations. “The overuse of stop-and-frisk has material, tangible impacts. It creates a rift between police and the community.” If applied to this policy, CompStat, which the city has used as to increase accountability around crime statistics, could effectively minimize unnecessary stops, he said.
On the conference call today, the Voice asked de Blasio what this policy, and the response from the NYPD and City Hall to his proposal, says about Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s record (given that most criticism of stop-and-frisk has very carefully avoided targeting Kelly directly).
De Blasio responded that the NYPD has to recognize that stop-and-frisk is not working as effectively as it could in its current form and that the city needs to be more open to change and innovation. He said, “I’m convinced there’s a better balance.”
His answer included no direct mention of Ray Kelly.