From The New York Times
Original article available here
Police officers stopped people on New York City’s streets more than 200,000 times during the first three months of 2012, putting the Bloomberg administration on course to shatter a record set last year for the highest annual tally of street stops.
Data on the 203,500 street stops from January through March — up from 183,326 during the same quarter a year earlier — was sent to the City Council from 1 Police Plaza late on Friday under a legal requirement spawned by public outrage over the 1999 fatal police shooting in the Bronx of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black street peddler.
On Saturday, the department disclosed the information to reporters and credited the controversial topic known as “Stop, Question, Frisk” as one of several policies of engagement whose effectiveness was vindicated by a decline in homicides in New York.
So far this year, 129 people have been murdered in New York through Friday, the 132nd day of the year, a number that put the city on track for a new low in annual homicides. The 471 murders logged by the Police Department in 2009 was the lowest annual tally for any previous 12-month period since reliable numbers were kept in the early 1960s.
Still, the new street-stop numbers got a fresh round of criticism after a week that saw civil libertarians and prospective mayoral candidates debating the crime-suppression value of such stops and blaming the tactics for tearing at the fabric of city life, particularly in minority neighborhoods, during a period of historically low violence.
On Wednesday, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a study of last year’s stop data, arguing that far too many innocent people were suffering under the policy. The study said that while young black and Hispanic men made up 4.7 percent of the city’s population, those between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011.
On Saturday, the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said the “dramatic increase” in stops underscored her calls for reform.
“While the N.Y.P.D. should continue to have the ability to stop and frisk people where there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, I remain convinced that with better monitoring, supervision and accountability we can avoid the corrosive impact of a poorly targeted program,” Ms. Quinn said in a statement. “We cannot continue to stop, question and frisk nearly 700,000 New Yorkers in this way without doing harm to the relationship between police officers and the people they are protecting, particularly in communities of color.”
And the city’s public advocate, Bill de Blasio, said that while the rise in stops seemed a product of a numbers-driven police culture, he proposed more routine use of the department’s own auditing of those statistics to track the outcomes for each stop-and-frisk episode, like whether someone is then arrested.
“The record number of unwarranted stops is widening the rift between police and the communities whose cooperation we need to fight crime,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement.
“Make no mistake — this is the result of City Hall aggressively pushing precinct commanders to use stop and frisk beyond what is necessary and effective. It’s time to bring these numbers back to earth.”
Both Ms. Quinn and Mr. de Blasio are expected to run for mayor.
Peppered with questions at a news conference on Friday, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that critics of the street-stop tactics “never have an answer” about how to tackle the disproportionate levels of crime in certain city neighborhoods. The department, by contrast, is always looking for answers to “slow down” crime.
“I would submit that our strategies are saving lives,” Mr. Kelly said.
He added: “You look at the numbers in this city; you look at the lives that we’re saving, and I would submit to you that the majority of those lives are minorities, and most of them are young men who are being killed for senseless reasons. We are saving those lives, and, quite frankly, we’re saving them at a much greater degree and extent than other cities are.”
Last year, there were 685,724 stop-and-frisk encounters, the highest total in the 10 years the department has reported the data. The annual total has gradually increased, from a low of 97,296 in 2002, according to departmental statistics.
So far, the numbers through March translate into an average of about 2,200 stops per day. The police said that 5 percent of the stops led to arrests and 5 percent led to summonses, slightly lower figures than in the first quarter of last year.
“If the trend continues we are headed toward a projected 730,000 or more stop-and-frisks this year, and we’re looking at well over 650,000 stops of New Yorkers who are so innocent that, in an era of zero tolerance, they walk away without even a summons,” Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the civil liberties group, said. “And the lion’s share of those impacted by the out-of-control policy are black and Latino men.”
According to the police, the numbers so far this year show that 54 percent of the people stopped were black, 33 percent were Hispanic, 9 percent were white and 3 percent were Asian. Males made up 93 percent of those stopped, the same as through last March.
Though a large percentage of the stops involve blacks and Hispanics, Mr. Kelly said that 96 percent of all shooting victims in the city were black or Hispanic last year, as were more than 90 percent of murder victims.
In the new street-stop data, a curious detail emerged: Officers confiscated 260 guns in the stops through March, up from the 199 that had been seized in the same period a year ago. This came as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Friday in a radio show appearance that a measure of the program’s success would be few guns retrieved by officers since the idea is not to catch people with them but “to prevent people from carrying” them.
Asked about this, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said: “Sometimes it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. But the mayor’s right. Anecdotally, we’re hearing that gunmen are carrying less often because of the greater risk associated with stops.”