Gotham Gazette

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Say No to The Media Hype

Bratton NYPD

NYPD (photo via @CommissBratton)

In recent days our city's leading tabloid newspapers, The Daily News and The Post, published screaming headlines and overheated stories promoting the dubious notion that the uptick this year in homicides - as compared to a similar period in 2014 - is directly tied to the NYPD's reduced use of the discredited stop-and-frisk tactic. This fear-monghering ignores important realities.

Some actual facts, based on the police department's own data, that challenge the wisdom of that argument and that provide an instructive and somewhat longer view about what is really happening on New York City's streets:

  • Back in the heyday of stop-and-frisk, the NYPD made 601,285 stops in 2010 and 685,724 in 2011 - 1,647 per day and 1,879 per day, respectively.
  • In 2010, the city had 536 murders; in 2011, the number was 515. Fast forward to last year when the NYPD conducted 46,235 stops - a much lower figure but still at the rate of 127 per day - our city saw 333 homicides, the lowest number in the Big Apple's history.

As these numbers show, there is, despite the contrary voices being raised, no demonstrable causal link between between the use of stop-and-frisk and the number of killings in New York City. In fact, a case can be made that along with a drop in the tactic's use not only has the city become fairer, but also safer.

Another troubling point here is that stop-and-frisk proponents suggest our police officers are so sensitive to criticism of the practice that they will deliberately refuse to intervene in suspicious activity or to stop someone who it is reasonable to suspect is carrying contraband or a weapon because they, the officers, fear repercussions from their justifiable actions. It seems an implausible proposition on its face, but if officers do neglect their sworn duty in this way, they, in effect, represent a danger to the public safety they are supposed to protect and are not worthy to be a member of a police force that goes by the moniker "New York's Finest."

Also on the agenda of people fueling this media stampede is to generate enough fear in the public about the potential return to the bad old days of the 80s and early 90s, when the city's crime and murder rates were much higher than today, that Mayor Bill de Blasio will change his current posture and decide to support the proposal to hire 1,000 new cops advocated by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and City Council leaders including, most vocally, that body's Speaker, Meilssa Mark-Viverito.

Here, again, presenting the facts of the matter will shed light on the issue and help diffuse the overheated headlines and prose being used to promote this questionable agenda.

Currently, under pressure from the NYPD's principal law enforcement approach, quota-driven 'broken windows' policing, officers waste time - of their own and the larger criminal justice system - and our taxpayer dollars on the surreal and discriminatory practice of arresting and/or ticketing mainly New Yorkers of color. These arrests are on charges of "manspreading" and having a foot on a subway seat, carrying an open alcohol container, being in a park after dark, riding a bike on the sidewalk, begging, and trespassing while standing in front of or in the lobby of the building where the person lives. PROP documented these prevalent police actions in its recent report, "That's How They Get You: New Yorkers' Encounters With 'Broken Windows Policing.'"

Here's the question for Commissioner Bratton and Speaker Mark-Viverito: How can you justify adding even one officer, to say nothing of the 1,000 being proposed, to the force when so many officers now engage in such wasteful and frivolous activities?

Here's the request for leaders of the city's media outlets: Please consider publishing a fuller set of relevant data, so that concerned New Yorkers can have a truer picture of the the incidence of killings in our city and how policing tactics, including stop-and-frisk, do or do not affect that reality. The citizens of our city can then better assess just how frightened they should be by the content of those screaming tabloid headlines.

Robert Gangi is Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.

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