Yesterday Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo gathered at City Hall to excoriate the recent federal decision ruling the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional. In addition to making a slew of ad hominem attacks against the judge in the case, complaining of bias, and pledging to appeal the decision, Mayor Bloomberg made a string of observations that struck us as misleading, irreverent, or downright false. When a mayoral aide holding the microphone blushed at Mayor Bloomberg's unnecessary disparagement of a reporter who asked a legitimate question, the City blushed with him.
The mayor's comments are in italics.
1) It's The Constitution, Stupid
"Throughout the trial that just concluded, the judge made it clear she was not at all interested in the crime reductions here or how we achieved them. In fact, nowhere in her 195-page decision does she mention the historic cuts in crime or the number of lives that have been saved."
As Michael Powell points out, Judge Scheindlin mentions the importance of a safer New York in the very first sentence of her opinion. But "historic cuts in crime" aren't supposed to factor in to her decision, because it is based on whether or not the policy, as practiced by the NYPD, violates the Constitution. On Page 2 of her opinion, Judge Scheindlin writes,
"I emphasize at the outset, as I have throughout the litigation, that this case is not about the effectiveness of stop and frisk in deterring or combating crime. This Court’s mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool. Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime—preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example—but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective. [Emphasis ours]
2) Stop & Frisk Would Have Been Fine, If It Weren't For Those Meddling "Advocates"
"But one small group of advocates—and one judge—conducted their own investigation. And it was pretty clear from the start which way it would turn out."
To say that the only people who have fundamental problems with the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk are the "small" group of advocates and plaintiffs who filed this case is obviously false.
Arguably the first person to conduct a major investigation of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices was Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 1999 [PDF], a report that the NYPD's top uniformed officer admitted at trial that he didn't bother to read. Judge Scheindlin quotes the report in her ruling:
The investigation was prompted in part by the Attorney General’s finding that despite a decade of falling crime rates, “the climate in many of New York’s minority neighborhoods . . . was one of resentment and distrust of the NYPD.” Many of the complaints involved “lower-level police involvement in the everyday lives of minority residents,” such as stop and frisk encounters.
3) NYPD Oversight Will Force Police Officers To Perform "Who's On First?" Routine With Fatal Results
"We have enough problems now. When you're a police officer you have to know what orders to follow. If somebody pulls a gun and you want to get home to your family, you don't have time to say, 'Now wait a second, the Commissioner said one thing, the monitor said another, and the IG said another.' By that time, you're dead. And I'd like to see you go to the funeral and explain to the family why their son or husband or father is not coming home."
The Inspector General, as described in legislation passed by the City Council last month, would not have any authority over the NYPD, only the power to study its policies and make recommendations, which would presumably be considered and accepted by the department. The sole job of the federal monitor appointed in this case is to ensure that the NYPD is following the judge's orders in implementing changes to stop-and-frisk training.
But all of the mayor's blatant mischaracterizations are besides the point: if an officer has a gun pointed at them, the officer presumably pulls their own weapon, and, if necessary, fires it. This happened just last weekend. What does any of this have to do with the stop-and-frisk ruling?
4) Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere, Except On A Police Officer's Chest
"We can't have your cameraman follow you around and film things without people questioning whether they deliberately chose an angle…It would be a nightmare. Cameras don't exactly work that way—a camera on the lapel or the hat of the police officer, they'll say 'He's turning the right way, or he didn't turn the right way, my God he deliberately did it.' It's a solution that's not a solution to the problem."
When half of the 54 uniformed officers in Rialto, California began wearing body cameras, the department saw an 88% drop in the number of complaints filed against officers. Video cameras helped Ray Kelly explain why the aforementioned shooting of an armed suspect last weekend was justified. Cameras protect the officers wearing them as much as the public they serve, which is why the judge ordered the NYPD to begin a 12-month pilot program for cameras at the precinct with the highest number of stops in each borough.
5) Enormous Amounts Of Police Stops Keep Us Safe, Except When We Don't Need Them To Anymore
"One of the reasons [stop numbers are] lower now, is that we have less crime. We have fewer reports of a group of kids that may have just committed a crime because that crime didn't take place. Why? It's a circular thing. You want to keep it going. The greatest thing in the world would be if we never recovered a gun and we never had a crime. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Not bad. It would be a good thing."
Neither the mayor nor the police commissioner had a good answer for the dubious relationship between crime reports and vast numbers of police stops. Crime didn't increase by 325% from 2003 to 2011, but stop-and-frisks did. Since then, stops, and crime, have continued to fall significantly.
6) New York City Is Safe For Business
"We go to where the reports of crime are, and those unfortunately happen to be poor neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods…that is also incidentally where we target our social services to address the problems. But they're different things: one is a long-term thing the other is keeping us safe and keeping this city so that we have a tax base. That's where the money comes from when you try and do something about a great societal problem."
Indeed, the "luxury product" must be protected. If you have to crack a few civil liberties to make a gilded omelette, so be it.