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De Blasio and Trump see urban crime differently. Guess whose data on NYC street stops vindicates?


A new report issued this week details a fascinating, real-life experiment. Imagine, for a second, if New York City had announced that, after years of NYPD officers stopping hundreds of thousands of people—overwhelmingly black and Latino, almost nine out of 10 of whom were found to have broken exactly zero laws, with only 6 percent of them actually being arrested—the new policy was going to result in 97 percent fewer street stops. In other words, 29 out of every 30 stops would, well, stop.

If it had made such an announcement, the usual suspects—looking at you Rudy Giuliani and, of course, popular vote loser Donald Trump—would have issued apoplectic pronouncements about the coming crime wave, and the naivete of liberals who don’t understand how to protect law-abiding citizens. Although it never made such an announcement, the aforementioned numbers describe exactly what New York City did. And do you know what happened to the rate of murder and violent crime? It kept dropping too, with 2016 showing the lowest levels ever recorded.

As a result of a lawsuit that culminated in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy being found unconstitutional, here’s what happened to the number of stops:

  • 2011: 685,724
  • 2013: 191,851
  • 2015:   22,563

Additionally, according to the court-appointed federal monitor who produced the report, the long-standing ethnic and racial disparity in stops shrank significantly as well. Look at that—progressive policies that actually follow the Constitution both reduce crime and protect the rights of innocent people of color. Yes, yes: just silly facts.

Let’s revisit what those who prefer alternative facts have had to say on the subject. Last fall, here’s how Trump responded to a question about how he, as president, would act to reduce “violence in the black community” and “black-on-black crime”:

“I would do stop-and-frisk. I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive and, you know, you really help people sort of change their mind automatically,” Trump told the questioner. “You understand, you have to have, in my opinion, I see what’s going on here, I see what’s going on in Chicago, I think stop-and-frisk. In New York City it was so incredible, the way it worked. Now, we had a very good mayor, but New York City was incredible, the way that worked, so I think that could be one step you could do.”

Crime rates and stop and frisk rates over time in New York City

One definition of the word incredible is: not credible, i.e., not believable. Trump’s answer does fit that definition, and not just on grammatical grounds. It certainly doesn’t fit the facts. The data for New York showed no correlation whatsoever between reducing violent crime and increasing the number of street stops.

In 1990, there were 2,245 murders. In 2002, there were 587—a tremendous reduction of almost three-quarters—with the population having grown by about 10 percent. 2002 is the year when the NYPD ramped up its stop-and-frisk policy, as the number jumped from 97,000 stops that year to 161,000 the next, before peaking in 2011 at a level more than seven times where it was in 2002. Over those nine years, the number of murders went from 587 to 515, a drop of 12 percent.

Since 2011, when the number of stops began to fall, the number of murders has continued to fall as well: 335 New Yorkers were murdered in 2016, and the average over the last four years stands at 337. This is a drop of 35 percent over five years—six times as large an annual drop as during the nine years of heavy stop-and-frisk. The graphs above do not include 2016, which saw a reduction in murders and violent crimes from 2015, the final one shown in the graphs.

Bill De Blasio took over as New York City’s mayor in 2013. He accelerated the pace of the reduction in the number of street stops. Of Trump’s take on crime and stop-and-frisk, the mayor said: “he couldn’t be more wrong.” De Blasio also noted that the man whose hue matches one of the colors in the city’s flag was “a man with zero law-enforcement experience.” The mayor added:

As [former NYPD chief] Bill Bratton once said, stop-and-frisk is like chemotherapy. Too high a dose can be fatal, but the right amount can save a person’s life. We’re combining just enough stop-and-frisk with precision policing to fight crime effectively and allow police and communities to envision a better future — together.

That’s a future that Donald Trump, in all his ill-informed cynicism, hasn’t even begun to imagine.

There’s a reason why Bill De Blasio has, in addition to garnering strong job approval ratings across the board, earned even higher numbers from black and Latino New Yorkers—80 percent and 70 percent respectively in one very recent Quinnipiac poll. While no elected official is perfect, his achievements, highlighted by the shift to community policing and his success in implementing pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-old children (to be expanded to 3-year-olds if he has his way), have made a real improvement in the lives of New Yorkers from every community. In addition to slamming Trump, we must also emphasize the successful policies that progressives put in place.

We can see the starkness of this contrast on crime in what Trump—sounding like it’s still 1968—calls “the inner cities.” He has framed our decision as a choice between either returning to the old days of a truly abusive stop-and-frisk policy or returning to the old days when national murder rates were twice as high as they are now. He’s essentially arguing that the negatives of stop and frisk—if he even acknowledged them—are worth saving tens of thousands of lives each year, including 10,000 African Americans annually. That’s how many more murders there would be if the rate doubled again, as black Americans represent half of all murder victims despite being about 12 percent of the population. However, Trump is wrong: he presents a false choice.

Progressive approaches to crime center on a commitment to racial equality, civil rights, and justice. One other thing: they make everyone safer at the same time. We don’t have to sacrifice the Constitution in order to fight crime, no matter what the race-baiting, George Wallace-channeling demagogue in the White House might say.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books).

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