Here are the raw numbers:
NYPD statistics show that in the first six months of 2013, homicides totaled 156, down 25 percent compared with 206 in the same period in 2012, a year in which killings hit the lowest point since the early 1960s.This is true even though the NYPD—thanks no doubt to public pressure, protests, and a major class-action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights—has cut the number of stop-and-frisks in half (from just over 200,000 to just under 100,000) in the first three months of 2013. The verdict is expected very soon, as the trial ended in late May.
Hopefully the NYPD will see that they can fight crime without stopping so many young men of color on the streets. Black and Latino New Yorkers represent more than 85 percent of police-initiated "stop-and-frisk" encounters.
This data is so very welcome because if stop and frisk as practiced until very recently were truly responsible for reducing murders and violent crimes that disproportionately hurt poor brown communities, then we would have to decide whether the real harm being caused to young people was worth the tradeoff in lives saved.
Thankfully—and the critics of stop and frisk who argued all along that this would be the case have been proven right—the very high numbers of stop and frisk are not necessary to reduce crime. Thus, it's a no-brainer to reduce stop and frisk significantly.
Read more about the decline in stop-and-frisk tactics below the fold.
As for the percentages of the people stopped by the police, that's likely to remain disproportionately black and Latino because, unfortunately, members of those communities are both overwhelmingly the victims and perpetrators of violent crime according to the NYPD, with very high percentages (in the 80s and 90s) for murder, overall shootings and felony assaults. Even if those numbers are off some, it's very hard to fudge murder statistics, in particular given the relatively small number in recent years and the fact that the information about murders is relatively public.
Even if the racial breakdown in percentage terms is somewhat defensible given the above-cited statistics, the sheer number of stops is simply unreasonable, especially given that just under 90 percent of those stopped from 2002-2012 turned out to be totally innocent. And of those arrested, the most common charge was marijuana possession. The net is being cast far too wide.
Stopping 800,000 young people a year (the peak rate based on the first quarter of 2012), about 700,000 of them black and Latino, means the NYPD is stopping a huge percentage of the city's young brown and black population every single year. This suggests that most young black and brown men, or at least those living in lower-income neighborhoods where these stops are concentrated, will be stopped and frisked by the police at least once every couple of years. That has a terrible effect on the community, on its relationship with and trust of the police. Those numbers are indefensible. A 50 percent cut is a very good start. I'm not enough of an expert to say what the right number is, but given the real cost of excessive stops I'm hopeful that the number can go significantly lower without compromising safety.
Call me naive (or worse, I can take it), but I do think the NYPD top brass had good intentions on this, namely to reduce crime in poor neighborhoods. However, they had a very paternalistic approach and were unwilling to embrace a better way until community advocates for young brown people put the necessary pressure on, both in the courts and in the court of public opinion.
This drop in New York City's crime over the past two decades is a very good thing. If the current year's numbers hold, there will be about 300 murders, compared to over 2000 per year 20 years ago. We are talking about tens of thousands of lives saved over 20 years, most of them black and Latino, in just one city. We can applaud that achievement, and some of the credit goes to the NYPD. Of course, crime has dropped all over the U.S. in that period, so I don't know just how much credit goes to the NYPD and its controversial tactics. Some, but certainly not all.
The candidates to succeed Mayor Bloomberg are going to be dealing with this issue for years to come. For the sake of all New Yorkers, let's hope whoever he or she is gets it right.