Stop and Frisks and the Decline of Crime in New York
The New York Police Department (NYPD) announced that the city experienced an all-time low in crime for the first quarter of this year. Compared to the first quarter of last year, total crimes dropped 7.3 percent. Overall crime for the month of March alone was reduced by 6.2 percent compared to the same time last year. Murders, rapes, and shootings were up overall for the quarter.
For the first quarter last year there were 60 murders compared to 69 for 2019. Rapes jumped from 400 to 438 incidents. Shootings also slightly increased from 141 to 150 incidents. The murder rate in New York has fallen for three consecutive years with 2018 seeing the lowest number of homicides of the past 70 years.
The drop in crime rate has been attributed to several factors but there is disagreement regarding which factors have been most responsible. Since the crime rate peaked in the early 1990s, several tactics have been employed to reduce crime.
Tactics for Reducing Crime in New York Over the Years
Mayor David Dinkins, who served from 1990-1993, increased the size of the police force after the city faced record violent crime numbers his first year in office. The year of 1990, New York saw 2,245 murders with over 5,000 people shot. There were over half a million felonies committed that year.
When former federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani became mayor in 1994, several initiatives were launched to continue the decline in crime. CompStat, a statistical reporting program, was implemented to look for crime trends in each precinct. CompStat, still in use today, tabulated crime reports on a weekly basis and gave city and law enforcement officials objective data to use in reducing crime rates.
Giuliani and then commissioner William Bratton, also subscribed to the broken windows theory of law enforcement, which held that visible signs of crime and civil disorder creates an environment that encourages more and more serious crimes. Operating under this theory Bratton and Giuliani heavily cracked down on minor offenses such as graffiti, public intoxication, and turnstile jumping. More controversially, the Giuliani administration implemented the stop-and-frisk practice.
Referred to as a Terry stop in other states, stop-and-frisk is a practice whereby police will stop an individual they suspect may be up to no good and question them. If they believe the individual may be armed or dangerous they may frisk the person to look for weapons or contraband.
By the time Giuliani left office, there were nearly 100,000 Terry stops per year in the city. Use of stop-and-frisk only increased under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure. In 2011, there were an astounding 685,724 stop-and-frisks performed in the city. The practice, however, is fairly controversial due to accusations of profiling and racism.
Challenges to Stop-and-Frisks
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in particular has been outspoken against the practice and has produced studies that show vast racial disparities for those subjected to Terry stops.
An ACLU report in 2012 found black and Latino New Yorkers were stopped at disproportionately higher rates than other races even though both represent minority populations. Of the stops performed in 2011, 350,743 were of African-Americans and 223,740 were of Latinos, those numbers represent 52.9 percent and 33.7 percent of all stops respectively. Whites, on the other hand, were only stopped 61,805 times, or less than 10 percent of the time.
Male black and Latino youths in particular were at a heightened risk of being stopped. Of the black and Latino male demographic, those between the ages 14 and 24 accounted for almost half of all stops performed, 41.6 percent. That is startling considering that at the time, that demographic group only represented 4.7 percent of the population of New York. The ACLU also pointed out that according to the NYPD’s own statistics, black and Latinos were less likely to be caught with a weapon when frisked than whites.
The NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisks was subsequently curtailed by multiple lawsuits including one from the New York Civil Liberties Union. Under current Mayor Bill de Blasio, the number of stop-and-frisks has dropped dramatically to 11,629 stops in 2017. While there was a belief from many that reducing stop-and-frisks would lead to more crime, that clearly has not been the case.