Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out Tuesday at critics of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practice and surveillance programs,in a pugnacious defense of what he called a police force bombarded by politics.
Stop-and-frisk the practice of stopping,questioning and sometimes patting down people seen as doing something questionable but not necessarily meriting arrest has become a flashpoint as the stops rose dramatically in the last decade,to nearly 700,000 in 2011. They dropped to 533,000 last year.
Critics say the stops treat innocent people like criminals and are tainted with racial profiling,noting that more than 80 per cent of those approached are black or Hispanic; these groups make up 54 per cent of the population. Civil rights and minority advocates and some lawmakers also see the tactic as ineffective because more than 85 per cent do not result in arrests or weapons being confiscated.
The mayor has long insisted the stops are based on suspicious behavior,not racial bias,and are a powerful tool for curtailing crime.
“The NYPD is under attack,” the mayor said in a speech that lauded the department for lower crime rates,raised the specter of terrorism and excoriated supporters of legislation that would rein in stop-and-frisk. He also was critical of legal groups that have sued over the practice,mayoral candidates and the media.
“Stop playing politics with public safety. Look at what’s happened in Boston. Remember what happened here on 9/11. Remember all of those who have been killed by gun violence and the families they left behind,” Bloomberg said. “We owe it to all of them to give our officers all the tools they need to protect innocent lives or people will needlessly die,and we’ll all be responsible.”
It was a message the mayor has sent before,amid an ongoing federal civil rights trial over stop-and-frisk and City Council hearings on setting new rules for the tactic. He also has repeatedly embraced the NYPD’s surveillance and other counterterrorism programs after a series of stories by The Associated Press on the department’s widespread spying on Muslims.
But the more than 20-minute speech and setting at police headquarters,in front of a room full of uniformed officials telegraphed a stepped-up,aggressive response to those who question whether the nation’s largest police department has overstepped its bounds.
Some were quick to push back. Communities United for Police Reform,a coalition of civil rights and community groups backing the proposed legislation,said Bloomberg was engaging in “dangerous scare tactics.” One of the measures’ sponsors,Councilman Jumaane Williams,termed the speech “a pep rally for his failing proposition that our city has to choose between better policing and safer streets.”