Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
Three years after the policing practice was ruled unconstitutional, a major newspaper has an epiphany.
Three years ago, federal Judge Shira Scheindlin declared the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” operations unconstitutional. An audit of these stops found that black and Latino New Yorkers were approached and patted down by police at a far higher rate than white New Yorkers, yet they rarely were found to be in illegal possession of guns or drugs. As a result, then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered the police force to wind down “stop and frisk” practices, which it did considerably, though the practice remained. Kelly’s successor, Bill Bratton, continued to wean the NYPD off of the practice—all of which drove the acolytes of aggressive and intrusive policing crazy.
The New York Daily News editorial board, in particular, warned on August 13, 2013, that Scheindlin’s ruling “put New York directly in harm’s way with a ruling that threatens to push the city back toward the ravages of lawlessness and bloodshed.” That kind of fear-mongering language has been par for the course anytime it’s suggested that police themselves need to comply with the law when enforcing the law. Donald Trump has basically banked his entire presidential campaign on the idea that, without aggressive police tactics like “stop and frisk,” America’s cities are headed for Purge-like fates.
But it turns out that the New York Daily News was wrong about its forecasts, which the media outlet’s editorial board wrote in an op-ed Monday that it was “delighted” to admit. Instead of bedlam up in Brooklyn and hell up in Harlem, as the paper had warned would happen as a result of scaling back “stop and frisk,” the opposite happened: “Post stop-and-frisk, the facts are clear,” wrote the editorial board Monday. “New York is safer while friction between the NYPD and the city’s minority communities has eased.”
This was an inescapable conclusion considering the math, which the editorial board was able to summarize in just a few paragraphs:
The NYPD began scaling back stops under Kelly before Scheindlin’s decision and accelerated the trend under Commissioner Bill Bratton. As a result, the number of stops reported by cops fell 97% from a high of 685,700 in 2011 to 22,900 in 2015.
Not only did crime fail to rise, New York hit record lows.
The murder count stood at 536 in 2010 and at 352 last year—and seems sure to drop further this year. There were 1,471 shooting incidents in 2010 (1,773 victims). By 2015, shootings had dropped to 1,130 (1,339 victims).
Prior to Scheindlin’s ruling, “stop and frisk” was considered an essential ingredient, along with “broken windows” policing, for what law experts call “quality-of-life enforcement.” That’s the term of art for policing that seeks to eliminate the potential for serious crime by clamping down hard on petty crime. But as a New York City Inspector General found back in June, this “quality-of-life enforcement” does little, if anything, to drive down major crimes. Looking at NYPD arrests data between 2010 and 2015 the Inspector General found that:
- Between 2010 and 2015 there was a dramatic decline in quality-of-life enforcement with no increase in felony crime. In fact, felony crime, with a few exceptions, declined along with quality-of-life enforcement.
- Between 2010 and 2015, quality-of-life enforcement had little to no temporal relationship with the decline of felony crime rates across New York City, in that there was a limited statistically demonstrable correlation.
- Quality-of-life enforcement is not evenly distributed in its use across the city and over time, in some cases even after adjusting for crime rates.
This is why police chiefs and captains across America aren’t really banging hard with Trump’s “tough on crime” talk. That kind of alarmist messaging around city crime may have helped get Richard Nixon elected back in the day. But now, hard data shows that the hell Nixon unleashed through harsh policing only led to the further destruction of cities, communities, and—even more—black families.
Still, there are many who will not back down from their staunch belief in what they consider the gospel of “stop and frisk.” They can make this argument until they are blue in the face. But, as the New York Daily News has come to learn, the data simply does not support the argument.