Stop and Frisk

Michael Bloomberg's Convenient 'Stop and Frisk' Conversion Is Transparently Insincere

The former New York mayor wants us to believe he suddenly realized a program he defended for 17 years was unfair and unconstitutional.

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During Michael Bloomberg's three terms as mayor of New York City, the number of people detained under the NYPD's "stop, question, and frisk" (SQF) program skyrocketed from fewer than 100,000 in 2002 to more than 685,000 in 2011. The program was perennially controversial because it seemed to violate the Fourth Amendment and because it overwhelmingly targeted young black and Hispanic men. Bloomberg nevertheless was always a staunch defender of it—until yesterday, when he told the congregation of a large African-American church in Brooklyn he has seen the error of his ways.

"I was wrong," Bloomberg said in a speech at the Christian Cultural Center, "and I am sorry." The dramatic reversal may be the surest sign yet that Bloomberg is entering the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But it is transparently insincere, since he cannot offer a plausible explanation for his convenient conversion, aside from crass political considerations.

"I got something important really wrong," Bloomberg said. "I didn't understand…back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities. I was totally focused on saving lives. But as we know, good intentions aren't good enough. Now, hindsight is 20/20. But as crime continued to come down as we reduced stops—and as it continued to come down during the next administration, to its credit—I now see that we could and should have acted sooner, and acted faster, to cut the stops. I wish we had, and I'm sorry that we didn't."

SQF's racially disproportionate impact was always one of the main complaints against it. The issue figured prominently in a federal judge's 2013 decision deeming the tactic unconstitutional as practiced by the NYPD. It is impossible to believe that Bloomberg took this objection to heart only recently. Even after U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin concluded that the program violated the Fourth and 14th amendments, Bloomberg continued to defend it.

Scheindlin found that police were commonly detaining, questioning, and searching New Yorkers without the "reasonable suspicion" the Supreme Court has said the Fourth Amendment requires. She also concluded, based on data showing who was stopped and what happened afterward, that cops were deciding who was suspicious based partly on race, thereby violating the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Scheindlin's analysis of data on 4.4 million stops from January 2004 to June 2012 strongly suggested that reasonable suspicion was the exception rather than the rule. During this period, she noted, only 12 percent of people subjected to the "demeaning and humiliating" experience of being treated like criminals were arrested or issued a summons. And although police were supposed to frisk a subject only if they reasonably believed he was armed, 52 percent of these encounters included pat-downs, only 1.5 percent of which discovered a weapon. Even when officers reached into people's clothing after feeling what they claimed to think was a weapon, they found one just 9 percent of the time.

The fact that people stopped by police turned out to be innocent nine times out of 10 also figured in Scheindlin's equal protection analysis. "The City and its highest officials believe that blacks and Hispanics should be stopped at the same rate as their proportion of the local criminal suspect population," she wrote. "But this reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent—not criminal….While a person's race may be important if it fits the description of a particular crime suspect, it is impermissible to subject all members of a racially defined group to heightened police enforcement because some members of that group are criminals. The Equal Protection Clause does not permit race-based suspicion."

Bloomberg was outraged by Scheindlin's decision, which he immediately promised to appeal. "There is just no question that stop-question-frisk has saved countless lives," he said. "And we know that most of the lives saved, based on the statistics, have been black and Hispanic young men." He complained that Scheindlin "made it clear she was not interested in the crime reductions" and "ignored the real-world realities of crime."

The assertion that SQF "saved countless lives" is highly dubious, but Bloomberg's result-oriented reasoning was notable in any case. Rather than defending the program's constitutionality, he has consistently defended its effectiveness. In his view, the tiny and declining percentage of stops that yielded guns showed the program was working as a deterrent. He thereby conceded that the searches generally were unconstitutional because they were not justified by reasonable suspicion. His attitude was: So what, as long as it works?

Scheindlin answered that question in her decision. "This case is not about the effectiveness of stop and frisk in deterring or combating crime," she wrote. "This Court's mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool. Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime—preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example—but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective."

That point always seemed to elude Bloomberg. But now that he is about to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, he says he gets it, sort of:

By my final year in office, support for the department had eroded. And the main reason was the practice of something called stop and frisk.

Our focus was on saving lives. The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that. The overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino. That may have included, I'm sorry to say, some of you here today. Perhaps yourself or your children, or your grandchildren, or your neighbors, or your relatives.

I spoke with many of the innocent people affected, and listened to their frustrations and their anger. And as I said at the time, I'd be angry, too.

So in 2012, in my third term, we began putting more safeguards in place, and we began scaling back the number of stops. As we did that, we noticed something important: crime did not go back up.

So we began scaling the stops back faster—and further. And by the time I left office, we had cut stops by 94 percent.

While Bloomberg implies that he saw the light on SQF by the end of his third term, he continued to defend the program after leaving office, arguing, without much evidence, that it reduced violent crime. In an interview with The New York Times last year, he suggested that his record of supporting SQF would prove to be an asset if he entered the presidential race. "I think people, the voters, want low crime," he said. "They don't want kids to kill each other." As recently as March, he was mocking the notion of launching "an apology tour," à la Joe Biden, to make up for a history of supporting anti-crime policies that are now unpopular with Democratic primary voters.

Bloomberg may have changed his mind about the political risks of continuing to brag about SQF. But the idea that he suddenly realized the program was unfair and unconstitutional after defending it for nearly two decades, even if you believe it, is hardly reassuring. It makes you wonder what mistakes he would make as president that he would come to regret years after leaving office.

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  1. He was doing it in part as a way to get guns off the streets.

    That’s a big part of his campaign.

    1. Abusing the Second Amendment as well.

      1. This misconstrues his actual intent, which was to do his best to uplift the worst elements of our society, the sociopaths, the vagrants who wander the streets in our neighborhoods, and to nip certain unpleasant tendencies in the bud, ranging from the inappropriate use of marijuana on Washington Square to internet “parody.” In this regard, here at NYU we are exceedingly grateful for his efforts, along with those of the Manhattan district attorney, who continued to fight for nine years, even long after Mike left office, to make it clear that so-called “free speech” doesn’t oblige the police or anyone else to tolerate highly illegal conduct that sullies the reputations of our esteemed faculty members. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

        https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        1. Keep peddling your bullshit; we’ll keep laughing at you inability to understand A1

        2. This is really a quixotic crusade.

          Raphael Glob’s er Glob’s sockputtery (putting his words in the mouths of his father’s critics, pretending to be his father’s critics on the internet) does not qualify as “parody” or “satire” but is one of the worst examples of the evils of demonic sockpuppetry ever perpetrated in the anals .

          Bring up Raphael Glob er Golb Trial at WordPress at ever opportunity is an example of the Streisand Effect. Before “Quixote” came along, I never heard of Raphael Golb but looking into it I have grown to loathe and despise him. (Which come to think of it MAT be why Quixote posts about constantly.)

          1. Precisely my point. Many of us here at NYU are working hard to convince legislatures everywhere in this great nation to enact appropriate anti-sock penalties, punishments and penal laws. Thank you for joining our campaign, and let us all keep pressing forward in our efforts to continually broaden our membership.

  2. That may have included, I’m sorry to say, some of you here today. Perhaps yourself or your children, or your grandchildren, or your neighbors, or your relatives.

    He added, “You know because you people are all related”.

    1. Of course, they are all related!!!…They all look alike!

  3. All voters, even the one-issue ones, know they are voting for people, not issues, and they only hope the guy who gets elected will stick to his promises. What they really vote for is character — does this guy keep his promises? Is he capable of thinking on his feet? Is his mind open enough for changing conditions without being so open it changes with the wind?

    Bloomberg’s character shows one major flaw in common with all dictators and wannabes: he changed the NY charter/constitution/whatever they call it so he could run for a third term.

    Fuck him.

    1. BINGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! +1,000,000!!!!

  4. Next week he’ll agree with Bernie that there should no longer be any billionaires, and that he should be taxed on 50% of his total wealth.

  5. We need someone to Tulsi Gabbard the fuck out of him. Perhaps we can get Tulsi to do it.

  6. Wow! A politician that’s transparently insincere. I’m shocked.

    1. I’m shocked! Shocked! Well, not that shocked.

  7. I believe him. Just look at that sincere facial expression! Besides, only a hardened cynic could believe that force-initiating looter politicians would _ever_ stoop to lying. As long as they can keep folks from finding out that prohibitionist asset forfeiture caused the Great Depression and the 1987- and 2008- depressions, robbing pension funds of trillions of dollars, they’ll pretend that 200 million LP votes were “wasted” these past 47 years–at a steeply accelerating rate, too.

  8. Don’t forget that Mikey put himself up for a third term despite voters choosing to limit terms to two as enough for one candidate. Mikey and the NY political machine decided that wasn’t good enough for them, so residents had to put up with nagging about soft drinks, challenging the 2nd Amendment, and support for the apartheid state of Israel.

    1. If I remember correctly, he phrased something like, “Only I can see NYC through this dark time, so I’m going to completely ignore the will of the people!”

      Such humility & confidence……Yeah! I surely would love to see him be prez!

      1. “If I remember correctly, he phrased something like, “Only I can see NYC through this dark time, so I’m going to completely ignore the will of the people!””

        FDR retread.

    2. Mikey also had to put up 100MM+ to ‘win’ that last term. 🙂

    3. …..and support for the apartheid state of Israel..

      Yo….you’re spreading lies, and letting your anti-antisemitism show. Asshole.

      1. I disagree that Israel constitutes an “apartheid state” but I think it’s possible to disapprove of Israeli policy without being antisemitic.

  9. “They don’t want kids to kill each other.”
    Hell no! That’s what narcs and SWAT teams are for–to kill children over plant leaves, in exchange for votes from diminishing decrepit, senile and clueless mystics.

  10. “But as we know, good intentions aren’t good enough.”

    Whoa, Mike! That’s going too far!

  11. So non-candidates lie as much as official candidates.
    Big deal.

  12. Funny how Team Blue’s current platform is basically “Sorry about all of our past fuck ups. We’ll do better this time. We promise! But what’s most important is that you forget all that stuff we did because ORANGE MAN BAD!”

    Stop and Frisk
    Obamacare
    General criminal justice reform
    War on Drugs
    Even fucking immigration

    Fuck these people. GTFOHWYBS. Go eat a box of syphilis infested dicks.

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  14. Stop and Frisk was just a “common sense”, “sensible” policy to deal with the epidemic of gun violence.

    How can anyone oppose that unless they do not care about kids being shot to death in schools?

  15. Stop’n’Frisk (for guns) is not a recent policy and did not originate with Michael Bloomberg.

    Stopping random people on the street and searching for firearms was advocated in Norval Morris and Gordon J. Hawkins, The Honest Politician’s Guide to Crime Control, U Chicago Press, 1970, 1972.

    Norval Morris’ Stop’n’Frisk has not always been popular. “In 1978, his stance on the Fourth Amendment and gun control in his 1970 book with Gordon Hawkins (“There can be no right to privacy in regard to armament”) cost him an appointment to the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, even though he dismissed the proposals in the book as “Utopian” and “science-fiction” [in his testimony before Congress]. – Norval Morrris article in Wikipedia

    See also Don B. Kates, Prohibiting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out 1979 for further criticism of stop’n’frisk and Morris’ attitude on gun control from a civil liberties POV.

    Bloomberg’s track record of defending Stop’n’Frisk makes his sudden reversal sound convenient and insincere.

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