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Wall Street Journal

 

How to Return New York City to the Street Gangs

August 11, 2012

By Heather Mac Donald

The campaign against the police policy of 'stop-and-frisk' challenges two decades of successful city governance.

Crime in New York City has dropped 80% since the early 1990s, a decline unmatched anywhere in the country. The change has yielded an explosion of commerce in once forlorn neighborhoods, a boom in tourism, and a sharp rise in property values. Nowhere were the effects more dramatic than in the city's poorest areas.

When the bullets stopped flying, entrepreneurs snapped up the vacant lots that had served as breeding grounds of crime. Senior citizens were able to visit friends without fear of getting mugged. Children could sleep in their own beds rather than in bathtubs, no longer needing shelter from stray gunfire. Target, Home Depot and other national chains moved into thoroughfares long ruled by drug gangs, providing jobs for local workers and giving residents retail choices taken for granted in middle-class neighborhoods.

Most significant, more than 10,000 black and Hispanic males avoided the premature death that would have been their fate had New York's homicide rate remained at its early-1990s apex. Blacks and Hispanics have made up 79% of the decline in homicide victims since 1993.

New York's previously unimaginable status as America's safest big city is now in jeopardy thanks to a rising campaign against its proactive style of policing. In 1994 the New York Police Department, led then by Commissioner William Bratton, embraced the revolutionary concept that the police could actually prevent crime, not just respond to it after the fact.

The department began analyzing victim reports daily to target resources to where crime patterns were emerging. Top brass held commanders accountable for the safety of their precincts. And officers were expected to intervene when they observed someone acting suspiciously—maybe asking the person a few questions, perhaps frisking him if legally justified. In so doing, they sent the message in violence-plagued areas that law and order was still in effect.

Such proactive stops (or "stop-and-frisks") have averted countless crimes. But a chorus of critics, led by the New York Times, charges that the NYPD's policy is racist because the majority of those stopped are black and Hispanic. Every declared Democratic candidate for mayor in 2013 has vowed to eliminate stop-and-frisks or significantly reduce them. A federal judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD has already announced her conviction that the department's stop practices are unconstitutional, the prelude to putting the department under judicial control.

Omitted from these critics' complaints is any recognition of the demographics of crime. Blacks were 62% of the city's murder victims in 2011, even though they are only 23% of the population. They also made up a disproportionate share of criminals, committing 80% of all shootings, nearly 70% of all robberies and 66% of all violent crime, according to crime reports filed with the NYPD by victims and witnesses, usually minorities themselves.

Whites, by contrast, committed a little over 1% of all shootings, less than 5% of all robberies, and 5% of all violent crime in 2011, even though they are 35% of New York City's population. Given where crime is happening, the police cannot target their resources where they're needed without producing racially disparate stops and arrests.

Critics also contend, among other charges, that the absolute number of stops—680,000—is too high and demonstrates illegality. But there were nearly 900,000 arrests and summons last year under the far more exacting standard of probable cause. It is not surprising that a police force of 35,000 witnessed 680,000 instances of reasonably suspicious behavior among New York's 8.5 million residents. If 25,000 officers in enforcement commands made just one stop a week, there would be over a million stops a year.

Violence continues to afflict minority communities. A rash of shootings during outdoor basketball games this summer should remind New Yorkers of what is at stake in the stop-and-frisk debate. The victims include a 4-year-old boy killed last month in the Bronx when two thugs started shooting at each other across a playground, and a 25-year-old member of the Harlem Youth Marines, an anti-gang group, killed during a shootout in June.

If the residents of the tony Upper East Side faced a similar risk of getting shot at recreational basketball games, the police would be out in force in that neighborhood, too, looking for the signs of gang activity and for individuals who appear to be carrying guns.

Attacks on police officers have also skyrocketed this year. On Wednesday night, a thug on a bicycle shot the plainclothes officer who had just stopped him for suspicious behavior. This is the 10th time a cop has been shot in 2012, which is more than in the previous four years combined, reports the New York Daily News. Gun violence on the year is up 8.3% through Aug. 5, as stop-and-frisks dropped 34% between the first and second quarters of 2012, according to the New York Post.

It is too soon to tell whether the rhetorical campaign against the allegedly racist police is behind the onslaught against officers, or if the drop in stops has led to the rise in shootings. Over the long term, however, there is no doubt that getting rid of proactive policing will return New York to the bad old days of youth wolf packs and the flight of businesses and residents from the city.

No policing strategy is as effective in reducing violence as New York-style law enforcement. The cities offered up as alternative models by the NYPD's critics—such as Boston, Chicago and High Point, N.C.—have much higher rates of crime than New York.

The department should do everything it can to minimize the friction caused by its stop policy—above all by making sure that officers courteously explain to subjects they stop why they were approached. Being stopped if you are innocent of wrongdoing, even if the officer has legal grounds for doing so, is without question humiliating and maddening. But being shot when you are innocent of any wrongdoing is far worse.

New York's triumph over the lawlessness that was wasting lives and leading it to economic ruin is the greatest urban policy success of the last quarter-century. It proved that society has the capacity to reassert norms of civilized behavior even when they appear to have permanently broken down. Putting that triumph at risk will take its greatest toll on the very individuals whom the NYPD's critics purport to speak for.

Original Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443404004577579490354672410.html

 

 
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