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by Peter Moskos

November 15, 2013

Five charts Ray Kelly Doesn't want you to see!

(Can you guess I was just on buzzfeed? A better headline would be "Murders way down in NYC. And so are stop and frisks. And nobody seems to care." But what kind of clickbaite would that be?)

1) Breakdown of NYC stops by race.

Indeed, as often reported, 83% of stops have happened to black and hispanic people.

2) Breakdown of NYC homicide victims by race.

But ninety-one percent of homicide victims were black or hispanic. Wow. Actually, this is the chart Ray Kelly wants you to see. Critics of stop and frisk generally don't like talking about this issue (as if the racial disparity in violent crime will just go away if we ignore it). But it is relevant. It may not excuse the racial bias of stop and frisk, but it goes a long to explaining it. Cops are where the violent crime is. Cops stop people where cops are assigned. Ergo cops stop black and hispanics disproportionately. "Racism without racists," it's sometimes called. It's not that individual cops are racists in their day-to-day work, but the end result of a stop-and-frisk policy can still racist.

3) Hit rate for stops of black people.

(this and then next figure are taken from Mother Jones and the data from the Center for Constitutional Rights)

One in 143 stops of blacks yields guns, drugs, or other contraband. Compare this to the rate for whites who are stopped.

4) Hit rate for tops of white people.

One in 27 stops of white people yields guns, drugs, or other contraband. Same yield with 19 percent of the stops.


One way to interpret these data is that white people must be 5.4 times as likely as blacks to be packing heat or drugs! Of course that's unlikely. So why is contraband 5.4 times as likely to be found on white people? Because white people are more likely to be stopped based on actual suspicion (there is much less pressure to produce stats in low-crime neighborhoods). Black people are being stopped because Compstat and "productivity" pressure in high-crime neighborhoods mean some officers stop people simply because the feel they need to stop people to fill out the UF-250s (the stop, questions, and frisk form).

So how about this for a goal: get the "hit rate" for blacks up to the same level for whites. Not only would this be fair, it would be good policing. It would also go a long way to mitigating the problem of excessive stop and frisks. And it's not hard to do. Make smart stops, not more stops.

5) Stops and homicides are both down!

For years Bloomberg and Kelly were basically saying that every one of the five, six, and seven-hundred-thousand stops was necessary to keep the city from exploding in crime. An inevitable part of the crime drop in New York City.

And yet stops have plummeting in the past two years (2013 figures are estimated year-end totals based on latest available data). In part this is from pressure from the top and in more recent part instructions from the PBA.

And homicide? Must be way up, right? Because Bloomberg and Kelly have insisted we need all these stops to keep homicide down. And yet we're on track from just over 300 homicides for the year in NYC. (Again, estimated year end total).

What did I just say New York City is on track to have just 318 homicides this year?! That's amazing. Why is this not front-page news? This 22 percent reduction is not from a crack-fueled high of the late 1980s but from the record low year of 2012! The 2013 homicide numbers are an amazing accomplished. (I mean Baltimore City used to top 300 homicides with just 650,000 residents.)

Homicides in New York City are down 22 percent this year and nobody seems to want to take credit! Attackers of stop and frisk never like to highlight any evidence that might be used to imply stop and frisks are effective. But defenders of stop and frisk can't reconcile a huge crime drop that correlates with an even larger decline in stop and frisks. In two years stops have been cut in half and homicides are down by one-third. (Of course there might be a delayed link between the end of stop and frisk and a rise in crime, but I think the past year or two should be enough time to see such a lag effect).

So for crying out loud, give the NYPD some credit! Just last year academics, once again, were saying crime had bottomed out; crime won't go down; crime can't go down any more. And yet, once again, it did. This was not inevitable. This is not irreversible. But as Bill Bratton likes to say, "Cops count and police matter."

So give the NYPD credit for a record low number of murders, but remind them that this amazing reduction in homicide has happened without unnecessarily stopping and bothering another 350,000 innocent black and hispanic New Yorkers this year. That matters.

We now know that all these stops were not needed. Throw out that bathwater! But be careful, because there is baby somewhere in that murky water. Surely some of these stop are needed. You know, the stops based on officers' reasonable and honest suspicion.

The crime reduction can continue at the same time unnecessary stop and frisks and ended. One goal should be to raise the hit rate for blacks stopped to the same level as found for whites who are stopped. This alone could reduce the total number of stops (and misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests) more than 80% from the 2011 high. The good news is we're already half way there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or just give $500.00 to everybody frisked so long as no contraband is found. To compensate for the inconvenience. $100.00 for a stop with no touching.

That would even the fruitful / fruitless ratio right out as across the races.