Police in the U.S. stop more than one million people on the street each year. Civil liberties critics say that the stop-and-frisk tactic employs racial profiling. It’s hard to argue with the numbers—most stops are of black and Latino men. The New York City Police Department is a staunch defender of the practice and out of the million stops cited by the AP, the NYPD will be responsible for about 600,000 of them by year’s end.
Therefore it was no surprise that at the mayoral debate last Tuesday evening (see 45:30 in NY1 video), the issue of NYPD tactics under Mayor Mike Bloomberg came up when the Daily News’ Adam Lisberg asked challenger and current Comptroller Bill Thompson to clarify his position with regard to the stop-and-frisk policy.
I was at the debate along with two of my colleagues (check out Lindsay Lazarski’s post re: education) and my ears perked up when I heard Lisberg’s question.
Thompson said that while he thinks the policy is an important policing tool, he said it is being overused—about 543,000 people were stopped by police last year—especially because only 6 percent of stops have resulted in arrests. He said that instead of focusing on those who are suspicious, the policy is being “misused to stop almost everybody” in certain communities—overwhelmingly, African American and Latino communities, he added.
For his part, the mayor skirted answering the question directly at first and attempted to brandish his record-low crime credentials and also talk about police-community relations, which have admittedly gotten better when compared to the Giuliani administration. Mayor Bloomberg said that it’s tough but he believes his police department is striking the right balance when it comes to stop-and-frisk.
Seizing on the opportunity to paint the mayor as out-of-touch, Comptroller Thompson again hammered on his point that the policy is being used in excess.
“When communities feel that they’re singled out—when the numbers reflect that something is being overused—then the mayor needs to step in, pay attention, and ask that a fairer policy be put in place,” Thompson said.