Why Bloomberg’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy is an Epic Failure

From a purely objective standpoint, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk offensive is an epic failure. 

How does one come to this conclusion?  By ignoring the politics involved and looking solely at the numbers.  As it’s been said a million times before, numbers don’t lie (yes, there are ways to manipulate statistics so that they align with a certain agenda, but unadulterated figures typically tell the truth). 

Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have argued on a number of occasions that the main objective of stop-and-frisk is to get guns off the street.  So, how effective has it been at accomplishing this goal?

As WNYC reported, “out of more than 685,000 stops in 2011, about 770 guns were recovered.  That means about one tenth of one percent of all stops result in the seizure of a gun.” 

In other words, it’s highly ineffective.  Or, as I prefer to label it: an epic failure. 

But Bloomberg remains undaunted by these numbers, doubling down on the notion that stop-and-frisk is critically important to fighting crime. 

“When conducted appropriately, stops are an important part of taking guns off the streets and keeping our communities safe,” the Mayor told a crowd of churchgoers at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York this past weekend.

Well, as the evidence shows, stop-and-frisk is not an effective way to take guns off the street.  But given that it does take several hundred guns off the street each year and leads to the arrest of some criminals (only 5.37 percent of all stops between 2004 and 2009 resulted in arrests) does it make communities safer?  Does it reduce gun violence?

No, not in any statistically significant way. 

While Bloomberg argues that there are fewer homicides since he ramped up stop-and-frisk, there’s virtually the same number of shootings each year, leading one to conclude that the level of gun violence has not changed over the years, it’s just that fewer people are fatally wounded today than in 2002 (to read more, click here).   

To give one an idea, during Bloomberg’s first year in office (2002), when 97,296 people were frisked, 1,892 people were shot.  Last year, 685,000 were frisked and 1,821 were shot. 

Another chink in the armor of stop-and-frisk is that criminals easily circumvent it by using community weapons (guns hidden away and shared by small groups of people who use them when needed, then return them). A digital map created by WNYC, which showed that most guns recovered by police were found outside stop-and-frisk ‘hotspots,’ reinforces this theory.

To put it another way, savvy criminals know where police usually conduct stops.  Consequently, they take precautions when heading into stop-and-frisk hot spots (see map for specifics). 

But police argue that not finding guns in the areas they’re looking the hardest (conducting the most stops) is proof that the policy is working.  In short, they argue that the stops are deterring gun violence.

However, this argument doesn’t really hold water because, as mentioned, the level of gun violence remains effectively the same from year to year, no matter how many stops are made. 

Now, of course, there are other criticisms to lodge against stop-and-frisk (questions of racial profiling and the trampling of one’s 4th Amendment rights), but just taking an honest look at the numbers should be enough to condemn it.

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