Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg apologized once again Tuesday for his use of the “stop and frisk” police policy during his three terms as mayor of New York City. But if Bloomberg wants to be taken seriously, he ought to quit running away from the topic and discuss whether it produced results.
The answer, of course, is yes. Stop and frisk, used by the NYPD for a number of years, played an important role in reducing New York’s crime rate. With public safety among the highest of any mayor’s priorities, Bloomberg should point to that responsibility as a reason to try more aggressive policing.
A recording of Bloomberg’s speech at a 2015 conference prompted his apology this week and also showed why the issue is a sensitive one in the Democratic primary.
Bloomberg said in the speech that 95 percent of murders and murder victims are young male minorities. To combat that, a city must “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.”
He admitted in the speech that this means more minorities are arrested for lesser crimes like marijuana possession, but said that’s a necessary consequence of the effort to reduce crime.
The constitutionality of stop and frisk is a legitimate question. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that New York’s methods were an illegal form of racial profiling.
But Bloomberg’s record on the issue is clear. Though New York began the program before he took office, his administration expanded it, peaking in 2011 when police searched at least 685,000 people.
Stop and frisk declined after that as criticism and legal challenges increased, but Bloomberg always defended it — until he decided to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.
He may worry that this history will hurt him with black voters, who are a key Democratic group. He is probably right, but he should at least keep in mind that any New York resident who was a crime victim probably appreciated the city’s efforts.
More to the point, if Bloomberg actually wins the party’s nomination to take on President Trump, Bloomberg’s support for stop and frisk might play well with voters across the country, since crime is not restricted to New York City.
When Bloomberg announced his presidential candidacy, he apologized for stop and frisk. Addressing the issue again Tuesday, he said his 2015 comments “do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity.”
While criminal justice issues always need review, there are other topics of interest to black voters — the majority of whom have not been in trouble with the law. Bloomberg has released proposals to address at least two of them: the relatively low rate of black homeownership and the high rate of black maternity deaths.
Instead of pretending he never supported stop and frisk, Bloomberg should talk about what the judge said New York City got wrong, and how police officers and their leaders can improve public safety without trampling individual rights. And Democratic voters ought to listen.