Last year, ProPublica reports, murders in New York City fell to 291, the lowest total since the 1950s, despite predictions that ending the police department’s stop-and-frisk tactic would lead to an increase in crime.
The New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program directed officers to stop, question, and search civilians on the street for weapons and other contraband based on mere reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The tactic was touted as an essential crime-fighting tool that prevented serious crimes by taking guns and low-level criminals off the street, and its proponents pointed to years of falling crime rates as evidence that it worked.
ProPublica found that stops in New York City rose from about 100,000 in 2002 to nearly 700,000 in 2011. About 83 percent of the stops between 2004 and 2012 involved Black and Latino people, even though those two groups comprise slightly more than half of the city’s residents.
In 2013, observing that nearly 90 percent of those stopped were completely innocent, a federal judge found that stop-and-frisk was racially discriminatory and unconstitutional, and Bill de Blasio won the mayoral campaign after promising to end stop-and-frisk.
Many critics predicted widespread mayhem and violence would follow. As Kyle Smith wrote this month:
Like many conservatives, I had grave concerns about curtailing the New York City police department’s controversial tactic of stopping and frisking potential suspects for weapons. . . . Restricting the tactic, I thought, would cause an uptick, maybe even a spike, in crime rates.
Mr. Smith cited NYPD data showing that, as stops dropped to 12,000 in 2016 (a decline of about 98 percent from 2011 levels), and about 10,000 in 2017, crime rates continued to fall further.
Four of the five years with the lowest number of homicides in New York City since 1960 have been during de Blasio’s term.
And 2017 saw considerable reductions in almost every category of major crime, which last year reached the lowest rate since New York began keeping extensive crime records in the early 1960s. The total number of major crimes in 2017 was down by about 6 percent since 2016, itself a record-low year, Mr. Smith wrote.
Mr. Smith now acknowledges that Mr. de Blasio was “right to draw attention to the social cost” of the stop-and-frisk program, under which “hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were unjustly subjected to embarrassment or even humiliation.”
Advocates point out that we lack the data to accurately identify or measure “the negative long-term psychological or social effects this practice had on a generation of young Black and Latino men.”
There is reason to believe the consequences are significant, and they extend well beyond crime rates. Research suggests that police stops may increase stress and even provoke PTSD-like responses in young people; stops have been shown to discourage residents from using public services in order to avoid police contact and even to suppress voter turnout across entire neighborhoods.