"He owes us an apology.”
So said the leaders of two city police unions about Michael Bloomberg, who soon after making it clear that he would likely join a crowded field seeking the Democratic nomination for President, communicated a public mea culpa regarding the stop-and-frisk practices that characterized the NYPD during much of his tenure.
The strategy, whose chief proponent was Mr. Bloomberg’s only Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, fostered mutual distrust between police and residents, particularly those in black and Latino neighborhoods.
‘He Was the One in Charge’
The policy, a cornerstone policing practice for more than a decade dating back to the Giuliani administration, “drove a stake between the police and the community,” the president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, Lou Turco, said of the Mayor last week.
The strategy, though, “was always opposed by the unions,” he said.
“If he’s going to apologize to the community, he should also apologize to the men and women of the department,” Mr. Turco added. “He was the one in charge of stop, question and frisk.”
The president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Ed Mullins, also said that while the apology “was not the worst thing,” Mr. Bloomberg’s regrets should have extended to police.
“I think he’s right to have apologized, but it’s long overdue and should have included the police,” he said.
Still, Sergeant Mullins added, it was important to note that the practice of stop-and-frisk had a practical, and successful, purpose.
“One of the things that shouldn’t be discounted is that though the policy was misguided, it did get thousands of guns off the streets, saving countless lives in the process,” Mr. Mullins said.
'Shocked He Kowtowed'
Michael J. Palladino, the president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, echoed that judgment: “Why would you apologize for a strategy that worked?” he said.
“I was really shocked to see him kowtow to New York City progressives. He’s not running for Mayor, he‘s running for President of the United States,” Mr. Paladino said on Nov. 20, three days after Mr. Bloomberg issued his apology.
Speaking at the Christian Cultural Center in East New York on Nov. 17, nine days after filing to run in Alabama’s Democratic presidential primary, Mr. Bloomberg said “the main reason” for the loss of support for police among residents was stop-and-frisk.
Thinking about his future had led him to reflect on his past, he said. “I got something important really wrong,” he concluded.
“I now see that we could and should have acted sooner, and acted faster, to cut the stops," the former Mayor said. “I wish we had—and I’m sorry that we didn’t...I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong—and I am sorry.”
Instances of stop-and-frisks began climbing in 2003, a year into Mr. Bloomberg’s first term. They then rose precipitously, to a height of 685,000 in 2011, when he was well into his third term.
Although in principle a non-intrusive stop by officers who have “reasonable suspicion”—a lower threshold than “probable cause”—that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime, the tactic's increase and prevalence in communities of color cultivated mutual mistrust and residents’ antipathy.
Value as Deterrent
City officials at the time said the practice was to find guns and then, because of its very public prominence, dissuade gun-carrying.
“That is our real goal—preventing violence before it occurs, not responding to the victims after the fact,” the New York Times quoted Mr. Bloomberg as saying in June 2012 at another Brooklyn church, First Baptist Full Gospel Church of Brownsville.
Although 2012 had begun with a spike in stops such that they would have exceeded 800,000 for the year if that pace continued, they began to fall in early spring, a decline attributed to a memo from Mr. Kelly directing that officers aim for “quality” stops rather than quantity.
They began to fall just as fast as they had climbed, dropping to about 192,000 in 2013 from roughly 533,000 the year before.
Still, as late as this past January, Mr. Bloomberg defended the practice.
His representatives did not reply to an email seeking comment.
‘Too Little, Too Late’
Mr. Mullins said that while he respected Mr. Bloomberg for his management skills as Mayor, he found his apology “disingenuous” for its timing.
“He had defended what he did back in [January]. Now he changes. What was the epiphany?” he asked. “The only thing that’s changed is he’s running for President."
The Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, said the apology was tardy by 19 years.
“Mayor Bloomberg could have saved himself this apology if he had just listened to the police officers on the street. We said in the early 2000s that the quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities,” he said in a statement. “His administration’s misguided policy inspired an anti-police movement that has made cops the target of hatred and violence, and stripped away many of the tools we had used to keep New Yorkers safe. The apology is too little, too late.”
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