NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned on Monday that New York City will be the “laughing stock of the world” if it goes along with proposals to backpedal on crime-fighting tactics such as “stop-and-frisk,” which have drawn fire from minority groups.
Bloomberg, who credits tougher police tactics with the city’s historic 34 percent drop in crime over a decade, slammed two “community safety” bills that the City Council looks set to pass this week. One would establish an independent inspector-general with broad authority to investigate police practices, and a second discourages discriminatory profiling.
Bloomberg, flanked by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and several district attorneys, said the Inspector General bill would entitle gang members to make anonymous complaints about policing, while an increase in discrimination claims would tie up officers in court and take them off the streets.
“New Yorkers must have policing that respects everyone’s rights, including everyone’s right to be safe on the streets,” he said. “This is life and death we are talking about.”
Backers of the bills say they will improve community and police relations and reduce unnecessary stop-and-frisk incidents, which tend to target young black and Latino men in low-income neighborhoods.
Bloomberg, who took office in 2002, argues that most stops happen in poor areas because that is where most crime unfolds.
Last May, the New York Civil Liberties Union released statistics showing police stops have surged from 160,851 in 2003 to 685,724 in 2011. About half of the 2011 stops resulted in physical searches.
The analysis concluded that the policy disproportionately targeted minorities. It noted that in 2011, NYPD records showed police conducted more stops of black males between the ages of 14 and 24 than the total number of young black males living in New York City. Just 1.8 percent of searches of minority suspects that year resulted in weapons seizures.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has called stop-and-frisk a cornerstone of successful policing, said the bills would embolden criminals and other would-be attackers.
“Take heart, al-Qaeda wannabes,” said Kelly said, who remains one of the city’s most popular officials despite the recent controversies over NYPD tactics.
Police tactics have become an issue in New York’s mayoral race. Among Democrats, only City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Bloomberg ally, has backed keeping Kelly as police commissioner, although she recently said she would require him to reduce the number of stop-and-frisk incidents.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, another Democratic mayoral candidate, said Bloomberg and Kelly were engaging in “fear mongering” over the bills.
“A racial profiling bill is not going to make anyone less safe,” he said. “It’s in fact going to make us safer in the long term because communities are going to feel like they’re being treated fairly.”
Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and David Gregorio