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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde February 19, 2020

Mike Bloomberg's claim of 95% reduction in stop-and-frisk policy needs context

If Your Time is short

  • The reduction Bloomberg touted is based on a comparison of data from the beginning of 2012 and the end of 2013, the end of his time in office. Stops and frisks had ballooned before that period under his watch.
     
  • The declines toward the end of his tenure came as the city faced public criticism over the policy and a lawsuit that questioned the legality of the police behavior and its impact on minorities.
     
  • So while there was ultimately a sharp decline, Bloomberg had presided over a sharp increase in stop and frisks for most of his time as mayor.

Mike Bloomberg’s first appearance in a Democratic presidential debate involved him fending off attacks on his record on the stop-and-frisk policy in New York. The former mayor said too many people were stopped and that he’s apologized for it, but he also claimed that stops were cut back drastically once he learned about it.

"What happened, however, was it got out of control," Bloomberg said Feb. 19 in Las Vegas. "And when we discovered, I discovered, that we were doing many, many, too many stop and frisks, we cut 95% of it out."

Stop and frisk didn’t start with Bloomberg, but it did grow significantly under his tenure as mayor from 2002 to 2013. The practice allowed police to stop, question and frisk any person they believed was involved in criminal activity or in possession of a weapon. Data shows that police disproportionately targeted African Americans and Latinos. A federal judge in 2013 ruled that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city.

Is it true that stop and frisks dropped 95% during Bloomberg’s tenure?

There’s a way to calculate such a reduction. But it’s just one snapshot of the mayor’s 12 years in office. Another snapshot shows stop and frisks rose 600%. The decline during Bloomberg’s later years as mayor came amid a public outcry about the policy and an impending lawsuit challenging the police department’s tactics in carrying it out.

RELATED: Mike Bloomberg’s record on stop and frisk

His campaign said his claim relied on data for the first quarter of 2012 and the last quarter of 2013.

From January to March 2012, the New York Police Department recorded 203,500 stops, compared with approximately 12,500 stops from October to December 2013. That’s close to a 95% drop.

What happened in the years before that while Bloomberg was still mayor?

The New York Civil Liberties Union compiled data using NYPD’s annual reports and found that, in Bloomberg’s first 10 years in office, stop and frisk numbers increased significantly. In 2002, there were 97,296 stops recorded — that increased more than 600% by 2011, when there were nearly 686,000 stops. Stops fell dramatically in 2013 to just under 192,000.

Bloomberg consistently supported the stop-and-frisk policy during his time in office and defended it  for years after.

In May 2012, Bloomberg dismissed critics of the practice as a vocal minority.

In August 2013, after a federal judge ruled that the NYPD engaged in unconstitutional behavior under the policy, Bloomberg claimed the judge "ignored the real-world realities of crime" and that the city did not get a fair trial. "You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight," he told the New York Times.

In July 2013, Bloomberg told the New Yorker: "I would suggest to the next mayor, whoever it is, that saving lives is the most important thing, more so than pandering. Stop-and-frisk has been shown to be—not the only, but the most effective tool in getting guns out of the hands of kids."

Bloomberg publicly apologized for the policy for the first time a week before launching his presidential campaign in November 2019.

Our ruling

Bloomberg said, "When we discovered, I discovered, that we were doing many, many, too many stop and frisks, we cut 95% of it out."

The reduction Bloomberg touted is based on a comparison of data from the beginning of 2012 and the end of 2013, the end of his time in office. 

But as Bloomberg himself acknowledged, stop and frisks had ballooned before that period under his watch. The declines toward the end of his tenure came as the city faced public criticism over the policy and a lawsuit that questioned the legality of the police behavior and its impact on minorities. So while there was ultimately a sharp decline, Bloomberg had presided over a sharp increase in stop and frisks for most of his time as mayor.

Bloomberg’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.

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Mike Bloomberg's claim of 95% reduction in stop-and-frisk policy needs context

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