Why Philly won’t stop ‘stop-and-frisk’

Stop-and-frisk. Hot topic and getting hotter.

Three things to know:

1- It has been around forever.

2- When done properly, it is constitutional. 

3- It is hard to do it right. 

On the national stage, Mike Bloomberg is getting hammered for New York City’s former s&f policy, which reportedly helped drive down the crime rate, but was found to be unconstitutional. I’ll return to that in a minute.

In Philly, s&f was launched by Mayor Michael Nutter, who was and is a Bloomberg clone and acolyte. When announced, the constitutional Philly policy was wildly unpopular in some minority neighborhoods, which are often reflexively anti-cop, sometimes with good reason. It surprised me that a black mayor would launch it, but maybe only a black mayor could.

The “why” he did it is answered by a homicide rate that hit a near record of 391 in 2007, the year Nutter was elected. (The all-time record was 497 homicides in 1990.) People were calling us Killadelphia.

Something had to be done. It was an emergency and Nutter’s idea was to flood the zone — send extra cops into the most violent neighborhoods. In Philadelphia the most violent neighborhoods are poor neighborhoods, meaning  minority neighborhoods. Those are facts and you may not like them, but facts are not racist.

I wrote about his plan at the time. 

I was a little cool to the idea, but I was positively cold to bodies stacking up in the streets with a mayor pretending nothing was wrong. 

In Philadelphia, the vast majority of homicide victims and perpetrators are black. That also is a fact, which means that any means used to reduce the murder rate reduces the number of black victims. Isn’t that a laudable goal?

Michael Nutter stumps for Michael Bloomberg. (Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY)

As mayor, Nutter (now Bloomberg’s national policy director) said this week, “you are responsible for public safety. You must do everything you can, legally, to reduce violence.”

In New York, Bloomberg made a huge gaffe, which is defined as when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Talking about s&f, here’s what he said:

“We want to spend a lot of money, put a lot of cops in the street, put those cops where the crime is, which is in the minority neighborhoods.”

That is factually correct, but he defined the high-crime area by color rather than by income. That was a near-fatal mistake that is now coming home to haunt him from a media that pretends to not know where most murders take place and who commits them. 

Bloomberg also said that “95 percent of your murders, murderers and murder victims, fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. 

“They are male minorities, 15 to 25. That’s true in New York. It’s true in virtually every city. And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed.”

That’s profiling, but what Bloomberg said is either true or false.

If it is true, it is not racist. And if it is true, I am amazed by the number of black thought leaders who pretend it is not true.

Such as New York Times columnist Charles Blow’s racial hysteria:

“In 2002, the first year Bloomberg was mayor, 97,296 of these stops were recorded,” Blow wrote. “They surged during Bloomberg’s tenure to a peak of 685,724 stops in 2011, near the end of his third term. Nearly 90 percent of the people who were stopped and frisked were innocent of any wrongdoing.”

How unaware can he be? Using Blow’s own numbers, some 10 percent, or about 68,000, were guilty of some wrongdoing. That is a staggering number and is evidence that s&f works.

It is true that one unintended consequence of s&f was that a lot of minority youth got arrested when caught carrying not a gun, but marijuana and other drugs. That angered some people who apparently think the suspects’ rights were being abrogated by being arrested for breaking some other law.

“We did a calculation of how many people who would have been dead if we hadn’t brought down the murder rate and gotten guns off the streets,” said Bloomberg. “And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw ’em against the wall and frisk ’em.” That scares them, he said, into leaving their guns at home.

This was another problem. Most of those stopped weren’t packing, so why this tough-guy talk about throwing them against a wall? That comment deserved an apology — not s&f itself. 

Bloomberg apologized, mainly for overusing the s&p procedure. He did not, and should not, apologize for using it at all. 

Philadelphia still uses stop-and-frisk. A police spokesman told me new-on-the-job Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has made no decisions about it as yet.

Interestingly, when Jim Kenney ran for his first term, he vowed to end s&p. He is now in his second term and he has not ended it, even though some studies say it does not work.

We still have it because our progressive mayor and his police force — and columnist Blow’s statistics — know it is a tool in the crime-fighting kit, and as I said, nothing new.

It’s 1953 and I am living in the South Bronx, plagued by gang warfare, primarily between Puerto Rican (Latin Kings) and white gangs (Chaplains). It’s like “West Side Story” with no dancing and singing, but better weapons.

This particularly hot summer, to squelch possible violence, cops are given the green light to stop-and-frisk any “suspicious” youth, including me and my friends.

“White privilege” didn’t buy us a pass.

It was not a problem for us because  we seldom left the safety of our own block and we did not carry weapons. The lid is so tight, groups of more than three teens are prohibited from congregating.

One time I am sitting with three friends on my own front stoop and the cops of the 41st Precinct — later to be known as Fort Apache — tell us to break it up. 

My own stoop.

We broke it up. 

I am not going to say we liked it. We didn’t. The word didn’t exist then, but we were being profiled. We understood it.

No one apologized then, and no one should apologize now, as long as stop-and-frisk is done in the right way for the right reasons — saving lives.

11 thoughts on “Why Philly won’t stop ‘stop-and-frisk’”

    were to start, pallie.
    First, anyone who argues AGAINST this blog is not trying to understand the problem. Never mind fixing it.
    Second, if you grew up anywhere near me, you got “questioned” and some times frisked. We knew what was going on and you accept it. A little inconvenience is better than being put in a box.
    Third, Mr. Bloomberg was right in trying to save New York, just as Mayor Nutter was right.
    Fourth, it’s a fact. The impoverished join gangs. Gangs protect and kill.
    Five, what’s missing is the fix. You can’t tell people to stop being poor and don’t join gangs. Give them a reason – and help – to change their lives.
    note: sad fact here. Dobbins High has the HIGHEST ( IN THE COUNTRY ) mortality rate from the Viet Nam era. Most of those kids that went to Dobbins, dropped out of school. There was nothing but gang violence for them at home, so the famous quote was, “if I’m going to die, I might as well join the Army and die for my country”. FACT !
    Give the young a chance. Give them a reason to finish school and to go on and make a life for themselves.

  2. First, I will not prevail to understand what S&F feels like, since I was never subjected to it. My first 10 years of life (1950-1959) were spent growing up in the (east) Germantown section (Wakefield St, for those of you familiar), and the next 10 years in East Camden (1960-1970). Was it because I was white, didn’t hang around with crowds or gangs (other than at football), or was too poor to consider doing “bad things” since I pretty much worked at something most of my life. Oh yes, and I mention I was very nerd-ish? I was far from the perfect kid, but watched as other kids went through S&F. In fact, as the time (at least in Camden), I was amazed that S&F was broken down almost evenly between Black, Latino, and PWM (priviledged white males) of their time. But at that time, there were rarely problems with the kids not listening to some authority.

    Second, with respect to quoting Charles Blow and other like media who twist the facts, Mark Twain said: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The uber liberal media take it to an art form. And you, Stu, have pointed that out rather eloquently. Be careful, the truth police are itching to shut you down. Shades of 1984…

    1. Wow! Wakefield St. I’ll be damned! I had to think a bit and then check the map. East Germantown/ Germantown.
      You missed the ‘fun’ in the late 60’s and so on. Lots of fire! Also saw many s/f. And more!
      Good you moved. Camden, I don’t know?

  3. I was about 16 years old (a lot of years ago), a skinny white kid walking to work in the middle of a summer weekday, from my parents’ house in Wynnewood to the Penn Fruit grocery store (now an Old Navy). A Lower Merion cop car pulls up next to me and the cop demands me to tell him who I am, where I’m going, and to show him some i.d. I remember being a mix of scared and pissed: scared because the cop was so…scary, and pissed because I’M A WHITE KID IN A WHITE NEIGHBORHOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF A SUMMER DAY, DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WORTHY OF BEING STOPPED AND MENTALLY FRISKED. I can’t even imagine what it must be liked to be an innocent black kid going through the same routine and being PHYSICALLY frisked. Yet intellectually I understand the need. I am an arch conservative, but I am torn about this topic.

  4. Two decades ago Michael Bloomberg was a political unknown with tons of money and no significant ties to the party whose nomination he sought. He had a history of inappropriate comments back then. The polls gave him practically no chance of victory. He wasn’t taken seriously by the media. Yet less than a year after announcing his candidacy, Bloomberg was elected the Big Apple’s 108th mayor. He’s running for president in more or less the same manner.
    New York City had an abysmal credit rating when Bloomberg assumed office. It was healthy by the time he left Gracie Mansion. However, he became preoccupied with soda pop and tried to dump my orange soda in the East River. Not cool.
    Stop-and-frisk, an effective crime-fighting tool, could prove to be be a minor impediment for Bloomberg. But I would never count out Michael Bloomberg whenever he’s involved in a political contest.

    1. David, just to add to your great observation here…

      It is said that, generally speaking, ex-governors have made for better presidential material, followed by ex-senators, ex-military, ex-other kinds of politicians, and finally, at the bottom, ex-business people. While I firmly believe that Trump was the lesser of two evils (Clinton being the other obvious evil) this go-around, I’m not too sure that Bloomberg would do any better than Trump, even with his mayoral experience. Just a (much) richer version of Petey Baby (or Boot-a-gig, or whatever).

      Seems like we’re headed away from The Year of The Woman, to The Year of the S&F.

      1. Randy,
        I don’t see evil in Trump. He’s a fighter. For all his human weaknesses, we all have them, he fights real evil, over 3 years now. I’m happy he’s not a politician. And, I believe we need more savvy business men or women in politics. I do agree not Bloomberg.

        1. gents,
          LITTLE mikey will probably buy the party nomination. If for no other reason, we’re not quite ready for socialism. The small portion of socialism, communism and all of the other isms are more than enough for us conservatives.
          I can see Mikey Bloomberg buying enough P.R. to carry the east coast. Maybe most of the west coast, but the rest belongs to our President. Donald J. Trump for four more years ( at least ! )

  5. I wonder if Stu’s “Black thought leaders” really care about Tony’s “Need a fix” answer to this problem. It doesn’t appear that way. You both, in my opinion, have stated the solution……it begins with them. Sadly so many “Leaders” have chosen selfish gain.
    Greed, control and power is blind. It has no racial boundaries.
    For now it’s still in place in Philly…

  6. Good column today,,and I did remember the one you wrote (and provided the link to) in 2007.Now a clarification on the constitutionality of stop and frisk.If my,memory serves me correctly the ruling of the policy’s unconstitutionality was declared by a lower level federal judge. I also recall that Bloomberg,mayor at the time, appealed the case, and was prepared to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.But his term ran out and Deblasio, not surprisingly never pursued it after that.So do we really know whether or not it is constitutional?Bob

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