On the same day the New York Civil Liberties Union released an analysis of last year's 685,000 stops, the city's public advocate Bill de Blasio announced a campaign to pressure Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reform the practice. De Blasio said the mayor should require police brass to keep close watch and make sure unwarranted stops aren't occurring.
"We know it is impossible to have real, lasting security if there is a rift between the community and the police," de Blasio said. "A rift has begun to develop."
Other city officials at a news conference Wednesday agreed with de Blasio, and the NYCLU chief described the practice as a "civil rights crisis."
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office later defended the policy, saying it has gotten guns off the streets and saved lives. The number of murders a year has fallen from 2,000 when de Blasio worked in the Dinkins administration to what is expected to be a record low of less than 500 this year, according to Bloomberg's office.
"Make no mistake, we will not continue to be the safest big city in America if Mr. de Blasio has his way," Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson said in a statement.
The policy allows an officer to stop a person based on reasonable suspicion, which is lower than that of probable cause needed to justify an arrest. During the past decade, the number of street stops has skyrocketed. In 2002, there were 97,296 stops. Last year's total of 685,724 was greater than the population of Boston. About half are frisked. The majority are not arrested.
Many critics have said the police department is unfairly targeting minorities. More young black men were stopped and frisked by police last year than actually live in the city, according to the report from the civil liberties group.
"We in the city are in the throes of a full-on civil rights crisis," said Donna Lieberman, head of the NYCLU.
Overall, blacks and Hispanics make up 87 percent of those stopped, while whites make up 9 percent. Of the 8.1 million people in New York, about half are black and Hispanic, while 33 percent are white, according to data from the 2010 American Community Survey.
The department says it goes after crime, not individuals, and the tactic is a necessary tool that saves lives. Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, pointed to historic lows in crime as evidence the tactic works.
"If history is a guide, the vast majority of those lives saved were young men of color," Browne wrote. "Last year, 96 percent of all shooting victims in New York were black or Hispanic, as were over 90 percent of murder victims."
The department also says the tactic gets guns off the street. Last year, 780 guns were recovered - or one gun per 879 people stopped. In 2003, police recovered 604 guns, or about one per 266 people stopped. It's not enough to justify the negative impact the policy is having on community members, Lieberman said.
It's the abuse of the practice - not the practice itself - that is being questioned, city officials have said. And the policy is increasingly in the limelight as the city prepares for its first non-Bloomberg mayoral race in more than a decade.
Associated Press Writer Samantha Gross contributed to this report.
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