“In New York, where a new mayor decided that some of the policies of previous mayors — which have been very effective in dramatically reducing murders and violent crime — he thought that their methods were too heavy-handed so he reversed them. And shootings are up 20 percent in New York City from just a year ago.”
— Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), speech at National Sheriffs’ Association Conference, June 29, 2015
The GOP presidential candidate’s speech to law enforcement officers covered a range of topics — from his childhood in Hope, Ark., to recent homicides of police. Along the windy path, Huckabee cited a series of statistics, including this particular one on shootings in New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s record.
How much of it is correct?
It is unclear exactly which policy Huckabee is talking about; his spokesman did not respond to our request for comment. The main policing policy criticism of de Blasio is his reining in of the controversial “stop and frisk” program, according to several experts and a review of news coverage.
Stop-and-frisk was introduced under former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and expanded under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, after he took office in 2002. The New York Police Department widely employed this tactic of stopping people for suspicious activities.
A federal judge in 2013 ruled the practice unconstitutional, and said that the NYPD engaged in racial profiling. The judge ordered a series of changes to the department’s policies, and appointed a federal independent monitor to oversee compliance. The city appealed the decision.
Tapping into public dissatisfaction with stop-and-frisk, de Blasio promised to end the program if elected. He described himself as “the only candidate to end the stop and frisk era that targets minorities.” In January 2014 — his first month as mayor — de Blasio decided to drop the city’s appeal and agreed to the supervision by a court-approved monitor for three years.
By the time de Blasio took office, the program already was on its way out. After the number of stops peaked at nearly 700,000 in 2011, it began declining. In 2013, there were fewer than 200,000 stops. In 2014, there were just under 46,000, according to NYPD data.
Supporters of the program warned that violent crime would go up without stop-and-frisk. But violent crime was down across the city in 2014, the New York Times found.
Huckabee says shootings are up 20 percent from a year ago, in June 2014, but that is not correct. On June 28, 2014, there were 145 murders and 594 shooting victims in New York City. The day of Huckabee’s speech, there were 161 murders and 633 shooting victims in New York City. So the number of shooting victims is up 6.6 percent from a year ago.
Earlier this year, there were reports that murders and shootings were up 20 percent, in March 2015, compared to March 2014. Shootings in June 2015 are up 20 percent from June 2013, but 2013 was a historically low year, the Times reported.
Criminologists warn against short-term comparisons like these, because crime data are volatile and prone to fluctuations. The crime trend over decades — over five years, at minimum — is what matters, they say.
“Basically, you can look at a blip and say that crime is increasing. But if you take a step back, you’ll see that crime is decreasing,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the justice program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. (See this graphic below by Matt Friedman, the Brennan Center’s economist.)
The number of violent crimes in New York City has decreased from 2000 to 2014. The number of shooting victims are down nearly 20 percent since five years ago, and 77 percent since 22 years ago, according to NYPD.
Whether stop-and-frisk effectively reduced murder and violent crime is debatable. A 2014 New York Civil Liberties Union report showed that the decline in shootings and murders did not correspond with increase in stops. The federal judge who ruled the practice unconstitutional also found that in 98.5 percent of the 2.3 million frisks between 2004 and 2012, no weapon was found.
“I am not ordering an end to stop and frisk,” said U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin. “Moreover, it has been widely reported that as the number of recorded stops has decreased over the past year (2013), the crime rate has continued to fall.”
The city then appealed the order and the monitor. After de Blasio dropped the appeal and agreed to the court monitor, unions decided to intervene and stop the appeal withdrawal. Then the appellate court found that unions can’t intervene, and upheld the withdrawal.
Huckabee also may be referring to the policy under de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton to reduce the number of arrests for small amounts of marijuana, by issuing summonses instead. But drug-related violence has ebbed for years, and the police have not made any connection between murder rates and the policy, according to the Times.
Criminologists warn against blaming or crediting an executive or a single policy for changes in crime trends. Murderers don’t care who the mayor is. And many factors — including weather and the economy — affect crime rates, and can’t be connected to a single policy. They also note that New York City is a part of a nationwide reduction in murder and violent crime over the past two decades, even in cities without stop-and-frisk or similar policies.
The Pinocchio Test
Setting aside the fact that Huckabee does what criminologists say not to do — comparing short-term crime numbers, using percent changes and attributing them to a single policy — he uses an incorrect figure to compare shooting numbers from June 2014 and June 2015.
He did not specify exactly which policy he is referring to under de Blasio, but the one policy that the mayor has been blamed for “reversing” is stop-and-frisk. The program was deemed unconstitutional and stops had declined sharply by the time de Blasio took office. De Blasio ran on a promise to end the program, and dropped the city’s appeal as soon as he took office in January 2014. But it is important to remember that de Blasio agreeing to court monitor is not the same as “reversing” the program — and that in 2013 a federal judge even said the program had decreased and the crime rate has continued to fall.
The full impact of settling the stop-and-frisk lawsuit is not yet known, but Huckabee makes a connection that can’t be proven yet, based on highly misleading metrics. He earns Four Pinocchios.
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