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Where have you gone, Ray Kelly?

COUNCIL MEMBER JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS | 5/31/2012, 1:25 p.m.
Jumaane Williams says 'Not in My Hood'

''A large reservoir of good will was under construction...it was called community policing. But it was quickly abandoned for tough-sounding rhetoric and dubious stop-and-frisk tactics that sowed new seeds of community mistrust.''

This quote wasn't uttered by a civil rights activist. These are the words of NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, circa 2000, when he spoke to the City Bar Association.

Once upon a commissionership, Kelly was a champion for community policing. Under the leadership of Mayor David Dinkins, he oversaw the Safe Streets, Safe City Program, which put thousands of patrolmen on the streets. The idea was simple: By civilianizing administrative jobs in the precincts, more police officers could be employed to build relationships, which would improve trust and deter crime. The philosophy both empowered and charged the community with responsibility for its own public safety, and it was coupled with an increase in resources to support youth in need of positive alternatives to violence, such as Beacon schools and after-school programs.

Kelly's program worked. When he was appointed first deputy commissioner in 1990, 2,251 murders took place in New York City. By 1995, one year after he had been replaced by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, murders had almost been cut in half, falling to 1,180; this was seven years before the NYPD's current policy of stop, question and frisk. Clearly, he was on to something.

That is what makes Kelly's current attitude to policing so perplexing and frustrating. His new incarnation, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has effectively replaced community policing with an over-reliance on stop, question and frisk. Few dispute that this tactic should be a part of a police officer's tool kit, assuming that the standard of reasonable suspicion has been met. What has been questioned is the overwhelming targeting of young men of more color that has reared its ugly head; though they account for only 4.7 percent of New York City's population, Black and Latino males between the ages of 14-24 accounted for 41.6 percent of the stops in 2011.

The top priority in communities that look like mine is curbing gun violence--violence that our own fathers and sons are sadly perpetuating. Even if you could accept the civil rights abuses and possible racism resulting from the current application of stop, question and frisk, their own statistics show that they are failing to end this crisis. In 2002, when Kelly last took office, officers stopped 97,296 New Yorkers and the city reported 587 homicides. Last year, those numbers were 685,724 and 532.

Even worse, shooting statistics, which should be the true bellwether of the efficacy of stop, question and frisk, are on the rise. The NYPD has stopped greater and greater numbers of people each year, but it has not affected the removal of guns from our communities; while stops have increased by 524,873 since 2003, police officers have found only 176 additional guns. For perspective, a gun buyback program in my district last November recovered 85 firearms.

Violent crime is falling in other major American cities, such as Los Angeles and New Orleans, without abusing stop, question and frisk. In our city's own recent history, murders dropped at an impressive rate, but before the era of stop, question and frisk. Today, our communities are suffering as bullets fly across our streets, and the Bloomberg administration is not providing them with the resources they need, as we once attempted to do. Stop, question and frisk misuse and overuse is discriminatory, ineffective and raising anger in historically disenfranchised communities.

In fact, it is just what the old Kelly predicted back in 2001 in an interview with TIME magazine, when he said: "You can probably shut down just about all crime if you're willing to burn down the village to save it. Eventually, I think, there will be a backlash, and crime will go back up."