Former mayor's gun crime record a bonus in battle for presidential nod
Now Michael Bloomberg has announced he's running for president, he may want to rethink his campaign messaging. Because if he doubles down on his recent comments regretting the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk practices, he may end up undercutting what will likely be the signature issue of his campaign: gun control.
As a founder and financial backer of one of the largest gun-control advocacy groups, Bloomberg has been an ardent supporter of heavier restrictions on firearms.
The former New York mayor has touted both restrictions on private gun transfers and ownership of assault weapons. His group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has spent millions opposing an expansion of "concealed" carry across the nation.
But America's gun violence is heavily concentrated in urban neighbourhoods, driven largely by perpetrators who, because of criminal pasts, are prohibited from possessing firearms by existing statutes.
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Consider the case of Baltimore, where, according to the 'Baltimore Sun', 85pc of homicide suspects in 2017 had a criminal record and an average of nine prior arrests. Nearly half of identified suspects had a prior gun offence.
Simply putting more anti-gun laws on the books would do little to solve this problem.
What has been shown to make a difference is proactive, data-driven policing and placing a premium on enforcing gun laws already in place. And giving gun laws meaningful effect requires the political will to detect, prosecute and incapacitate violators.
This is what makes Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk reversal so worrisome. That tactic resulted in the removal from New York streets of thousands of illegal guns - unlawfully possessed because they were banned, because the carrier was unlicensed or because of the possessor's status as a felon or juvenile.
By stopping, questioning and frisking crime suspects, police were able to reduce gun crime in two ways.
First, when stops led to an arrest and prosecution, the removal of gun-wielding criminals from the streets, even temporarily, incapacitated them for a period. Second, the increased probability of being confronted by officers deterred many criminals from carrying guns.
Many critics of the NYPD under Bloomberg argue the absence of a spike in New York's gun crime following the sharp decline in stops under Bloomberg's successor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, demonstrates stop-and-frisk is ineffective.
Others argue against stop-and-frisk because of racial disparities in the department's stop numbers, which, they say, proves racial animus on the part of police. But both criticisms miss the mark.
By the time NYPD reports began showing sharp declines in stops, New York was a different city than when Bloomberg took office.
After several years of aggressive policing, New York had fewer dangerous neighbourhoods than in the early 2000s.
By the time New York pulled back from stop-and-frisk, its sustained use had worked well enough to provide the city with some lasting protection against a resurgence in crime.
Chicago's 2016 crime spike illustrates the downside risk of an abrupt rollback of policing for a city with a higher concentration of crime hot spots. A recent analysis published in the University of Illinois Law Review found that the sharp drop in stops - from about 40,000 per month down to about 10,000 - was responsible for 245 of 274 additional homicides that year.
If the available data tells us anything, it's that you can't prioritise reducing gun violence without also prioritising criminal enforcement. It may be Bloomberg's contrition over stop-and-frisk is simply a rhetorical manoeuvre to pre-empt jabs from his Democratic rivals. But if he continues backing away from his record in New York, he'll severely undermine one of his main arguments for sending him to Washington.
Rafael Mangual is a fellow and deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research