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Bloomberg: I was wrong about 'stop and frisk' policy

Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Christian Cultural Center

Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn on Sunday. Credit: Getty Images / Yana Paskova

Former New York City mayor and potential U.S. presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg apologized Sunday for his controversial “stop and frisk” policy.

In a speech before the Christian Cultural Center in the East New York section of Brooklyn, Bloomberg told the congregation that since leaving office in 2013 he’s come to understand the policy had affected innocent people in the black and Latino communities and eroded trust with the police department.

“I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” Bloomberg said in a video of the speech posted on YouTube under Bloomberg’s account.

“Our focus was on saving lives,” Bloomberg said. “The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that. And the overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino.”

Bloomberg said he had sharply cut back on the practice during his final year in office and that statistics showed crime did not increase.

During his 12 years in office, Bloomberg defended his policy as an important tool to fight crime. Police frequently stopped people on the street, questioned them and frisked them. Critics charged that police were engaged in unconstitutional racial profiling and unlawful searches.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled the tactics violated people’s Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches and 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. The ruling noted that between January 2004 and June 2012 police had made 4.4 million stops and more than 80% of those stopped were black or Hispanic. More than half of those were frisked.

The city appealed the ruling before Bloomberg left office but newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio opted to settle the case in 2014 instead, bringing in a court-appointed monitor to reform the program.

“This will be one city, where everyone’s rights are respected, and where police and community stand together to confront violence,” said de Blasio said in a January 2014 news release announcing the settlement.

De Blasio tweeted Sunday: "With all due respect to my predecessor, we’ve spent six years undoing the damage he created with this bankrupt policy. We ended stop and frisk AND drove down crime." 

The mayor said Sunday evening on CNN that the timing of Bloomberg’s apology was “awfully strange” given his interest in a presidential bid. Advocates told Bloomberg while he was still mayor that the policy hurt people and created a “rift between police and the community,” de Blasio said. 

“I’m looking at that and I have to say, people aren’t stupid,” de Blasio said. “They can figure out whether someone is honestly addressing an issue or acting out of convenience.”

The mayor said the city has gotten safer since the abolition of stop and frisk and that there were 150,000 fewer arrests last year.

New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman said In a statement Sunday they were "pleased that Bloomberg has finally acknowledged what we all know about stop-and-frisk: its overuse in the Bloomberg era violated the constitutional rights of New Yorkers and further deepened mistrust between police officers and the people they served."

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the New York City police union, the Police Benevolent Association, criticized Bloomberg’s apology as “too little, too late.”

“His administration’s misguided policy inspired an anti-police movement that has made cops the target of hatred and violence, and stripped away many of the tools we had used to keep New Yorkers safe,” Lynch said in a statement on Sunday. Lynch said that “quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities.”

Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, is expected to enter the Democratic primaries and spend millions to try to unseat President Donald Trump. Bloomberg said Sunday that "as I’ve thought about my future, I’ve been thinking more about my past, and coming to terms with where I came up short" and that he's come to realize his stop and frisk policy had been something "important" that he got "really wrong." 

Following Bloomberg’s apology Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted “Whatever his motive, I’m glad to see this.”

— With Rachelle Blidner

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