NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday that police “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little” as compared to murder suspects’ descriptions, sparking criticism from activists and some politicians in a city that has been immersed in a debate about law enforcement and discrimination.
Speaking on his weekly WOR-AM radio appearance, Bloomberg echoed an argument he has made before: that the stops’ demographics should be assessed against suspect descriptions, not the population as a whole. But coming a day after city lawmakers voted to create a police inspector general and new legal avenues for racial profiling claims, the mayor’s remarks drew immediate pushback.
The measures’ advocates accused the mayor of using “irresponsible rhetoric,” some mayoral hopefuls chastised him and some City Council members said his remarks only emphasized the need for change.
“Our mayor’s comments prove he just doesn’t get it,” said Councilman Robert Jackson, who co-chairs the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna said the critics were “fabricating outrage over an absolutely accurate comment.”
“What they should be outraged by is the number of minorities who are being killed and that successful police efforts to save minority lives are being hampered,” he added.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly noted separately Friday that more than 90 percent of people killed or shot in the city are black or Hispanic.
The police tactic known as stop and frisk has become a high-profile political issue in the city, where stops have soared during Bloomberg’s three terms. He and Kelly say the stops are an invaluable policing aid and have helped cut crime rates dramatically, while critics say the street stops humiliate many innocent people and are unfairly focused on minorities.
Those complaints have prompted a federal lawsuit over the stop and frisk practice and were part of the impetus for the City Council’s vote Thursday. Bloomberg reiterated Friday that he’ll veto the legislation, which he says will impede policing. They passed with enough votes to override a veto, but the mayor has noted that he plans to keep pressing his case with lawmakers.
About 5 million stops have been made during the past decade. Eighty-seven percent of those stopped in the last two years were black or Hispanic. Those groups comprise 54 percent of the city population.
Bloomberg says that comparison isn’t appropriate.
The racial breakdown of those stopped is “not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murder. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little,” he said Friday on “The John Gambling Show.”
More than 90 percent of suspects in killings in the last two years were described as black or Hispanic, according to city officials.
“The cops’ job is to stop (people in) the groups fitting the description. It’s society’s job to make sure that no one group is disproportionately represented as potential perpetrators,” Bloomberg said earlier in the show.
The group Communities United for Police Reform called Bloomberg’s view misinformation, noting that most stops aren’t spurred by suspect descriptions. Police department records of the stops also list such reasons as “furtive movements” or suspicious bulges in clothing.
“Mayor Bloomberg should cease with the irresponsible rhetoric and seek to work with the council on a constructive path forward,” said Communities United for Police Reform spokeswoman Joo-Hyun Kang.
Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio sent supporters an email rapping Bloomberg’s remarks, while fellow contender and City Comptroller John Liu issued a statement calling them “insensitive, outrageous, and just plain weird.” Rival and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is black, termed Bloomberg’s comments insulting and called on him to apologize.
“What he seems to indicate to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been unnecessarily stopped and frisked is, ‘We’re sorry we didn’t stop more people,’” Thompson said.
De Blasio, Liu and Thompson are Democrats.