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Saturday, January 13, 2018

In NYC, Stop-and-Frisk Was Stopped, Yet Crime Fell

Good news for civil libertarians and New Yorkers

There’s an interesting story in the National Review, discussing New York crime data:

Today in New York City, use of stop-and-frisk, which the department justified via the 1968 Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court ruling, has crashed. Yet the statistics are clear: Crime is lower than ever. It’s possible that crime would be even lower had stop-and-frisk been retained, but that’s moving the goalposts. I and others argued that crime would rise. Instead, it fell. We were wrong.

New York saw murders plunge to 290 in 2017, down 12% from the year before, and far below the 2,245 murders committed in 1990. Chicago had 650 murders, despite having less than 1/3 of NYC’s population. While there are some plausible reasons that explain a part of the decline (improved health care for people who are shot, fudged data, demographic change, etc.,) there are no good explanations for the astounding scale of the decline in crime (not just murders):

It’s possible there is some number-fudging going on with the crime statistics, but so far there is only scattered anecdotal evidence of that. And any serious effort to charge today’s cops with distorting the numbers would have to consider whether yesterday’s cops did the same. Moreover, if anything, the de Blasio-era police have been more antagonistic to the mayor than in any previous administration, taking such unprecedented steps as turning their backs to him en masse at a funeral and, at the nadir three years ago, launching a major slowdown in arrests and writing tickets. Police seem disinclined to do de Blasio any favors by giving him favorable crime statistics to brag about.

Chicago has a higher percentage of African American residents than NYC (32% vs. 25%), but in absolute numbers, NYC has far more (over 2 million vs. less than 900,000). Indeed, NYC has more of almost all ethnic groups than Chicago, so it’s really hard to explain why NYC has 290 murders a year and Chicago has 650. This also suggests that the link between race and crime might be more complex than many people assume (which is not to deny that race is strongly correlated with crime).

The good news is that we don’t need to curtail civil liberties to control crime. Kudos to the National Review for admitting that they were wrong. I was not a fan of stop-and-frisk, but even I thought it would be mildly effective. The fact that it doesn’t seem to have much effect on the crime rate is good news for civil libertarians.

Reprinted from Library of Economics and Liberty.

  • Scott B. Sumner is the director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center and a professor at Bentley University. He blogs at the Money Illusion and Econlog.