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Mayor Bloomberg brought his message of support for "stop and frisk" to one community that largely believes it is a racist policy. The mayor says the program should be amended, but not ended. Melissa Russo reports.
Mayor Bloomberg stood at the pulpit of a black church in a high-crime area of Brooklyn on Sunday to make a tough point: The NYPD policy of street stops would continue in a city where "96 percent of shooting suspects are black or Hispanic."
The stop-and-frisk program that has drawn outrage "should be mended, not ended," the mayor told worshippers at the First Baptist Church of Brownsville.
Instead, Bloomberg said officers are being retrained to conduct the stops with what he called "civility."
"With every ounce of my being, I believe that our city has the responsibility to save lives and drive down crime," he said. "And I believe just as strongly that our police department has the responsibility to treat people in every community with the respect that they deserve."
Bloomberg said the NYPD is working with community groups so people who are stopped are not treated in the rough manner Bishop Gerald Seabrooks said sometimes includes slamming young men against walls.
City officials have said the program helps to bring down crime. Critics say it's racial profiling. Most of those stopped are black and Hispanic men.
Seabrooks, of the borough's Rehoboth Cathedral Church, is part of the Brooklyn Clergy-NYPD Task Force whose aim is to bring together police with residents and their churches to keep pushing down crime.
"There is a lot of crime in the African-American community," the bishop said after the Sunday morning service.
To fight it, "you can stop me 25 times a day," he said, adding that, however, "you have to treat people with courtesy." And if a young person is stopped, Seabrooks said, the officer must explain that the action does not mean he's a suspect or guilty of anything.
The church's pastor, Bishop A.D. Lyons, agreed that despite crime resulting from "blacks carrying guns," police must show respect toward community residents.
The 90-year-old clergyman said he's noticed that officers "have an attitude when they come into Brownsville," walking by residents and not speaking to them.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly accompanied the mayor Sunday and sat in a front pew of the Brownsville church, but did not speak.
Bloomberg told the congregation that city efforts at crime reduction — including the stop-and-frisk program — have resulted in the lowest number of murders since record keeping began in 1966. In 1990, murders hit an all-time high of 2,245. In 2011, there were 515.
At one point in his speech, the mayor drew gasps from the congregation when he told them that of 10 murder victims in the first week of June, the victims were all black or Hispanic young men.
He read their names and ages.
"Sadly, 96 percent of shooting suspects are black and Hispanic," Bloomberg said. "I don't have to tell you in this community about the tragedy of black-on-black crime."
However, the mayor acknowledged there's room for improvement in police behavior.
In mid-May, Kelly announced changes in officer training and supervision amid a growing public outcry and a federal lawsuit claiming the stop, question and frisk policy at the nation's largest department amounts to racial profiling.
Last year, more than 630,000 people suspected of unlawful activity were stopped, up from about 160,000 in 2003. About half are frisked, and only about 10 percent are arrested.
Kelly said the NYPD has reiterated its policy that prohibits racial profiling.
More than 1,500 officers who work in the highest-crime areas are receiving instructions on how to conduct a lawful stop, and more will follow, Kelly said.
The New York Civil Liberties Union analyzed a year's worth of stop-and-frisk data and found that while the number of stops has risen dramatically, the number of illegal weapons uncovered has not.
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