The New York Daily News: They Were Wrong (And They Still Are)

The New York Daily News did something that few, if any, newspapers would do. They published an editorial conceding that they were wrong. Wrong. That’s an amazingly bold move, and for that, they deserve props. They were wrong.

Three years ago this month Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled unconstitutional the NYPD’s program of stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people suspected of criminality.

The third anniversary of Scheindlin’s ruling — August 12 — presents an opportune moment to evaluate its consequences on the city after the passage of a reasonable amount of time.

While her findings remain as flawed today as they were then, New York has come through to a brighter day.

Judge Scheindlin’s findings weren’t “flawed.” They were well-known to every black kid on the street who hugged the wall of a tenement at the invitation of a random cop who needed to make his Compstat numbers. By the hundreds, thousands, even millions, kids were tossed. It happened far from the offices of the Daily News, so they didn’t see it. If you don’t see it, it never happened. They didn’t see it.

The NYPD under Commissioner Ray Kelly used the lawful tactic of questioning suspicious individuals to deter crime before it happened. Many cops believed, for example, that the fear of getting stopped for questioning prompted would-be gun-toters to stop carrying their weapons.

Stop and frisk was a lawful tactic, if performed in accordance with law. But suspicious means a reasonable, articulable basis for the Terry stop. Using the phrase “stop and frisk” doesn’t make it lawful. Tossing millions of kids doesn’t make them suspicious. Use of backward reasoning, if they’re tossed, they must be suspicious, because if they weren’t suspicious, they wouldn’t have been tossed, is a logical fallacy. But they didn’t see it.

Our editorial commenting on Scheindlin’s ruling stated:

“Make no mistake — Scheindlin has put New York directly in harm’s way with a ruling that threatens to push the city back toward the ravages of lawlessness and bloodshed.”

The disconnect here is obvious if you don’t share the News’ editors blind belief that the only thing standing between the “ravages of lawlessness and bloodshed” and the low crime rates and the safest New York in decades was stop and frisk. Why would they pray to the Stop and Frisk God, also known as Ray Kelly? Because the cops said so? Because it had to be the cops, because what else could it be? While no thoughtful person considers “what else could it be” a reason, it apparently sufficed for the editorial board of the Daily News.

In other pieces, we predicted a rising body count from an increase in murders.

We are delighted to say that we were wrong.

The NYPD began scaling back stops under Kelly before Scheindlin’s decision and accelerated the trend under Commissioner Bill Bratton. As a result, the number of stops reported by cops fell 97% from a high of 685,700 in 2011 to 22,900 in 2015.

Not only did crime fail to rise, New York hit record lows.

The sky did not fall. Blood didn’t cover the streets. And the Daily News was tough enough to concede that its prediction was, in its own words, “wrong.”  And it then suggests possible recognition that maybe, just maybe, it prayed to the wrong God.

Explaining crime trends is extraordinarily difficult. There are heated debates, for example, over whether the stop-and-frisk program did, in fact, help drive crime down at any point in which the department employed the tactic.

Similarly, criminologists will have a field day trying to pinpoint the primary reasons why crime has continued to drop.

There are heated debates, with the cops absolutely convinced that the crime drop is all because of them and everybody else arguing about the potential real reasons. But having been burned once, will the Daily News learn?  Are you kidding?

Regardless, there can be little doubt that the NYPD’s increasing reliance on so-called precision policing — knowing whom to target, when and where — has played a key role.

And there is no doubt that, heavily grounded in memories of past horrors and too little informed about the potential of smart new strategies, our fears were baseless.

Little doubt? No doubt? While they concede they were wrong about tactics, they continue to believe in the same God, even as the nameplate on the door of the Commissioner’s office changes.  No matter what, the drop in crime is attributable to something the police did. New tactics? Win! Bullshit tactics? Win! One way or another, they thank the police, because what else could it be?

One of the basic concepts of logic is that correlation does not imply causation. Yet, the Daily News can’t seem to let go of its orthodoxy.

  1. The NYPD polices New York City, keeping it safe from mayhem.
  2. The crime rate dropped in New York City.
  3. Therefore, the NYPD produced the drop in crime.

So it turns out that stop and frisk wasn’t the thing that would save us from lawlessness and bloodshed. Oops. Sorry about that, guys. We bad. And you might, dear Daily News guys, apologize a bit to the millions of young black guys who were forced to kiss concrete, have their pockets turned inside out and take their socks off, on the way to school, with your blessing. And the ones who were pinched for dis con for objecting to this treatment, saddling them with minor convictions for life, impairing their chance to get good jobs, college educations, and homes anywhere but the projects. But hey, maybe that’s one apology too far.

Mayor de Blasio knew better. Advised by Bratton before his election, de Blasio foresaw the possibility that the NYPD could fight crime while relaxing interactions with the public.

Post stop-and-frisk, the facts are clear: New York is safer while friction between the NYPD and the city’s minority communities has eased.

So you recognized the error of your irrational assumption that it was all because of stop and frisk, despite the fact that everyone else recognized, that crime rates were falling everywhere, in every city, regardless of stop and frisk? That the fall in crime rates had nothing whatsoever to do with stop and frisk, while you were busy fearmongering at the expense of young black men who took the hit so your editors could feel safe while kneeling in prayer? That’s great.

And now you make the same mistake again, that whatever the reason for the drop in crime, it’s because of the great job of the NYPD. As for the friction between the cops and the city’s “minority communities,” you might want to take a look at Black Lives Matter. It’s gone from tossing innocent kids to killing them. Eased doesn’t mean what you think it does. But then, you’ve been wrong before. You just didn’t see it. You still don’t.

6 thoughts on “The New York Daily News: They Were Wrong (And They Still Are)

    1. DaveL

      Explaining crime trends is extraordinarily difficult….

      Regardless, there can be little doubt that the NYPD’s increasing reliance on so-called precision policing — knowing whom to target, when and where — has played a key role.

      Whew! I thought NYDN was going to run headlong into humility and insight there, but luckily they turned away just in time. If they were any less skilled at self-deception they might have been forced to confront the corollaries of their failure head-on, and the next round of pontification would have been delayed by months, perhaps years, of careful (but boring) analysis and self-doubt.

    2. Sacho

      Luckily a newspaper’s primary business is to report news, not post editorials with predictions they themselves concede are likely to be wrong. It should be no problem for them to stop pontificating from their not-so-high horse and go back to actual reporting.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        Trolli.., err, pontificating, done correctly, is better on both the revenue and expense sides.

        In fact, I’m working on an AI program right now. I feed it snippets from Limbaugh, Maddow, Beck, etc., and it generates prose. I call it the “click-a-bator” ™.

  1. Dragoness Eclectic

    I guess the editors at NYDN don’t have time to read stuff that’s been discussed all over the Internet, like the Mother Jones article on the link between tetraethyl lead and crime rates. It’s even made it into Wikipedia. No wonder crime trends are a mystery to them: they don’t read.

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