By Murray Weiss, DNAinfo Columnist / Criminal Justice Editor
During the past two years alone, the number of firearms seized by police has fallen 13.5 percent from 3,908 in 2 009 with 510,742 frisks, to 3,443 last year, when the NYPD stopped and frisked a record-busting 685,724 New Yorkers.
And last week the NYPD reported that during the first half of this year, firearm seizures continues to fall to 1,613, compared to 1,705 during the first six months of last year. The downturn came as the NYPD conducted 337,434 stops-and-frisks — a figure that keeps the NYPD on pace to match last year’s record-busting total.
By comparison, during Bloomberg’s first year in office in 2002, the NYPD recovered 4,069 guns — but the police stop-and-frisked only 96,000 people that year, according to NYPD data.
In the past year, the NYPD has maintained that fewer guns are being found during stops-and-frisk's because fewer people are carrying them for fear of being stopped. Instead, the criminals have turned to hiding weapons — "community guns" — which they share when needed.
Even so, community guns and an increased number of stop-and-frisks has done little to drive down the number of shootings in the city during the Bloomberg administration.
Since 2002, the number of guns taken by the police has fallen in virtually every year since Mayor Michael Bloomberg succeeded former Mayor Rudy Giuliani — even as stop-and-frisk numbers took off. Those numbers have critics wondering if the policy is indiscriminately harassing tens of thousands of innocent New Yorkers or, at worst, racially biased.
"There are primarily only two reasons you do a stop-and-frisk,” said one retired top police official who was in charge of NYPD operations and strategies.
“You’re either trying to find a weapon or arrest someone,” he said. “That’s fundamentally it. That’s the reason for stopping someone.”
Another former top cop added, “Stop-and-frisk is done because something in your head is telling you there is something going on," as in someone fits a description.
“It is not supposed to be a random toss and pray,” the ex-cop said. “It should be the equivalent of stopping a vehicle because it matches a description of one used in a crime or is suspicious. “
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defend the practice, insisting that it is not racially motivated and has saved lives. But they have acknowledged that the cops apparently need more instruction on how to properly conduct the stops so that the people who are rousted at least understand why and harbor little, or no, resentment.
They softened their hardline stance after a federal court judge delivered a scathing ruling that gave class-action status to a lawsuit and found "overwhelming evidence" that top NYPD brass had put in place "a centralized stop and frisk program that has led to thousands of unlawful stops."
According to police statistics, the biggest year for gun seizures during Bloomberg and Kelly’s stewardship came during the mayor’s first year in office when the NYPD grabbed 4,069 firearms off the street.
But in 2002, the police reported stopping and frisking only 97,296 individuals — a number that Kelly now says was woefully inaccurate because cops systematically under-reported stops at the time.
Between 2003 and 2008, the number of stops and frisks — accurately reported or not — jumped five-fold to 540,302. But the number of guns taken off the streets steadily declined every year to just 3,212.
Then in 2009, cops seized 3,908 firearms when the number of frisks went down to 510,742.
Since then, the number of firearm seizures resumed its downward trend to 3,648 in 2010, and to 3,443 last year. Over those years, stop-and-frisks rose dramatically to last year’s record 685,724, an approximately 33 percent jump in just two years.
And the accelerated pace of stopping individuals continued into 2012 when the NYPD reported stopping 203,500 individuals during the first three months — a figure that put the department on a trajectory for a new city record.
Last week, however, the city reported 133,934 people were stopped during the year’s second quarter, making for a total of 337,434 stops during the first half of the year.
In recent weeks, a number of high-profile shootings — including the killing of church-going honor student Kemar Bryan Brooks, 14, in Baychester, and the wounding of Ariyanna Prince, 2, in Brownsville — has Bloomberg, Kelly and others pointing to a drop of stop-and-frisks as a sudden potential reason.
But “On the Inside” reported in June that the number of shootings and shooting victims has climbed during the Bloomberg years despite the extraordinary volume of stops-and-frisks in the Big Apple.
An analysis of NYPD data found that, while cops stopped and frisked a record number of people last year, 1,821 people were victims of gunfire. That level of gunplay was virtually the same as the 1,892 shootings during Bloomberg and Kelly’s first year in office, albeit with five times fewer stops.
And the recent heavy spike in Big Apple shootings this summer further illustrates the tenuous correlation between stop-and-frisks and the number of shootings as well as the number of guns taken off the streets.
Everyone agrees that stop-and-frisk is a vital tool in the NYPD's crime fighting arsenal.
But as one former top official said, “I can wallpaper my house with Stop, Question and Frisk reports.
“But the questions is: Who are we stopping, and why?”