MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk policy Thursday, saying that neighborhoods like Harlem have grown because they have become more safe.
Kelly, speaking at the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Day luncheon at Columbia University, received support from Rep. Charles Rangel and Lloyd Williams, the chamber's president and CEO.
"Yes, we do rely on a proactive policy of engaging," Kelly said. "We utilize the long-established right of police to question individuals about whom we have reasonable suspicion."
Kelly said the practice helped uncover 8,000 illegal weapons last year, mostly knives, and 819 guns.
"We believe this is a life-saving measure," Kelly said.
Critics of the stop-and-frisk policy say minorities are unfairly targeted. Given the number of guns recovered compared to the number of stops, critics such as the New York Civil Liberties Union and local politicians have said the policy accomplishes little aside from alienating residents of high-crime areas.
Kelly disagreed, saying that police policies have helped to lower crime and allow communities like Harlem to experience a renaissance.
There were 117 murders in Harlem's 28th Precinct in 1972 but just six last year, Kelly said. There were almost 3,600 robberies 40 years ago, compared to 254 last year. More than 300 cars were stolen in the Central Harlem precinct in 1972 compared to 17 last year, he added.
"It's not surprising or unreasonable that in a city of 8.4 million people police would make 685,000 stops on the lower legal requirement of reasonable suspicion," Kelly said.
Rangel said the police can't be blamed for the violence plaguing neighborhoods like Harlem.
"It's not the police commissioner's problem," Rangel said. "It's our problem. It's our children."
Williams, who announced an Aug. 25 peace march that is part of Harlem Week, said the community has to challenge the violence before it is too late. He said the march was in response to Kelly's call for community leaders to step up their response to recent shootings.
"This is insanity that is taking place in our country and in our city and we have a responsibility," Williams said. "We need to step up."
Kelly said the police department has taken steps to improve stop-and-frisk, such as more oversight, retraining officers about what constitutes a lawful stop and teaching officers about their interactions with the community.
"We must strive to preserve the trust and support of the community we serve," Kelly said.