Views of NYC’s Stop-And-Frisk Operations

To be easy and comfortable appears to be the aim of all man: even at the expense of the other feller.

All About H. Hatterr – G.V. Desani

The “views” of the title needs, perhaps, a soupçon of explanation. To many, statistics are ‘facts’ — final, indisputable and immutable. That is implied in the posture of many “experts” who cite them. The reality is that, especially in the social sciences (and medicine), statistics rests on the tabulation of lived experience. Literally. The observer, the observed, and “observations”. There is a widespread, shared fiction that the observations are somehow “neutral” to observer and observed. The existence of an entire law-suit industry built around the side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs says the observer’s reading of the observations were lacking, from the point of view of outcomes to the observed, the patient. Here then are some “views” of NYC’s stop-and-frisk data from 2003 to 2016:

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a class action suit in federal court against New York City alleging, primarily, racial profiling in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program. The sharp drop from 2011 to 2013 in the graph above coincides with initial rulings in the latter half of 2011 that went against the city. The court ruled against the city in August 2013 and appointed a federal monitor to oversee changes to the program. The city appealed. In the mayoral election of 2013, then candidate Bill de Blasio ran on a platform vowing to end stop-and-frisk. He went on to win the election in November and the sharper percentage drop in 2014 reflects this change in Mayoral/city policy.

The following graphic excludes a relatively small number of cases where age is listed as less than 10 or over 60.

NYC’s Stop And Frisk Operations, Grouped By Ages 10 to 60

NYPD reports White-Hispanic and Black-Hispanic as sub categories of race. The US Census Bureau, counter-intuitively, reports Hispanic as a culturally distinct ethnicity, not a subcategory of race. The graphics below follow the NYPD / NYC convention of Hispanic (black or white) as a racial category, but with different combinations of Black, Black-Hispanic and White-Hispanic.

All stop-and-frisk data is from the NYPD via NYC’s Open Data portal.

NYC Public Advocate candidates: their council district performance – part 2

In the universe of quality-of-life issues, lack of heat and/or hot water in the dead of winter rank high. To those with inadequate or no heat or hot water. In terms of number of complaints, it ranks as the most or the second-most frequent complaint along with noise, depending on the neighborhood. Unlike noise, it correlates highly with median income. That is, you are more likely to get more complaints about heat and hot water north of 96th Street on Park Avenue than south of it. Perhaps a truism, but it leads into the next graphic which shows the relative rates at which these complaints are resolved (= “fixed”) in the council districts of the candidates for Public Advocate who also serve (or served) on the council:

Heat hot water SRs Public Advocate candidates
A little messy and hard to read or interpret.  Clearly 2012 marks a turning point of some kind and resolution rates dropped across the board in the last two years of Mayor Bloomberg’s last term and into the first year-and-a-half or two years of Mayor de Blasio’s term. Let’s ignore that busy-ness and look only at the last term of the city council from 2014 to 2017, both inclusive, along with a city-wide average.

Te picture is a little more clear. All five were on the council during those years, we are looking at percentages, not absolute numbers, so the comparison is strictly equal.  Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez’s district stands out, averaging lower than the city till 2015, and then turning around sharply and more steeply than NYC as a whole, to finish 2017 well above the city average. CMs Williams, Speaker Mark-Viverito and Espinal’s districts, on the other hand, did better than the city from 2014 to the end of 2016, then slipping below the city average.

So who made a difference to their constituents when it comes to heat and hot water? There is no definitive answer given that three of them went below average in 2015 and one went sharply above. Perhaps CM Rodriguez has an edge. Only CM Ulrich’s district has consistently underperformed the city on heat and hot water resolutions.

To those interested in the top complaint in each of these candidates’ districts, check back here later and I will post a table.

311 data from NYC Open Data downloaded at various times. Parsed in RStudio v1.1.453 on R v3.3.3

NYC Public Advocate candidates: their council district performance – part 1

Four members of the NYC Council and one former member are running for the job of Public Advocate on February 26, 2019. Aside from a host of others; apparently “everybody run for any office in sight” seems to be the trend du jour. I decided to see what I could find on the performance of the candidates as council members, as revealed in the quality-of-life metrics of NYC’s 311 data. The five, with their districts in parentheses, are Eric A. Ulrich (32) Jumaane D. Williams (45),  Rafael L. Espinal Jr. (37),  Ydanis Rodriguez (10) and Melissa Mark-Viverito who represented district 8 till she was term-limited at the end of 2017. Rafael Espinal Jr. was elected to the council end of 2013.

What the ‘resolution rate’ represents is the percentage of complaints to 311 that were resolved by the city and its agencies in a way that says they “fixed” the problem that the constituent was complaining about. The premise behind this blog post is the question: does a city council member make a difference to the quality of life in their district? The cynical answer is that elected officials make no difference, but the assumption has to be that the more effective ones do make a difference to their constituents’ lives.

Resolution rates Public Advocate candidates

What’s in this graph? The percentage of service requests that were reported as ‘fixed’ (or can be interpreted as fixed) for the district during their tenure as council member. You will see a shorter line for Mr Espinal Jr. starting in 2014 and for Ms Mark-Viverito whose term ended 2017.  So how did these five candidates do? Did they make a difference to their districts?  Like a well-contested election – seems to be a lot of things happening all over the graph,  but nothing clearly discernible that says definitively that one was better than the others in serving their district. So let’s cut out some of the zigs and zags and look at a smoothened line and see if we fare any better:

Resolution rates Public Advocate candidate trends

They all seem to have done better at the start of their terms (Ms Mark-Viverito’s line here only shows her 2nd and 3rd terms in the Council). And they all seem to decline gradually (Mr Williams) or sharply (the other three).  Mr Espinal Jr.’s district seems to have held steady over the last 5 years. The only one to do so.  With 4 out of 5 districts showing a deterioration, the conclusion must be that elected officials do not make a difference to their constituents’ lives? Not necessarily so.

What we have seen so far is a comparison of five candidates,  five council districts rather,  with each other. If the bigger trend is that the whole world is going to hell in a hand-basket, then surely we would see a majority of districts also showing that trend?

So let’s compare each of the districts these candidates represent (or recently represented) with the average rate for NYC as a whole – on average, what percent of service requests were reported as ‘fixed’ or ‘solved’ etc.?  For this one, we are not going to add a sixth line to an already crowded graph – it gets too messy. We are instead going to compare each candidate’s district with the average for the city as a whole. And what does this do?  With some luck we get to see if an elected official makes a difference.  An effective representative should be able to chivvy city agencies and get in their hair to the point where positive results/outcomes in their district are higher than the city-wide average.  That’s the whole point of averages – you generally want more than the average of good things in your ‘hood. And less than the average of things like murder, mayhem, border walls, and stop-and-frisks.  And here they are in alphabetical order (by first name) – who is doing better or worse than the average:

Clearly the city as a whole has seen a sharp drop in positive resolutions since 2012.  But within that overall trend, there are those who are clearly bucking the trend. Mr Williams’s district seems to have done so over a sustained period of time, which suggests it may not be a lucky fluke. Three of the graphs show better-than-average numbers earlier and a decline in performance in later terms. Or is that normal variation? Could be, but that’s another exploration for another day for someone else. 

311 data from NYC Open Data