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Bloomberg defends record on crime after uproar over 2015 stop-and-frisk comments

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his record on criminal justice after audio leaked of his comments in a 2015 speech at the Aspen Institute justifying the stop-and-frisk policy he implemented as mayor. The comments have spurred criticism of Bloomberg's record from the left and the right, including a direct shot from President Trump.

In the audio of the speech, given over a year after Bloomberg left office, Bloomberg can be heard saying "you can just take the description" of male minorities age 16 to 25 and "Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops." The audio was released Monday by podcast host Benjamin Dixon, who supports Bernie Sanders.

"Put the cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods," Bloomberg said in the speech. Representatives for Bloomberg had blocked footage and audio of the speech from being released in 2015.

Under the stop-and-frisk policy implemented during Bloomberg's three terms in office, hundreds of thousands of people were stopped and searched by police without warrants, with the city's black and Latino population disproportionately targeted and the vast majority released without arrest.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Bloomberg said he "inherited" the policy of stop-and-frisk from his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

"I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused. By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should've done it faster and sooner," Bloomberg said. "I regret that and I have apologized — and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on Black and Latino communities."

However, the number of stops skyrocketed under Bloomberg, and decreased only when a lawsuit to stop them sought and received class certification in the final two years of his tenure. In 2013, a judge found that stop-and-frisk was a "policy of indirect racial profiling."

The audio of Bloomberg's comments received immediate backlash, including from the president, who has made Bloomberg a frequent target of his Twitter ire.

Mr. Trump tweeted the video Tuesday morning, with the comment that "BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST," and then soon deleted the tweet. Mr. Trump has been a staunch supporter of the policy himself, and suggested in late 2018 that Chicago should "strongly consider stop and frisk" because "it works, and it was meant for problems like Chicago."

Mr. Trump later quote-tweeted a tweet with the hashtag #BloombergIsRacist mocking Bloomberg's height and golf game. Later Tuesday, the president told reporters the difference between him and Bloomberg on stop and frisk is that he wouldn't have begged for forgiveness over the position. Mr. Trump has voiced support for stop and frisk in recent years.

"I watched him pander at a church and practically beg for forgiveness. I wouldn't have begged for forgiveness," Mr. Trump said.

In his statement, Bloomberg also touted reduced mass incarceration during his tenure, and sought to deflect attention toward Mr. Trump's deleted tweet.

"The president's attack on me clearly reflects his fear over the growing strength of my campaign. Make no mistake Mr. President: I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg apologized for his support of the policy in November, just days before he announced his run for president.

"I now see we could and should have acted faster to cut the stops. I wish we had and I'm sorry that we didn't," Bloomberg said in November. "But I can't change history. However, today, I want you to know that I realize, back then, I was wrong. And I'm sorry."

Bloomberg has skipped the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, choosing instead to spend millions in delegate-rich Super Tuesday states, many of which have large black populations. Bloomberg is hoping to siphon black voters' support from Biden, who has been leading among black voters in polls.

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday found that Biden has support from 27% of black Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters, but Bloomberg isn't far behind, attracting 22% support.

Graham Kates, Tim Perry and Stefan Becket contributed to this report.

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