“Peace in our streets is more than just the absence of violence,” he said. “Justice isn’t something we can jail our way to. Justice is something we have to build in our communities.”
The gentle tone might have surprised some who knew of Christie’s reputation for bluster and near-decade spent as a no-nonsense prosecutor (albeit mostly going after political corruption), but it was a tone he had been practicing for some time. In the years leading up to the current Republican primary season, criminal justice reform became a hot issue for conservatives who found its message of compassion and fiscal responsibility to be a highly marketable one. Grover Norquist, the conservative anti-tax icon, told The Daily Beast in 2014, “By the time we get to the caucuses, every single Republican running for president will be versed on this…this will become a consensus issue within the center right.”
Sure enough, Republicans have begun advocating for criminal justice reform—it’s one of the only policies Democrats and Republicans have found they can agree on.
And it seemed as though Christie, who liked to boast about his own common sense, was not only on board, but was trying to position himself as the movement’s obvious leader. “I’m pro-life,” he’d often say, “and if you’re pro-life, you have to be pro-life when they get out of the womb also.”
That was then.
“I’m just stunned, as are most people in this area, that this has been ‘the safest summer in New York,’” Christie said, mockingly, while appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday. (There have been 208 murders in New York City so far in 2015, a sharp rise from years past, though overall crime is down.)
“I guarantee you this,” Christie lifted up a copy of the New York Post—the cover of which read “CUOMO AIDE SHOT”—“this guy don’t believe it. He doesn’t believe it’s the safest summer in New York, nor do the other people [who have been shot].”
The root of the problem, he said, is “the liberal policies in this city that have led to the lawlessness that has been encouraged by the president of the United States.” And to fix it, first and foremost, he would bring back and controversial policing tactic which Mayor de Blasio put an end to two years ago. “Stop-and-frisk would be back in about five minutes,” Christie said. “Yes, it would.”
He repeated himself for emphasis, “Stop-and-frisk would be back in about five minutes.”
The New Jersey governor always sounds like a Pop Warner football coach ordering his rowdy players to give him a lap, but even at his most severe it seemed like when it came to criminal justice reform, he tended to strike a tone that was more compassionate than it was menacing.
Christie, now polling within the margin of error and finding it increasingly difficult to stick out among the 300 Republicans vying for the nomination, is perhaps finding it more tempting than ever to retreat into his public caricature: the tough-talking loudmouth New Jerseyan who tells Bad Guys to sit down and shut up and doesn’t care whether or not that makes him look particularly statesmanlike.
Reached by phone, a Christie aide said, “I don’t think it’s a shift in tone at all. His view has always been to get criminals off the streets.”
The aide said Christie’s support for stop-and-frisk was just another example of his “common sense” position on crime, and sent over as evidence a list breaking down Christie’s policies, organized into eight bullet points: “Common-Sense Bail Reform To Keep Violent Offenders Off The Streets; Repealing Mandatory Early Release Legislation And Restoring Parole Board Discretion; A Larger, More Efficient Police Force In Camden; Deploying State Troopers To Address Violent Crime In Newark and Trenton; Making Atlantic City Safer for Tourists and Residents Alike; Stricter Bail Conditions For Domestic Violence Offenders; Protecting Victims of Sexual Assault; Strengthening Penalties For Sexual Assault Against Children.”
Notably absent from the list was Christie’s 2012 expansion of drug courts, which had been used in New Jersey for a decade. Christie mandated that all low-level, nonviolent offenders receive treatment and not jail time. This practice is intended to reduce recidivism rates by focusing on the root of the issue—addiction—rather than the crime that the addiction may have resulted in.
Critics of de Blasio’s “liberal policies,” as Christie called them, argue that the dip in crime in New York was directly correlated with the implementation of stop-and-frisk and other measures aimed at preventing, rather than responding to, crime, and by killing the program, de Blasio has put the public in danger. Those on the other side of the issue say there’s no way to know if stop-and-frisk helped prevent crime, but the statistics suggest that the majority of those stopped were black or Latino, and citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were routinely compromised by police carrying it out.
Christie has his own such controversial program in Camden (part of the eight bullet points), assembled after the city police department was disbanded following a year of record bloodshed in 2012, with 67 murders, that some say is owed in part to Christie’s budget cuts, which result in police officer layoffs. The program erected in the department’s place, the Camden County Police Department Metro Division, is supposed to help the community police itself, but seems to be doing so through petty citations, according to critics like the ACLU New Jersey, like for “operating a bicycle without a bell or audible device.”
The most cynical interpretation of Christie’s alternate-universe scenario where he is mayor of New York and re-implementing stop-and-frisk is that he wants another public tough-guy fight as he prepares to head into the second Republican debate. It was, after all, only last week that he said he was prepared to “go nuclear” on his opponents. But if that doesn’t work, maybe he’ll try being warm and fuzzy again.