© Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News
Mayor Bloomberg, who spoke at First Baptist Church in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on Sunday, says the city's incarceration and crime rate have plummeted over the past decade.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg took to the church pulpit on Sunday to deliver a message to police critics in a Brooklyn neighborhood where the drama over street tactics plays out every day: The policy should be "mended, not ended."

Speaking at the First Baptist Church of Brownsville, the mayor said ministers have complained to him about city police officers using "disrespectful language or unnecessary force" when they stop people on the street. He said he understood why some have called for the tactic known as stop-and-frisk to be eliminated entirely.

"I would be angry, too," Mr. Bloomberg said in his clearest public acknowledgment of stop-and-frisk's shortcomings.

But the mayor repeated a forceful defense of the policy, which allows officers to stop, question and sometimes frisk people on the street when there is reasonable suspicion of a crime. A record 685,000 stops were made in 2011, the majority of them involving black and Latino men in low-income neighborhoods.

Addressing a largely African-American audience, Mr. Bloomberg said stop-and-frisk was a significant force behind a steep drop in crime that has also resulted in fewer people being incarcerated. He said thousands of illegal weapons were seized during the stops, making the streets safer for the very people often targeted by stops.

"We are not going to walk away from a strategy that we know saves lives," said Mr. Bloomberg, as the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, and the schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott, watched from the pews.

The mayor vowed that future stops would be "conducted appropriately, with as much courtesy as possible."

"The practice needs to be mended, not ended," he said, pointing to changes the city has already made. One was an order by Mr. Kelly telling officers that instead of making arrests they should issue summons to people found to be carrying small amounts of marijuana after being told to empty their pockets during stops.

The mayor's speech comes as the city faces a civil rights lawsuit over stop-and-frisk. Potential mayoral candidates have targeted the tactic for criticism, with nearly all saying they would change how it is practiced significantly and one calling for it to be abolished.

Mr. Bloomberg's speech appeared designed to blunt criticism such as that leveled Sunday by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who said the mayor "has not shown sympathy for people's concerns."

"The path to safety is through police and community being together, trusting each other, respecting each other," Mr. de Blasio said at the Puerto Rican Day Parade when asked about the mayor's speech by a reporter.

At the church in Brownsville - a black neighborhood where residents are stopped more often than almost any other in the city - ministers and parishioners said they were encouraged by the mayor's speech, but skeptical of his proposals.

The church's 90-year-old pastor, Bishop A.D. Lyons, said he favors stop-and-frisk as a crime tactic, but hoped officers would make more of an effort to understand the community's concerns about how it is implemented.

"We have a lot of police who don't want to be in Brownsville, and they have an attitude when they come in Brownsville, and you've got to deal with that attitude," Bishop Lyons said. "They walk by you, and they don't speak. I've been trying to get them to come into the sanctuary and just show up, show that we're friends."

Bishop Gerald Seabrooks said he has been happy to see police and parishes working more closely together in recent months. He said he hoped the New York Police Department would understand that sometimes their actions can do more harm than good.

"Stop-and-frisk creates a tremendous problem when you are harassing or creating the crime yourself," Bishop Seabrooks said. "That's when it creates a problem in the community."

Johnathon Wilson, a 25-year-old Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, resident, said he has been stopped and frisked numerous times by police since he was a teenager. He said the reason was often because of a particular hat or bandanna he was wearing.

"I think it should be gotten rid of altogether," he said. "It's working but it's not working the way he says it's supposed to work. I do have faith and hopefully everything does change."

"They shouldn't stop you on how you dress of how you look in the street. It shouldn't have to be like that," he said.

Parishioner Sylvester Robinson, 17, of Brownsville, said: "I think it reduces crime, but I don't like the way they come and frisk you."

Mr. Robinson said was first frisked at age 14. He said he has been approached by police officers more than 20 times since. "I always take out my pockets even before they touch me," he said. "I got nothing on me. I just do it for myself. I don't like people touching me. It feels really bad."

The debate stretched from Brooklyn to Fifth Avenue, where revelers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade said they were often stopped by police.

Jamie Gutierrez, 22, a college student from Brooklyn, said: "What the mayor said this morning sounds hopeful, but we can only pray that some effective changes take place and continue with the next mayor."

- Alison Fox and Liane Membis contributed to this article.