NYPD slowdown shows NYC can spend less on cops
by Josmar Trujillo  /  September 6, 2019

“NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan acknowledges that police arrests fell significantly immediately after the firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Arrests in a seven-day span after Pantaleo was dismissed plummeted 27 percent  — from 4,827 to 3,508 — compared with the same time last year. Monahan had warned cops just a week earlier not to engage in a work slowdown encouraged by police union officials who were furious about Pantaleo’s firing — and the loss of his pension. “If you hesitate, you get yourself killed,” Monahan said. Well, some officers  didn’t listen to Monahan, and in the immediate aftermath no cops have been killed. Overall crime also has not gone up after Pantaleo’s firing. If this sounds somewhat familiar, you might remember the NYPD’s work slowdown between December 2014 and January 2015, when officers also arrested fewer people and issued fewer tickets. That slowdown, according to reported data, showed that major crime complaints fell in that period. That refuted the tenets of broken-windows policing, which advocates for enforcement of low-level offenses to stave off serious crime and disorder.

Ironically, it’s union officials like PBA president  Pat Lynch who have helped show that so-called proactive policing has been oversold to New Yorkers. Lynch wants fewer arrests and has also called for the removal of Mayor Bill de Blasio. He has my support on those fronts. Of course, like a broken clock, Lynch is right only occasionally and incidentally. Still, criminal justice reformers should use the union-inspired slowdown as a springboard for a more permanent change to the NYPD: Reduce the police budget. In 2019, the taxpayer bill for police is about $6 billion. That includes about 36,000 uniformed cops, the most of any police department. Imagine what those billions could accomplish for mental health, crumbling infrastructure, homelessness or housing.

If NYPD officers don’t really have to arrest that many people for crime to remain at historic lows, why do we need as many cops? Police staffing has gone up and down under previous mayors while crime has continued to go down. The NYPD and its supporters, however, will scream that without police, the city would go back to the bad, old days of high crime. They said the same thing about reducing arrests and of stop-and-frisk.”


“Arrests totals in New York City have plunged in the two weeks since the police department fired an officer for the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, pointing to a possible slowdown amid a heated response to the firing from the officers’ union. Felony arrests are down about 11% and misdemeanor arrests are down about 17% since Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s Aug. 19 firing, compared with the average daily totals for the rest of the year, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said Wednesday. At the same time, the NYPD has seen a 32% drop in moving violations, he said.

O’Neill stopped short of saying the declines were the result of an intentional slowdown. He said he and other department leaders are studying data such as sick time usage, response times, radio backlogs and enforcement activity to pinpoint where and why fewer arrests are occurring. The head of the officers’ union hinted at a possible slowdown following Pantaleo’s firing for using what a department administrative judge deemed a banned chokehold. Garner’s dying words after the confrontation with the white officer, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. Pat Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, said in the wake of the firing that officers would continue to uphold their oath to serve and protect the public, but not “by needlessly jeopardizing our careers or personal safety.”

Lynch said it was time for each officer “to make their own choice” and that the union urged them to “proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job.” A few weeks earlier, when an administrative judge recommended that Pantaleo be fired, Lynch urged officers to “take it a step slower” when responding to 911 calls and to wait for a supervisor instead of using physical force on an uncooperative suspect. Last week, Lynch’s union approved no confidence resolutions calling for O’Neill’s immediate resignation and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s removal from office. De Blasio, who earlier said the city wouldn’t accept a slowdown, said Wednesday: “Our officers are keeping people safe and they’re acting like professionals. And if there are some sporadic issues, they’ll be dealt with.”

The city has been seeing a systematic drop in summons and arrest totals since 2014 amid an overall reduction in crime, but enforcement activity after Pantaleo’s firing has declined at a rate greater than the annual decline police see in each category of enforcement, the NYPD said. Before Pantaleo’s firing, the city was averaging about 237 felony arrests and 373 misdemeanor arrests per day this year. Since then, it’s averaging 210 felony arrests and 311 misdemeanor arrests per day. Part of the drop in misdemeanor arrests of late may be the result of a marijuana decriminalization law that went into effect in the state on Aug. 28, O’Neill said.

The friction surrounding Pantaleo’s firing comes amid a rash of incidents involving members of the public attacking police officers. On Friday in Queens and Monday in Brooklyn, officers shot and killed men who had fired guns at their vehicles. On Tuesday in the Bronx, people displaced from a burning apartment building starting fighting with officers in the street, including a woman who was arrested for allegedly tearing off an officer’s body camera. That was after videos posted on social media in July showed people in various parts of the city pouring buckets of water on patrol officers. “This is not a new thing,” O’Neill said. “This happens, and when it happens there have to be consequences for it. As police officers, we have to take action.”

by Sarah Lustbader / Sep 03, 2019

“While progressives and reformers wax poetic about reducing low-level arrests, one group is making it happen: the NYPD. Not out of some newfound understanding about the moral and practical dangers of bringing the full might of the state down on people suspected of loitering, but rather as part of a coordinated hissy fit borne of a profound misunderstanding about the value New Yorkers place on these low-level arrests. Last month, after Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner, was fired, the president of the city’s largest police union encouraged his 24,000 rank-and-file members to do less policing.

“We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job,” Patrick Lynch, the longtime president of the Police Benevolent Association, said. “We will uphold our oath, but we cannot and will not do so by needlessly jeopardizing our careers or personal safety.” It was a warning to the public as well, criminologists say, but one predicated on the idea that the public wants low-level arrests. The truth is, the slowdown has been pretty good for everyone. “The death of Eric Garner after he was put in a chokehold by NYPD officers for selling loose cigarettes was a flashpoint for a reason,” Dara Lind wrote for Vox after the last NYPD slowdown, at the end of 2014. “In the video of Garner’s encounter with police, he can be heard saying, ‘Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today.’”

The Daily Appeal spoke to Alice Fontier, the managing director of the criminal defense practice at The Bronx Defenders. I asked Fontier about how the slowdown has played out in criminal court in the Bronx, one of the most heavily policed counties in the country. Over the last few months, Fontier said, there had been at least 100 people at any given time who have been arrested and are waiting to be arraigned. During the slowdown, that number dropped to somewhere between 30 and 40 people. “I was in arraignments, and most of the misdemeanors that came through were ones with actual complainants, like assaults or petit larceny from a store, not the police observation ones, like driving on a suspended license and trespassing,” she said. “I haven’t seen a single person arrested for resisting arrest or obstructing government administration.”

Fontier pointed out that during the last slowdown, the PBA urged its members not to make arrests “unless absolutely necessary,” which indicated to many that police were making plenty of unnecessary arrests. “That’s the reality. They really are unnecessary. There are far too many police officers doing far too many things all of the time.” She added, “It’s incredible, because nothing is happening [during this slowdown], things aren’t exploding, there are no waves of violent crime, they just aren’t making so many silly arrests that they shouldn’t be making in the first place.” This “just demonstrates conclusively that what they are doing between slowdowns is actually the problem,” she said. “They’re overpolicing Black and brown neighborhoods, arresting people for things that do not impact the safety of the community, and ruining lives for the sake of saying that they made arrests.” To the PBA, she said, “thank you for demonstrating that you have been doing too much. Let’s scale this thing back.” As Matt Ford wrote in The Atlantic about the 2014 slowdown, “the police union’s phrasing—officers shouldn’t make arrests ‘unless absolutely necessary’—begs the question: How many unnecessary arrests was the NYPD making before now?” Ford posits that the slowdown “challenges the fundamental tenets” of broken-windows policing. “If the NYPD can safely cut arrests by two-thirds, why haven’t they done it before?”

One empirical study published in the journal Nature presented evidence that “proactive policing—which involves systematic and aggressive enforcement of low-level violations—is positively related to reports of major crime.” The authors examined the halt to proactive policing in late 2014 and early 2015, analyzing several years of unique data obtained from the NYPD, and found that “civilian complaints of major crimes (such as burglary, felony assault and grand larceny) decreased during and shortly after sharp reductions in proactive policing. The results challenge prevailing scholarship as well as conventional wisdom on authority and legal compliance, as they imply that aggressively enforcing minor legal statutes incites more severe criminal acts.” Data from the latest slowdown seems to indicate a similar result.

But Fontier’s and Ford’s takeaway, that these slowdowns actually indicate how much better off we are without “proactive policing,” is strangely not the lesson learned by many liberal institutions and people. In the wake of the 2014 slowdown, writes Ed Krayewski for Reason, “some prominent proponents of police reform, like The New York Times’ editorial board, actually called on the mayor of New York to fire police commanders until arrests for petty lawbreaking went back up. They even argued that the Department of Justice should investigate possible ‘civil rights violations in withdrawing policing from minority communities.’” Krayewski adds that even Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ran on a platform of police reform, “defended the enforcement of petty laws as a core government function.”

With police reforming themselves and reformers telling them to cut it out, it should be no wonder that when police do finally end the slowdown, it will probably have little to do with safety. “Petty laws are big business for local governments—the [2014] NYPD slowdown cost the city about $10 million a week in lost parking ticket revenue,” Krayewski writes. Summonses, too, bring in significant revenue, as those arrested are usually fined rather than sent to jail. Now might be a good time to look around and ask just how many police officers and how much policing we really need.”

by Amy Davidson Sorkin  /  January 12, 2015

“We want them to be vigilant,” William Bratton, New York City’s police commissioner, said on CBS News on Monday morning. He was speaking of officers stationed in patrol cars at “fixers,” or fixed posts, and an advisory that one should be standing outside of the car while the other was inside—not necessarily welcome instructions in this weather. Bratton continued, “They’re there for a purpose—to protect that location, as well as to protect themselves and the public. So if both of them are sitting in the car and they’re busy texting away or not paying attention to the surrounding area, they’re much more vulnerable to attack.”

The occasion for the new advisory, and Bratton’s interview, was the release of a video by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, known as isis or isil, that contained a threat, as Bratton put it, “very specifically directed at law-enforcement personnel.” Given the events in Paris in the past week—three police officers were killed, along with ten members of the staff of Charlie Hebdoand four shoppers at a kosher supermarket—the N.Y.P.D.’s leadership didn’t need a video to put out an alert. What is disappointing is that the moment apparently demanded language as direct as Bratton’s. One wishes it had been surprising to hear Bratton using a phrase like “texting away” about officers in a patrol car—it was just a few weeks ago that Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered while sitting in one. But, given the behavior of a good portion of the police force and union leaders since, one can’t blame the commissioner. A work slowdown, begun soon after the officers’ murder, had dragged on beyond any decent period of mourning, as police officers responded to their very specific problems with Mayor Bill de Blasio with an attempt to punish the entire city.

Bratton, in the past few days, has done two things about the slowdown: declared that it was real—not some statistical or seasonal artifact—and that it was over. Friday, on WNYC, he said that the city was “coming out of what was a pretty widespread stoppage of certain types of activity.” For two weeks in a row, the number of summonses had been down more than ninety per cent. Crime hadn’t gone up measurably yet, but assertive carelessness is not any way to keep a city safe. Bratton believed, he said, that officers were already coming back to their senses on their own, but also that the slowdown was “being corrected” with “management initiatives.” These apparently included meetings with borough commanders and union leaders, and, in some precincts, orders that there would be no vacation days until the workings of the station no longer seemed broken. On Monday, at a press conference, Bratton said that he thought the numbers were “now coming back.” Arrests were up, though still below where they were a year ago. Bratton said that he wanted to look forward and not delve too much into the slowdown, which was partly ending, he thought, because “most cops, by nature, they want to be cops—they want to police.”

Because the slowdown does seem to have been about what it means to be a cop, though, it’s worth exploring, even if, as Bratton hopes, it is passing away. As industrial actions go, this was a strange one. Slowdowns are an old and doubtless useful tool for organized labor, an instrument for applying pressure during negotiations without the finality of going on strike, offering workers some deniability and a reduction of the risk that they will lose their jobs. The tactic only makes sense, however, if there is actual collective bargaining going on, with specific demands—and it is hard to see what those demands were. This was more like a reprisal than a labor action.

What, exactly, did police officers hope would happen when they stopped working? There are probably different answers. Most charitably, some might have thought that nothing bad would happen: this is a peaceable city, and the summons work they were doing was only creating unnecessary confrontations and paperwork. They could occupy themselves by texting until some comic-book villains ran by, and then be regarded as superheroes. Or maybe they thought that, while nothing too bad would happen, nerves would be frayed by the sight of broken windows and all that they implied, and New Yorkers would remember how much they owed the police. One does not, after all, like to think that in any dark recess of any officer’s heart there was hope that real chaos, with life-endangering violence, would break out, and make the city and the Mayor come running back to them. To put it in other terms, did the police officers who stopped working just want to be loved, or did they want New Yorkers to fear their absence—to fear the streets of their own city? When reporters spoke to police officers, the word “respect” came up a lot, but that can cover both understanding and deference.

Police officers have a long bill of particulars against the Mayor, which includes everything from his habit of blaming police vehicles for his own tardiness to the way that he talks about his son’s potential interactions with law enforcement to the fact that his wife’s aide’s boyfriend has a criminal record to his wife’s outfit at Liu’s funeral. A report on Monday in the Times, by Michael Grynbaum, J. David Goodman, and Al Baker, summed up those misdemeanors, and noted that de Blasio himself had long been in denial about the state of the relationship: “even as police unions assailed the mayor, Mr. de Blasio’s advisers remained convinced that the demographics of the rank and file were changing in his favor.” It is true that the N.Y.P.D. no longer resembles the caricature that some critics have drawn of it; but de Blasio seems to have come up with one of his own. At the same time, on substantive issues, like budgeting and bringing in Bratton, he’s mostly been with the police, making it still harder to tell what they were asking for with the slowdown, and how they thought they would know if they had won. Was de Blasio supposed to resign, or promise never again to doubt the police when a civilian was killed, or were particular communities supposed to perform acts of public penance?

It was communities, after all, and not the Mayor, who would be affected if the police continued to let crime go. It’s facile to celebrate the slowdown as a welcome counter to overpolicing: while overpolicing can be an issue, having officers simply stop performing the tasks that they find most tedious is no way to address it. A Times examination of the slowdown pointed to reductions in traffic tickets, summonses for open-container violations, and patrols in housing projects. It’s surely obvious that those are not all in the same category. The final one sounds a lot like abandonment. It is a historical fallacy, too, to think that an indiscriminate pursuit of petty offenses is what brought the fall in crime in New York. Bratton, in his interview with WNYC, pointed out that it was a mistake to conflate stop-and-frisk, a tactic that was clumsily overused, with the more multifaceted broken-windows strategy—which, as he noted, de Blasio has embraced. The police who stopped policing in the past few weeks seemed to feel that the rest of the city had forgotten what it was like here in the bad old days. But they were wrong; they were the ones who didn’t remember.”

The Benefits of Fewer NYPD Arrests
by Matt Ford / Dec 31, 2014

“A funny thing happened in New York City last week: Cops stopped arresting people. Not altogether, of course—that would be anarchy. But since last Monday, the number of arrests in America’s largest city plummeted by two-thirds compared to the previous year. The decline is a conscious slowdown by New York’s police force to protest City Hall’s perceived lack of support for law enforcement. NYPD officers and union leaders have been at odds with Mayor Bill de Blasio in the wake of the Eric Garner case and the killings of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos this month. In their latest move, officers have begun a “virtual work stoppage” throughout the city by making fewer low-level arrests and issuing fewer citations. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, New York’s largest police union, urged its members not to make arrests “unless absolutely necessary,” according to the New York Post‘s report.

“[The slowdown] has helped contribute to a nose dive in low-level policing, with overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show. Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame. Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent—from 4,831 to 300. Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241. Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau—which are part of the overall number—dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.”

Although safety is cited as the reason for the police union’s move, political considerations are central. “This is not a slowdown for slowdown’s sake,” a police source told the Post. “Cops are concerned, after the reaction from City Hall on the Garner case, about de Blasio not backing them.” The NYPD slowdown also comes amid protracted contract negotiations between police unions and the mayor’s office. The Post, which enthusiastically championed the NYPD during this year’s turmoil, portrayed this slowdown in near-apocalyptic terms—an early headline for the article above even read “Crime wave engulfs New York following execution of cops.” But the police union’s phrasing—officers shouldn’t make arrests “unless absolutely necessary”—begs the question: How many unnecessary arrests was the NYPD making before now?

Policing quality doesn’t necessarily increase with policing quantity, as New York’s experience with stop-and-frisk demonstrated. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg asserted that the controversial tactic of warrantless street searches “keeps New York City safe.” De Blasio ended the program soon after succeeding him, citing its discriminatory impact on black and Hispanic residents. Stop-and-frisk incidents plunged from 685,724 stops in 2011 to just 38,456 in the first three-quarters of 2014 as a result. If stop-and-frisk had caused the ongoing decline in New York’s crime rate, its near-absence would logically halt or even reverse that trend. But the city seems to be doing just fine without it: Crime rates are currently at two-decade lows, with homicide down 7 percent and robberies down 14 percent since 2013.

The slowdown also challenges the fundamental tenets of broken-windows policing, a controversial strategy championed by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. According to the theory, which first came to prominence in a 1982 article in The Atlantic, “quality-of-life” crimes like vandalism and vagrancy help normalize criminal behavior in neighborhoods and precede more violent offenses. Tackling these low-level offenses therefore helps prevent future ones. The theory’s critics dispute its effectiveness and contend that broken-windows policing simply criminalizes the young, the poor, and the homeless.

Public drinking and urination may be unseemly, but they’re hardly threats to life, liberty, or public order. (The Post also noted a decline in drug arrests, but their comparison of 2013 and 2014 rates is misleading. The mayor’s office announced in November that police would stop making arrests for low-level marijuana possession and issue tickets instead. Even before the slowdown began, marijuana-related arrests had declined by 61 percent.) If the NYPD can safely cut arrests by two-thirds, why haven’t they done it before?

The human implications of this question are immense. Fewer arrests for minor crimes logically means fewer people behind bars for minor crimes. Poorer would-be defendants benefit the most; three-quarters of those sitting in New York jails are only there because they can’t afford bail. Fewer New Yorkers will also be sent to Rikers Island, where endemic brutality against inmates has led to resignations, arrests, and an imminent federal civil-rights intervention over the past six months. A brush with the American criminal-justice system can be toxic for someone’s socioeconomic and physical health.

The NYPD might benefit from fewer unnecessary arrests, too. Tensions between the mayor and the police unions originally intensified after a grand jury failed to indict a NYPD officer for the chokehold death of Eric Garner during an arrest earlier this year. Garner’s arrest wasn’t for murder or arson or bank robbery, but on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes—hardly the most serious of crimes. Maybe the NYPD’s new “absolutely necessary” standard for arrests would have produced a less tragic outcome for Garner then. Maybe it will for future Eric Garners too.”



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