In response to growing tensions between the New York Police Department and the city, police unions encouraged officers last week to not make arrests “unless absolutely necessary,” resulting in a 66 percent drop from the same period last year. While the protests have drawn scrutiny for “squandering the department’s credibility” and leaving the city’s streets virtually unattended, they have also had the unintended effect of benefitting New York’s low income residents who are usually the target of the city’s tough-on-crime practices.
The work stoppage is a result of outrage by police officers — led by union chief Patrick Lynch — over how Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man. The brutal murders of two New York city officers by a troubled man from Maryland in an apparent retaliation for the Garner killing has only inflamed tensions, leading Lynch to blame de Blasio for the killing and scores of police officers to engage in protest actions against the mayor.
The signs of tension first became apparent when some police officers turned their backs to de Blasio when he spoke in the hospital following the assassinations and then engaged in a mass back-turning when the mayor spoke at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos. Last week, the police went a step further and stopped arresting New Yorkers for small crimes or ticketing people for minor offenses like parking violations, carrying open containers of alcohol or public urination.
As a result of what the New York Post is calling a “virtual work stoppage,” tickets and summonses for minor offenses have plummeted by 94 percent and overall arrests have fallen 66 percent. Theoretically, the practice will strain police budgets, which rely on fines from tickets to make-up for funding shortfalls.
Although it’s not the intended goal of the work stoppage, the decline in arrests could save New Yorkers money. The city residents who are normally hit with tickets for minor violations tend to be low income individuals who are forced to pay up a hefty portion of their paychecks.
The city began following the broken-windows style of policing in the early 1980s, a strategy championed by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton which focuses on eliminating low-level crime to prevent more violent offenses in the city’s neighborhoods. But a report earlier this year by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan found that the NYPD’s practice of arresting more people for minor offenses since 1980 has disproportionately affected young black and Latino men.
While de Blasio and Bratton have followed through on their promise to reform the city’s stop and frisk practices and the mayor announced in November that police would stop making arrests for low-level marijuana possessions, there are still racial biases in police practices throughout the city that result in a tougher financial burden on those already struggling to make ends meet.
And New Yorkers of all income levels are also saving money on one of the most consistent ways the city can slam people with tickets — parking violations are down by 92 percent, from 14,699 to just 1,241 this year.
NYPD officers have long spoken about quotas which require them to issue a certain number of summons per month to maintain statistics showing a reduction of crime in the city’s neighborhoods. Although Bratton promised an end to arrest quotas when he took office in January, the city’s police are still operating under a quota system which is illegal under state law, according to a recent report by the Police Reform Organizing Project. The group called on Bratton and de Blasio to end the quota system in its October report, which described how police are still using the quota system, as evidenced by the number of misdemeanor arrests and the poor quality of those arrests under Bratton.