© Josh Sager – December 2014
Over the last week, the NYPD has engaged in a “slowdown” in their enforcement of minor crimes—in effect, they are intentionally ignoring large numbers of minor and non-violent crimes. This slowdown is ostensibly a protest against Mayor De Blasio’s rhetoric in the aftermath of the murder of two NYPD officers but, given the NYPD’s history of conflict with all modern NYC majors, it is likely that this is just political posturing.
Since the slowdown began, total arrest numbers have decreased by 66% while non-violent drug arrests have decreased by 84% and minor misdemeanor citations/arrests have decreased by 94%. Additionally, according to anecdotal reports, incidences of stop and frisk searches have also decreased dramatically (exact numbers aren’t available because a lot of stops are not officially recorded).
The two ironies of this slowdown are obvious and amazing.
First, the NYPD has completely missed the mark by assuming that their “slowdown” will result in public outrage. For years, the police have arrested non-violent criminals and put them through a draconian legal system that enters them into a cycle of criminalization (even minor convictions make it hard to get legal employment, which increases the chance that individuals will be forced into illegal methods of supporting themselves). This “slowdown” represents a relief from this system and, as these “criminals” are often committing victimless crimes, the community will actually benefit from this form of protest. If anything, the community will protest when the NYPD stops this slowdown and goes back to its customary policy of harassing people.
The idea that the NYPD believes that it can stir up a public backlash against De Blasio by not harassing the public for a while is indicative of just how out of touch they are.
Second, the NYPD is “protesting” De Blasio by threatening to continue doing something that he has supported in the past and that the NYPD has decried as “soft on crime.” De Blasio supports sentencing and policing reforms that reduce the criminalization of non-violent offenders—this is functionally identical to the police just nullifying enforcement for minor offenses. In effect, the NYPD is trying to compel De Blasio to action by preemptively adopting his position and threatening to continue implementing it until he concedes.
Ideally, the NYPD would realize that they can continue “slowing down” enforcement without the entire city turning into a drug-addled, graffiti-coated dystopia. If this realization lets the slowdown last a significant amount of time, the public will eventually begin to hate the police less and the police will realize that this makes their jobs easier. Eventually, this would lead the police to push for reform to codify their new enforcement strategy as a long-term solution.
Unfortunately, this ideal situation is unlikely for several reasons. First and foremost, the police department relies heavily upon fines collected through citations, thus a slowdown will severely cut into city budgets if it lasts too long. Second, there are plenty of police officers who aren’t interested in efficient policing and are simply bullies with badges. These individuals may be able to control their abusive urges for a little while to make a point, but I am pessimistic about the prospects of these officers controlling themselves in the long term.