Though things appear to have returned to normal, over the last couple of weeks citations for misdemeanor and civil infractions plummeted as a result of an apparent police work slowdown. It came following the grisly murder of two Brooklyn officers and weeks of protests against police tactics.
From the police, the justification for it seemed to be a combination of legitimate fear, resentment of public opinion, and a perceived lack of support from their superiors. Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael Palladino, described this as “understandable,” and had refused to condemn or support this action. Other police unions adopted a similar stance, though officials were keen to keep their distance publicly. The New York Post and Times whiningly disparaged the action with the latter describing it as “repugnant.” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton apparently had no idea was going on, and said he would order a “comprehensive review of what has been happening” (Bratton eventually did acknowledge the existence of a slowdown in terms of number of arrests and summons, but stopped short of assigning blame). The mayor, probably hoping to ease tensions with his department, was somewhat mum on the matter. If we disregard the bet-hedging and white noise for a moment, it becomes clear that this coordinated effort by rank and file officers was an incredible opportunity to repair the broken relationship between this city and its guardians.
The first thing that should be made clear is that the slowdown didn’t stop the police from arresting dangerous criminals. The drastic reduction in arrests and summonses came as a result of non-enforcement of minor, mostly non-criminal, infractions. Regardless of the political situation, few cops in this city would turn a blind eye to a threat in their communities. Those peddling fear, portraying this as security risk, either missed the point or were deliberately misleading. Even Commissioner Bratton conceded that this was not a “public safety crises.”
Another cause for concern is the effect the action had on the budget. I think it’s cowardly for a government to fund itself through penalties but that’s beside the point. The $890 million the City retrieved in ticket revenue last year was only a tiny fraction of its $77 billion budget. Even that number is misleading because, as Bratton also acknowledged, it doesn’t account for the cost of collection. The money saved in police overtime pay alone might negate what’s brought in from tickets, never mind cost of staffing courts and detention centers.
Let’s consider this for a moment: Here we had a concerted effort by the police to ease oppositional interaction with the community. Not only did they maintain safety, they may have found a way to save the City money. This isn’t my opinion; I’m merely relaying the assessment given by Bill Bratton.
Since the apocalyptic predictions of rampant violence and fiscal insolvency seem unlikely, let’s consider the possible benefits. This more relaxed approach adopted by the NYPD over the past few weeks was a de facto rejection of “broken windows” policing; one of the central demands of the current protest movement. Not only did this satisfy those critical of police tactics, it also relaxed some of the burden placed on the police themselves. Few officers join the force because they enjoy citing jaywalkers and pot smokers. If they’re not vigilantly enforcing so-called “quality of life” laws, it frees their time and energy to focus on violence and corruption.
Both cops and civilians stand to gain from fewer confrontational dealings with the other. It can allow for those in the community to see police not as a nagging problem, but as people who serve and protect their communities. With deeper trust comes better police intelligence; something that makes the City safer for everyone.
Still, there are people who are uncomfortable with the idea of cops not cracking heads. Maybe their world view is so terrifying that without a huge show of force from the police, the City would descend into anarchy. I won’t comment on the psychology of the petrified, bed-wetting alarmist, but the objective facts seem pretty plain. This action, regardless of the motives that drove it, creates an environment more agreeable to more citizens than the status quo. It’s a shame that no one in a position of power had the courage to support and institutionalize this new style of policing. I salute the officers who were involved and offer a toast with an open beer on a public sidewalk.