NEW YORK—Of all the statistics from the recent New Year’s Eve in Times Square—1 million revelers, 2,000 pounds of confetti, thousands of police officers, dozens of surveillance cameras—there is one number that stands out: zero, as in zero tickets for low-level crimes.
No tickets for having an open container of alcohol, no tickets for public urination, no tickets for double parking, no tickets for furry, costumed characters hassling tourists to take their picture. Add in low-level arrests, and there was just one, for a subway-related offense.
And that wasn’t just on New Year’s Eve. That was for the entire week containing the holiday. During the Christmas week, when the neon-lit streets were every bit as jammed, the total for such infractions was 23—compared to more than 650 summonses per week the previous year, according to police statistics.
Times Square is perhaps the most jarring example of a slowdown in low-level enforcement across New York City amid tension between rank-and-file police and Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom they accuse of encouraging violence against cops by siding with protesters after the chokehold death of Eric Garner. They were particularly incensed by comments in which the mayor warned his biracial son to be wary in dealing with officers.
In the two weeks after two NYPD officers were shot to death in their patrol car Dec. 20 by a fugitive who had ranted online about avenging police killings, low-level arrests citywide dropped 61 percent. Summonses were down more than 90 percent. Arraignment courts have been so slow they have sometimes closed early, and Rikers Island’s jails have about 2,000 fewer inmates.
“They haven’t been on top of us like they used to,” Luis Martinez said on a recent night in Times Square, where he roams the streets in a Cookie Monster costume posing for photos in hopes of tips. “They’re minding their own business now.”
On Friday, Police Commissioner William Bratton said he’d concluded that some officers had purposefully cut down on small-time arrests and tickets— and that enough was enough.
“We’ll work to bring things back to normal,” he said, adding that the numbers were already rising. No officers are being disciplined, with Bratton noting “the extraordinarily stressful situations” in a month filled with protests, police funerals, and discord. The latest figures will be available Monday.
Slowdown Not Sanctioned
Police unions say there was no sanctioned work slowdown, and they are quick to point out that officers are still rising to the call of duty. Just this past week, two police officers were shot and wounded responding to a report of a robbery moments before their shifts ended.
“Our members are doing their job,” said Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents 24,000 officers.
The 14-block precinct in the heart of Times Square was among at least seven across the city where not a single summons was issued for parking, moving, or criminal violations during New Year’s week—a statistic that makes some people nervous.
“It’s dangerous for the public to know that the police are doing less,” said Madeline Sorel, 57, who teaches knitting at a senior center in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, one of the zero-summons precincts. “It might make criminals more eager to do crime.”
To Army veteran Hortensia LaCorbiniere, police aren’t in a position to back off on doing any part of their jobs, whatever the reason.
“Their orders are to protect and serve,” LaCorbiniere said as she went to a medical appointment in another precinct with zero tickets on Manhattan’s East Side. “You do your job, or you get out of that occupation.”
The slowdown has overshadowed an overall, years-long decrease in every measurable crime statistic: complaints of crime, arrests, and summonses.
Crime of all kinds decreased 4 percent to all-time low in 2014, when there were 332 homicides, down from 335 the previous year.
The slowdown in enforcement hasn’t translated to a rise in crime. In the past two weeks, reports of serious crimes were down to 3,704 from 4,130 in the same period a year earlier.
That has critics questioning Bratton’ signature crime-fighting tactic: the “broken windows” theory that targeting low-level infractions discourages more serious crime.
Some police reform advocates say the slowdown proves that the city can do without a tactic they see as heavy-handed.
“There have been unnecessary arrests, and this proves it,” said Monifa Bandele of Communities United for Police Reform.
But Bratton says the arrests are no less necessary, despite the let-up.
“The whole thesis of ‘broken windows’ is: If over time you don’t address an issue, over time it will create a larger issue,” he said.
From The Associated Press