The NYPD Slowdown Raises Questions About Bill De Blasio's Big Police Reform Promises

NYPD Officers ShootingAPNYPD officers having a moment of silence near the spot in Brooklyn where two of their colleagues were killed on Dec. 20, 2014.

Tensions between the New York Police Department and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) have made national news in recent weeks. While some of the strife has stemmed from de Blasio’s high profile efforts to reform the department, there is one beef with the mayor’s policies that is shared by the police and their critics. 

De Blasio was elected in 2013 after making a promise to end the NYPD’s aggressive use of  stop-and-frisk a centrepiece of his campaign. In his ads and speeches, de Blasio appealed to the NYPD’s critics by labelling stop-and-frisk as unfair and discriminatory due to its disproportionate use in minority communities
. As mayor, de Blasio followed through on his promise to end the tactic: Compared with previous years, stop-and-frisk is rarely employed and crime has remained low. 

However, current and former officers have voiced frustrations with a de facto arrest quota system that has long existed in the NYPD. And after the change in the stop-and-frisk policy, some say the arrests that were once made as a result of offenses discovered through the searches have been replaced with an increased focus on minor quality-of-life offenses like public intoxication and turnstile jumping. Critics inside and outside of the department argue this new approach is also discriminatory towards African-Americans and Latinos. 

“Our members say they are still being pressed to do quotas,” said Noel Leader, a cofounder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, adding that NYPD headquarters won’t concede that the practice even exists. “One Police Plaza will never admit they do quotas. The enforcement culture in policing … is they equate — in this administration as well — some of these arrests with good policing.”

In a Tuesday radio interview on WNYC, an NYPD officer similarly said that, rather than eliminating pressure on officers to go after low-level offenders, the de Blasio administration’s policy changes has “definitely made the police a slave to the numbers in a much, much different way.” 

A public defender told Business Insider that they have seen stop-and-frisk arrests replaced with low-level arrests since de Blasio took office
. The person claimed the majority of these arrests occur on the subway. Like stop-and-frisk, the public defender argued this new approach seems to similarly have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Latinos. 

“Maybe it’s a slightly better time to be a person of colour on the street, but it’s a way worse time to be a person of colour on the subway,” they said. 

The public defender also argued these crimes are not serious enough to merit police attention.

“To call them low level cases it’s like you roll your eyes,” said the public defender.

Officially, the NYPD has no arrest quota system. According to a 2014 report by the Police Reform Organising Project, officers in the city are not ordered to have a certain number of arrests each day. However, advancement within the department is partially based on arrest and summons statistics. 

“The NYPD has continuously denied the existence of quotas and asserts that it relies only on a set of ‘productivity goals.’ These ‘productivity goals’ are a euphemism for a ‘quota system,'” the report said. “To meet this quota requirement many officers engage in indiscriminate ticketing, arrests, stops and other harassing techniques. One officer commented, ‘If I break up a fight between two boys and send them home, I don’t get credit. If I help deliver a baby in an emergency, I get no credit. But I score points if I issue a seat belt summons.'”

Leader agreed. 

“They look at how many arrests have been made, and how many summons were issued,” he told Business Insider. “Those officers who don’t quote-unquote make the grade, they get penalised. … The emphasis has been on quantity instead of quality. “

Neither de Blasio nor the NYPD responded to Business Insider’s requests for comment Thursday. However, these low-level arrests seem to have largely stopped amid the current tension between the mayor and the department. 

The New York Times reported that just 22 people were arrested or ticketed for turnstile jumping last week — down from 1,400 in the same period last year. Disorderly conduct tickets have decreased 91%. Parking and traffic tickets are down by more than 90%. While the less serious arrests seem to have stopped, the NYPD has still been making arrests for more serious offenses. Felony arraignments have only seen a 25% drop, compared to a 60% decrease in misdemeanours.

This dramatic slowdown in arrests began after the Dec. 20 assassination of two uniformed NYPD officers by a gunman who allegedly indicated it was retaliation for an incident last summer where an unarmed African-American man named Eric Garner died after being taken into police custody on Staten Island. 

Police unions said de Blasio shares blame for the cops’ deaths because he made statements sympathizing with protesters who took to the streets earlier last month after a grand jury declined to indict the officer who was videotaped putting Garner into a chokehold just before his death. In their own protest against City Hall, hundreds of cops prominently turned their back on the mayor’s eulogies at the two slain officers’ funerals.

Some critics of the department have argued the officers’ slowdown shows exactly the type of change needed in the NYPD. Priscilla Gonzalez, organising director of Communities United for Police Reform, said in a statement that the arrest drop-off demonstrates how an unfair police system has continued under de Blasio.

“New York still has a lot of work to do to bring about real systemic reform of the NYPD. Over the past year, many New Yorkers, especially in communities of colour, have continued to be unfairly targeted as part of broken windows policing. Recently, when police officers were reportedly told to not make ‘unnecessary arrests’ as part of a work slowdown, it begged the question of why arrests that aren’t necessary would ever be made in the first place,” Gonzalez said. “Targeting people of colour with selective, racially-biased enforcement is blatantly discriminatory and has nothing to do with fighting crime or improving public safety.”

AP758368531448AP/John MinchilloOfficers turning their back on de Blasio at the funeral for slain Detective Rafael Ramos.

Despite the stark numbers, union brass insist they have not organised a slowdown. Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton — who has all but pleaded for officers to be more respectful towards de Blasio — also said Monday that he’s not even sure there is a slowdown. He added the statistics are based on a relatively short period of time and calls reporting crimes have fallen. Capital New York further pointed out arrests were already in decline even before the assassinations. 

Regardless of its causes, the arrest drop-off has completely transformed the city’s court system. In one arraignment courtroom, clerks were recently spotted watching “Batman” and playing on their cell phones while waiting for something to happen. The public defender who spoke to Business Insider said the past week was “slower than I’ve ever seen it.”

“Oh my god are we feeling the slowdown,” they said.

Ironically, with the police angry at de Blasio for having criticised the department, it seems that they might actually be the ones doing more to change it — at least for the moment — than the mayor who promised to be a police reformer.

“It’s one of those things that’s really weird for us because as a defence attorney, you spend so much time being like, ‘I can’t believe they arrest people for that,'” the public defender continued. “And really the past two shifts they haven’t been arresting people for stuff like that.”

Additional reporting by Hunter Walker.

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