Though he hosted a "Roundtable on Police-Community Relations" earlier today, Mayor de Blasio made clear on Monday that his administration was not backing down from the Broken Windows philosophy of policing. "I can understand why any New Yorker may say, that's not such a big offense," de Blasio said of the practice of aggressively policing minor offenses. "But a violation of the law is a violation of the law." In the first five months of his tenure the NYPD has made 97,487 misdemeanor arrests, slightly more than the first five months of Mayor Bloomberg's final year in office.
According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, those arrests have virtually the same racial disparity to them as they did under Bloomberg; 86.8% of the 97,243 people arrested for misdemeanor offenses from January through May of 2013 were black or Hispanic compared to 86.0% under de Blasio.
These statistics comport with the high number of low-level marijuana arrests made in the first few months of de Blasio's term.
"The mayor says, 'well you break the law, you break the law,' but a lot of these people aren't breaking the law," says Robert Gangi, the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project [PROP]. "And to the extent you're enforcing the law, you're doing it in a way that's dramatically unequal, and at the expense of the wellbeing of communities of color."
Earlier this month Staten Island's Eric Garner died while being arrested for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
The numbers on misdemeanor arrests are included in a draft of a report that will be released later today by PROP entitled, "Broken Windows Policing: A True Tale of Two Cities."
The report compiles information on more than 700 recent cases observed in criminal courts in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, as well as Midtown Community Court, which specifically adjudicates petty quality-of-life offenses.
"Part of the point of the document is to show that in the first five months, nothing's changed," Gangi said. "The arrest practices, the summonses practices, are the same under de Blasio and Bratton as they were under Bloomberg and Kelly, and in some cases they're actually more aggressive, more punitive."
"We think some of this is driven by the quota system, and Bratton is trying to take his foot off the pedal, but a lot of cops are still operating on the understanding that the way they show that they're productive is to make arrests," Gangi adds. "It used to be stops, now it's arrests and summonses."
The report also catalogues a list of particularly egregious examples in which aggressive policing of minor (or nonexistent) offenses affected the lives of New Yorkers. Gangi says that many of the stories are recent, but some, including the final anecdote published here, occurred under the Bloomberg administration. He believes all are credible and "emblematic" of current police practices. A sample:
- Police officers arrested a construction worker on a weapon charge because he had a painting knife, which was covered in paint, sticking out of his pocket. He now has a criminal record.
- Police officers arrested a Chinese woman who has a license to sell flowers because she had two artificial flowers on her cart for decorative purposes.
- A police officer arrested a young man for using his girlfriend’s MetroCard.
- A police officer arrested a young man for having his backpack on the seat next to him.
- A police officer arrested a 16-year-old Latino boy on two different occasions for trespass while the boy was standing in the hallway of the building he lives in.
- Two police officers arrested a Latino veteran in the Times Square area on the charge of aggressive begging on eight separate occasions. In one instance, his lawyer has found an exculpatory video that shows him behaving politely and not pressuring walkers-by. The man refused to plead and is taking the case to trial.
- Two police officers stopped and questioned a black fourteen-year-old girl while she was on her way to school—she was only one block away. When she protested, the officers arrested her and charged her with truancy. She understood, as many people in her community who are treated similarly do, that her real offense was “insisting on her rights.”
- On a Saturday night in May, a Legal Aid lawyer in the Manhattan arraignment part represented four defendants in a row who had been arrested for having a foot up on a subway seat. One case stood out for the attorney: a twenty-two-year-old black male college student with a part-time job, an appropriate ID, and no criminal record, had to spend well over 24 hours in jail. A police officer arrested him when the train was only four stops away from his house.
- A 50-year-old man was caught up in a “lucky bag” sting. He picked up a handbag left on a bench in Sara Roosevelt Park in Manhattan. The handbag contained a wallet with $3.00 and when the man brought it to an officer, the officer arrested him on the charge of possession of stolen property.
- A police officer arrested and gave a DAT to a middle-aged Chinese woman for putting vegetables in her handbag as she was shopping in Whole Foods. She had only been living in the U.S. for four months, so she explained to the officer that she was following the custom in her home country. Obviously frail and disoriented in the courtroom, she reported having a kind of nervous breakdown after the incident, having spent two months in bed before appearing before the judge who then dismissed the case.
- A twenty-seven year old man has worked as a pedicab driver for three years. He has never been arrested but has been ticketed for moving violations including, for example, driving in the bike lane. Once, when he was taking a break, he was ticketed for “smoking and drinking coffee” which was the actual language used as the charge on the summons. Once, when given a ticket, the officer reassured him that “it’ll get dismissed.”
- An officer stopped a woman walking on her way to the subway in Brownsville, Brooklyn. She had gone through the well-lit side of a park because she thought it was safer. The officer charged her with being in the park after dusk. The woman pointed out that the park closes at 9 PM and that it was 8:49 PM at the time. The officer stalled her for 11 minutes before issuing her the summons. The officer also told the woman not to worry about the ticket because it would be dismissed.
- A police officer arrested an undocumented Mexican immigrant on an open alcohol container charge. There was a warrant out on him for failure to appear for a summons, which was also for an open alcohol container. The young man was then deported.
- A man and his nine-year-old daughter entered a Brooklyn subway station. He accidentally swiped her school-pass MetroCard and she swiped his. The police arrested the man, charging him with theft of services for using his child’s card.
- A police officer arrested an African-American woman in her mid-60s for the first time in her life for smoking a joint on her stoop. When the case was brought to night court in Manhattan, an angry Legal Aid lawyer confronted the officer who explained that fifteen years ago his sergeant would’ve punched him out for making such an arrest, but now it’s expected of him.
Tonight, Gangi will join other experts, including Queens College sociology professor Harry Levine and Brooklyn College sociology professor Alex Vitale, in a discussion on policing under the de Blasio administration at the Ethical Culture Society on West 64th at 6 p.m.