As crime in New York City has plummeted since the early 1980s, the NYPD has arrested an increasing number of black and Hispanic New Yorkers for petty offenses. A new report released by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice shows that from 1980 to 2013, the misdemeanor arrest rate in the city jumped by 190.5%, a figure the report calls a "striking increase" compared with other cities and the rest of the state.
If you've been paying any attention to who gets arrested in New York City and why, the results of the report are not surprising; from 1990 to 2013, the rate of misdemeanor arrests for black males ages 18 to 20 tripled, though they have seen a decline since 2010.
Felony arrests have dropped, and low-level arrests for prostitution and trespassing have declined to remained flat since the early '80s.
Meanwhile, arrests for marijuana possession and turnstile jumping have soared; marijuana arrests made up 27.5% of all misdemeanor arrests in 2000, though that figure has dropped to 15.4% as of last year (and is slightly increasing in 2014, despite what the Mayor's Office says). This is remarkable because since 1977, possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana out of public view in New York State has been a $100 violation, not a misdemeanor.
Arrests for turnstile jumping reached its height in 1994, representing 23.7% of all arrests, and reflecting former-Transit-Bureau-head-turned-Commissioner Bratton's penchant for Broken Windows policing. In 2013, turnstile jumping accounted for 14% of all misdemeanor arrests.
During his first tenure as NYPD Commissioner, Bratton relied heavily on the Desk Appearance Ticket, a way for the police to issue a misdemeanor charge without having to physically detain, process, and arraign an individual. After a drop in late '90s, DATs have skyrocketed. Last year, 37.6% of all misdemeanor arrests resulted in a DAT.
New York City is also notable for what happens after someone is arrested for a misdemeanor. In 2011, New York City DAs declined to prosecute 10.7% of those cases, though that number has dropped to 7.6% in 2012. But for other cities that number has perennially remained close to zero.
Low-income and minority neighborhoods currently bear an even greater brunt of the arrests.
“The first principle is that police respond to complaints,” the head of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Elizabeth Glazer, told the Times. “That’s their job. That’s their customer service.”
This is a common refrain, one that was used by Mayor Bloomberg to justify a policy that generated millions of stop and frisks; a policy that a federal judge would eventually deem unconstitutional.
"We go where the 911 calls send us, we go where the 311 calls send us, we go where the politicians ask us to go," Bratton said at a press conference this summer, responding to the enormous racial disparity in low-level arrests. "I'm not gonna apologize for serving the needs of New Yorkers who need to be served."
Serving New Yorkers and "responding" to complaints is one thing; radically altering the lives of young New Yorkers of color with a criminal record for dancing on the subway or holding a plant that has been decriminalized is another.
The Police Reform Organizing Project also released a short report yesterday [PDF] entitled "Everyday," in an effort to highlight the frequency with which the lives of New Yorkers are impacted by Broken Windows policing. PROP workers observed 191 misdemeanor cases in courts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, the longest of which took 10 minutes and 37 seconds, and the shortest of which lasted 7 seconds.
Here are three of their stories.
Several young officers, possibly rookies, approached a middle-aged African-American woman who was walking along a street in Washington Heights. The officers yelled that she was talking too loudly on her cell phone. Taken by surprise, she stopped - she was one building away from her own apartment house - and challenged the officers, saying that she was doing nothing wrong. Speaking more rudely to her in front of witnesses, the officers grabbed and shoved her, causing black and blue bruises to her arms. They cuffed her, forced her into a police car, and drove her to the local precinct where she was held several hours before being released. Back at her apartment, she found several summonses in her pocketbook, one for disorderly conduct and one for spitting. Her money, though, was missing and the local precinct has stonewalled her efforts to retrieve it. Several days before her court date, a notice arrived in the mail dismissing all the charges against her.
Police officers arrested an African-American woman in Brooklyn because her two small children had attempted to walk out of a grocery store with fish hidden under their clothes. The judge released the woman, who claimed not to know what her youngsters were doing, on her own recognizance. She left the courtroom clearly worried about losing custody of her children.
Last September several officers stopped a young man who had just jumped a turnstile as he tried to enter a subway that had just pulled into the station. The man wore clothes and tattoos indicating his punk rock associations and the officers made rude comments about punk rockers as they forced him to the ground. He tried to explain that he had just bought a $20 metrocard and jumped the turnstile because it kept asking him to swipe again and he didn’t want to miss his train. He offered to show them the new card and swipe it through, but the officers would not let him up and pressed his face on the platform. They then cuffed and arrested him—he spent 36 hours locked up before seeing the arraignment judge who ordered him released.