Matt Taibbi has an interesting article about the surreal aspects of the work slow down organized by the New York City police, where they have stopped arresting and ticketing people for minor offenses or what are often called offenses against the ‘quality of life’ which is part of the controversial ‘Broken Windows’ theory of policing. As a result, those arrests and citations have dropped by a staggering 94%. He says that it exposes an underlying issue about the proper use of police.
If you’re wondering exactly what that means, the Post is reporting that the protesting police have decided to make arrests “only when they have to.” (Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, take 10 or 15 seconds).
Substantively that mostly means a steep drop-off in parking tickets, but also a major drop in tickets for quality-of-life offenses like carrying open containers of alcohol or public urination.
I don’t know any police officer anywhere who would refuse to arrest a truly dangerous criminal as part of a PBA-led political gambit. So the essence of this protest seems now to be about trying to hit de Blasio where it hurts, i.e. in the budget, without actually endangering the public.
So this police protest, unwittingly, is leading to the exposure of the very policies that anger so many different constituencies about modern law-enforcement tactics.
First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”
It’s incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it’s precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods.
Because it’s wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it’s even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.
Both policies make people pissed off at police for the most basic and understandable of reasons: if you’re running into one, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to end up opening your wallet.
Your average summons for a QOL offense costs more than an ordinary working person makes in a day driving a bus, waiting tables, or sweeping floors. So every time you nail somebody, you’re literally ruining their whole day.
The thing is, there are really two things going on here. One is an ongoing bitter argument about race and blame that won’t be resolved in this country anytime soon, if ever. Dig a millimeter under the surface of the Garner case, Ferguson, the Liu-Ramos murders, and you’ll find vicious race-soaked debates about who’s to blame for urban poverty, black crime, police violence, immigration, overloaded prisons and a dozen other nightmare issues.
But the other thing is a highly specific debate over a very resolvable controversy not about police as people, but about how police are deployed. Most people, and police most of all, agree that the best use of police officers is police work. They shouldn’t be collecting backdoor taxes because politicians are too cowardly to raise them, and they shouldn’t be pre-emptively busting people in poor neighborhoods because voters don’t have the patience to figure out some other way to deal with our dying cities.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the police denies that there is a work slowdown and says that the 94% reduction is because their feelings have been hurt by the criticisms they have received (and thus presumably making them less enthusiastic about their work and lethargic) and also because they are now scared that they will be targeted.