The apparent work stoppage by the New York Police Department is now officially a really confusing story.
The latest weekly stats show that whatever they NYPD is up to is still going on in a big way, with parking violations down 92 percent compared to the same week last year, and “quality of life”-type infractions like public urination and open container tickets down 91 percent.
What exactly is going on? This slowdown seems to have started as a protest against Mayor Bill de Blasio and against a “hostile” protest environment many people in law enforcement blame for having led to the December murders of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
But is it morphing into something else?
The few police spokespeople who are saying anything at all about the slowdown seem to be saying they’re doing this for a variety of reasons. The New York Post reports that some of the reduction may be due to safety measures recommended by union members after the Ramos/Liu murders:
Cop union leaders told their members to respond to all calls with two patrol cars — and make arrests only when “absolutely necessary” — to avoid potential copycat attacks following the Ramos and Liu assassinations.
But then Edward Mullins, head of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association, who admitted that “people are talking to each other” and that the action has “became contagious,” told the Times that police are still responding to essential calls, and only ignoring “financial” infractions:
All of the 911 calls are being responded to…The lack of summons activity, we’re talking about financial fines. That’s one of those things that will correct itself, I’m sure.
But then there was this bizarre quote in the Post yesterday:
Michael Palladino, the head of the detectives union, responded with frustration.
“You can’t win,” he said. “When cops make arrests and give summonses, they are accused of being robotic with no feelings, When cops exercise discretion and express feelings, they’re accused of being political and disrespectful.”
So which is it? Are police cutting down on arrests out of concern for their safety post Ramos/Liu? Are they merely pulling a slowdown by specifically abandoning non-essential, financial infractions?
Or are they “exercising discretion” and showing “feelings” by doing away with the harassing, often arm-twisting, day-ruining barrage of useless and expensive summonses that have been handed out in low-income neighborhoods in massive numbers since the early Nineties?
I’m not buying the “feelings” line, although I know for a fact that a lot of police hate the endless regime of Broken Windows tickets (not as much as the people getting the tickets hate it, but still).
I’m guessing police are trying to make the public and the Mayor feel the pain of their absence as much as possible without opening themselves up to accusations of deliberately making the city unsafe, and this is the only way they can think to do it.
Of course, there are a lot of people who still believe in the efficacy of Broken Windows and its attendant regime of mass quality-of-life arrests and citations. Most particularly, Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor de Blasio both strongly reaffirmed a commitment to the policies just last month, touting Broken Windows for having turned around the crime picture in New York two decades ago.
So maybe there’s an element of this, too: Police know that de Blasio and Bratton have wedded themselves politically to Broken Windows, and as such they’re standing on their shovels on that particular dig site. And because there’s a portion of the public that hates the summons regime, they may simultaneously try to spin the slowdown in a populist direction, i.e. as an end to the robotic, “unfeeling” dissemination of tickets to aggrieved residents.
Who knows. It could be as simple as this, that handing out summonses is an irritating, contentious, time-consuming activity that police are more than happy to give up, if there’s a slowdown to be gotten away with. A person signs up to be a cop usually because as young people he or she has watched Serpico and The French Connection and Law and Order, not because that same youth saw some yawning uniform handing a pink slip to a kid on a bicycle, and thought, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up!”
Whatever it is, it’s weird. There are all sorts of news stories out there now about how the slowdown is being welcomed by activists, who in many cases have histories as some of the harshest critics of the police. And there are nervous mainstream news editorials in outlets normally very supportive of police warning that the slowdown might inadvertently puncture the legacy of Broken Windows, by making the public too relieved by its absence. Newsday, recounting the story, even breathed a sigh of relief at the way Bratton “reassuringly” reaffirmed his commitment to the policy.
It’s not often that a political protest goes on for weeks and people on all sides of the issue express confusion about what it all means, whether it’s good or bad, etc. Can anyone else recall a parallel?