New York City police have stumbled onto a policing "experiment" that those of us who are in favor of reforming policing methods need to pay serious attention to. The police have started a work slowdown and are not making arrested or issuing citations for minor violations of the law.
As the New York Post put it, the police are only making arrests "when they have to" (HERE ). Let us hope this experiment continues long enough for social scientists and legal experts to gather enough statistic to come to some meaningful conclusions.
The police are angry over what they say is a lack of respect from the public after the choking death of Eric Garner by New York police (HERE ). The police claim that the months of public outcry and protests over the police killing of Eric Garner, and of other African-Americans across the country, have resulted in police hatred that lead directly to the shootings of fellow police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by a lone gunman (HERE).
The police also blame New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for not giving them sufficient backing, and for a lack of moral support for police after the death of Eric Garner (HERE ). One police union leader, Pat Lynch, has gone so far as to say that de Blasio has blood on his hands for statements he made supporting the views of protesters.
There is irony to a police slowdown. The police say they are only going to make arrest "when they have too". The logic would be that normally police are making arrests when they do NOT have to in order to maintain public safety. That would mean that the police are making arrests for other reasons. One of those reasons would be financial to raise money for the public treasury. Others have written some very good articles on this, here is a Rolling Stone's Article ).
Another reason police are making arrests when they do not have to is for what is known as "broken windows" policing. The theory of broken windows is that aggressive policing of minor violations reduces serious crimes. (HERE)
Rudy Giuliani popularized broken windows policing in the 1990's when he was mayor of New York City. Giuliani is credited with cleaning up New York City by his policy of aggressively policing minor crimes with zero-tolerance. Whether or not it was broken windows policing or other factors that really cleaned up New York City is debatable. Still, he and aggressive policing, got most of the public credit. (HERE )
The theory is that broken windows policing puts citizens on notice that the police will not tolerate anti-social behavior. The police then clean up the streets of drunks, drug addicts, prostitutes, hooligans, the homeless and undesirable. The theory also claims that sociopaths are taken off the street for minor crimes and cannot commit more serious crimes because they are locked up in jail. This is supposed to make the streets safer and friendlier for decent law-abiding people.
The problem with broken windows policing is that it constantly puts the police in a confrontational mode with citizens. The citizens that the police are most likely to confront are disproportionately African-Americans, other minorities, the homeless and the poor. These are the people that the police, and society, judge as undesirables. But who has the right to say who is a desirable person and who is not?
Broken windows is how a minor incident of jay walking on a Ferguson, Missouri street can lead to the police shooting death of an unarmed Michael Brown (HERE ). Or the police choking to death of Eric Garner for selling loose cigarettes on a street corner in Statin Island, New York (HERE ). Or these other men, women and children killed by police (HERE ).
Stop-and-frisk is another police tactic of broken windows policing. Stop-and-frisk is the practice of police stopping, questioning and searching citizens on the street for no other reason than that they look suspicious. The police may feel that a citizen matches the description of someone who recently committed a crime, is suspected of making drug transaction, has a bulge in their pocket, is walking too fast, walking too slow, in a group, alone, made eye contact with police, avoided eye contact, too well dressed, poorly dressed or for just about any other reason. It is part of the mythology that police develop a sixth-sense and can spot a criminal when they see one.
In August, 2013 federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that New York City's stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional and discriminatory against African-Americans and other minorities. She also ruled that citizens were being stopped, questioned and searched for flimsy and arbitrary reasons. The judge did not order a halt to stop-and-frisk but did order that it had to be revised to make it Constitutional. The New York City mayor at the time was Michael Bloomberg and he angrily defied the judge, saying that the program would not be altered anytime soon and that he would appeal the judge's decision(HERE).
Incoming New York City mayor Bill de Blasio ran for office on a platform against stop-and-frisk. After Michael Bloomberg left office at the end of his term in 2013, the New York City police unions continued to appeal against the court ordered changes to the stop-and-frisk program. In a very controversial legal ruling, the judge ruled against the union saying that the people had spoken on the issue of stop-and-frisk in electing Mayor de Blasio. This is when things got hotter between the police and de Blasio.
After he took office in January of 2014, stop-and-frisk stops have been greatly reduced. While the police continue to argue that stop-and-frisk reduces crime and saves lives, the statistics have not proven them correct. Stop-and-frisks have been very dramatically reduced and there has been no increase in crime, so far. To steal the police union phrase, they now only stop-and-frisk people "when they have to". (HERE)