Friday, January 02, 2015

BUT WE LIKE OUR COPS TO BE PETTY TYRANTS

Matt Taibbi thinks the near-work stoppage by New York City cops could have led us to acknowledge the inappropriateness of "broken windows" policing, if race didn't get in the way:
... the [New York] Post is reporting that the protesting police have decided to make arrests "only when they have to." ...

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....

I've met more than a few police in the last few years who've complained vigorously about things like the "empty the pad" policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.

It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people "when they have to." ...

The thing is, there are really two things going on here. One is an ongoing bitter argument about race and blame....

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.

This police protest, ironically, could have shined a light on all of that. Instead, it's just more fodder for our ongoing hate-a-thon....
I think Taibbi is way off the mark here.

He's assuming that the cops are willing to put their lives on the line to deal with "real" crime, and are refusing to pursue quality-of-life offenses because they want to deprive the city (and thus the hated Mayor de Blasio) of these big money generators, even though the arrests are low-risk and easy (if tedious).

But the cops don't think quality-of-life arrests are low-risk. Let's go back to that New York Post story about the slowdown:
Angry union leaders have ordered drastic measures for their members since the Dec. 20 assassination of two NYPD cops in a patrol car, including that two units respond to every call.

It has helped contribute to a nose dive in low-level policing, with overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show....

The Post obtained the numbers hours after revealing that cops were turning a blind eye to some minor crimes and making arrests only “when they have to” since the execution-style shootings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu....

Police sources said Monday that safety concerns were the main reason for the dropoff in police activity...

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has warned its members to put their safety first and not make arrests “unless absolutely necessary.”
(Emphasis added.)

The cops don't think these are necessarily low-risk arrests. And is that surprising? Under police commissioner after police commissioner, through the administrations of Giuliani, Bloomberg, and de Blasio, it's been an article of faith that "broken windows" actually reduces crime, if only by leading cops to people committing petty crimes who are also wanted for more serious offenses (and who are sometimes armed or otherwise violent). The authorities believe "broken windows" works. The pundits believe it works. The right and centrist media believe it works. Why wouldn't the cops?

And arrests for petty offenses aren't the money-spinner in New York that they are elsewhere -- in Ferguson, Missouri, fines and forfeitures accounted for 20 percent of municipal operating revenue in 2013. In New York City in 2015, traffic-summons fines are expected to generate an estimated $62 million in revenue -- less than one-tenth of one percent of the municipal budget of $76.9 billion.

So, no, this probably isn't about money. The cops think they're in danger from even the routine, tedious aspects of police work. And no, we probably wouldn't be reconsidering this sort of policing if the cops were pursuing a slowdown out of disgust at the tactics, because All Right-Thinking People seem to approve of the tactics.

Now, maybe if the slowdown persists and crime doesn't rise, then "broken windows" will be open for debate. But we just went through a year in which the mayor was openly committed to a curtailment of stop-and-frisk, and that turned out to be a success, with crime continuing to drop -- and still the Voices Of Reason, especially on the right, think the end of stop-and-frisk was a horrible mistake.

We're never allowed to say that liberal reforms work; if the facts say that's the case, then the facts must be ignored. Those are the rules.

6 comments:

Ken_L said...

I think you and Taibbi are both off the mark. The most likely reason for the police work-to-rule is simply to show de Blasio that disrespecting their authority will have awful political consequences. He's already grovelled to them in the most appalling fashion, and they want him to grovel some more, so he'll never step out of line by telling the truth again. That's all.

Steve M. said...

Yeah, and I should have said that. My point was that they're arguing (whether because they believe it or just for effect) that de Blasio has painted targets on their backs, and so they've declared unilaterally that the risks of routine police work are not worth the potential rewards. It's to get "respect," but they may actually believe they've been put at risk by the mayor (as if some shooter from Georgia via Baltimore is waiting for the imprimatur of the mayor of New York before he'll carry out his dream of killing cops).

Ken_L said...

Yes the idea that cops were killed because de Blasio and Obama whipped the mob up into a homicidal frenzy is transparently ridiculous, as is the police officers' professed concern that their work has suddenly become more dangerous. It all makes a convenient narrative to legitimise the usual authoritarian principle of "My police right or wrong", but I'm sure most police officers find it as absurd as I do.

Philo Vaihinger said...

It probably takes years if not decades for such changes in policing policy to make a difference.

Ten Bears said...

Without the gun, badge, free ride through a corrupt court system and a rat pack egging them on, fucking candyasses couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

Gary McCammon said...

Ironically, if this policy had been in place when Eric Garner had been alive, he never would have been choked to death for selling loose cigarettes.