New York Times Wants NYPD to Do the Impossible: Enforce All the Laws, Even the Constitutionally Questionable Ones, While Practicing 'Constitutional' Policing



Something interesting happened at the tail end of last year. There had been months of protest about the use of excessive force by police and the lack of accountability thereof, but little had been done. When a nut from Maryland who tried to kill his girlfriend showed up in Brooklyn and murdered two NYPD cops in cold blood, it looked like the isolated incident might be enough to knock the wind out of a burgeoning but unfocused protest movement. It's still too soon to tell if that happened.

Police officers, and especially the unions who represent them, responded to the murder of two cops by freaking out. The president of the Police Benevolent Association said Mayor Bill de Blasio had blood on his hands for daring to talk to protestors. New York City police officers were told they were operating in a "warzone" now.

One byproduct of this frenetic response by police is a collapse in low-level petty law enforcement and "unnecessary" arrests. Although the numbers are only available for one full week, they show an up to 84 percent drop in drug arrests and a 92 percent drop in parking violations, compared to the same time a year earlier. This kind of deprioritization of enforcement of petty laws, which tend to disproportionately affect poor and marginalized communities, is an important step not just in making policing safer for police and those they are ordered to police but in restoring the practice of constitutional policing. Laws that appear unconstitutional, laws that deal with consensual, private, nonviolent behavior, are difficult to enforce constitutionally.

Nevertheless, The New York Times has joined The New York Post in freaking out over the police decision, apparently independent of city hall, to stop enforcing petty laws that generally affect poor and marginalized communities. The Times' editorial board writes:

The furor that has gripped the city since the Garner killing has been a complicated mess. But what New Yorkers expect of the Police Department is simple:

1. Don't violate the Constitution.

2. Don't kill unarmed people.

To that we can add:

3. Do your jobs. The police are sworn public servants, and refusing to work violates their oath to serve and protect. Mr. Bratton should hold his commanders and supervisors responsible, and turn this insubordination around.

There are, of course, legitimate concerns when a polity's security forces refuse to follow the orders of the civil government. But as Bill Bratton, the NYPD police commissioner, said after the death of Eric Garner in police custody, correcting your behavior when approached by police is "what democracy's all about." Refusing to enforce democratically constructed laws, then, may certainly be undemocratic. It can also make constitutional policing easier by allowing cops to focus on actual criminal behavior and not nanny-state laws imposed on the poor and marginalized communities leading the protest against unconstitutional policing.

A lot of the blame for today's policing problems lies with cops, and especially their unions, but in a democracy there's a lot of blame to go around. The Times may sanctimoniously claim New Yorkers want constitutional policing and for cops to enforce all the laws, but New Yorkers, in their political preferences, have made that nigh mutually exclusive. And that's certainly not the fault of the police.

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  1. Didn’t the NYT square the circle last week?

    1. That’ll happen March 14th.

  2. “Hey, maybe we don’t need so many cops after all.”

    1. No, we need all the cops we can get, but we need them to focus less of their attention on the street, and more of it on protecting the interests of wealthy and well-connected members of the community who have been subjected to mockery on the Internet. We simply don’t have the resources to deal with so many problems at the same time, and this online stuff is far more dangerous to our gentrified, ordered liberty. There has been some progress in this direction in New York, see:


      but it’s obviously not enough, something the New York Times editorial board should really have pointed out in their article.

  3. Bill Bratton, the NYPD police commissioner, said … correcting your behavior when approached by police is “what democracy’s all about.”

    With all due respect, Bill, everybody knows that resigning after sticking your foot in your mouth is what democracy’s all about.

    1. He’s actually correct, which is why unrestricted democracy is not all it’s cracked up to be.

      I prefer governing myself as a ruthless dictator to letting democracy govern me.

  4. “3. Do your jobs. The police are sworn public servants, and refusing to work violates their oath to serve and protect. “

    Ed seems to fail to recognize that the “enforcement of petty laws” are their jobs from the POV of the city, which sees the Po-Po not as some kind of Constitution-pledged Knights of the Realm, but rather as the enforcement arm of their bureaucratic tax-fine-and-penalize State.

    Collection of parking tickets beings the city money.

    Petty drug arrests keep their bureaucracy busy.

    How is the city supposed to justify its massive bureaucracy built around the very execution of these kinds of ‘petty’ assertions of authority if its Agents simply won’t go out there and find cases to feed the machine? If the police ONLY enforced ‘constitutional laws’ it would eventually put 1000s of city workers out of business. Ed should already know this.

    1. Funny. I thought at first your “Ed” was referring to the editorial writer.

      Our Ed certainly knows these things.

    2. I know this. The Times doesn’t. Hence this post!

      1. “The Times may sanctimoniously claim New Yorkers want constitutional policing and for cops to enforce all the laws, but New Yorkers, in their political preferences, have made that nigh mutually exclusive. And that’s certainly not the fault of the police.”

        I confess – i missed this. seemed up until the end that you were suggesting that cops had some kind of discretionary responsibility.

    3. Implicit in that #3 is the social contract. Cops have as much right to leave their jobs as any one else, regardless of what oath they swore.

      And does whatever oath a cop swears apply for life? I doubt it. I would assume it applies to the actions they take as police officers only.

      1. Cops want to have their cake and eat it too, so I’d be happy if it got shoved in their faces a la Three Stooges.

        They are the first to claim people need to obey their every command if they want to keep breathing. Let them obey their boss’s commands before they get all full of rights and shit.

  5. When a nut … murdered two NYPD cops in cold blood, it looked like the isolated incident might be enough to knock the wind out of a burgeoning, unfocused protest movement.

    OTOH, it looked like it might increase and focus the movement, since “we want dead cops”.

  6. The NYT doesn’t want to admit the cops’ “job action” is nothing more than extortion. In order to maintain the stable structure of their world view, they need to pretend those unwritten tickets are about the Social Contract, and not about revenue.

    1. de Blasio can endure the boos and turned backs at police academy graduations until the cows come home.

      He can’t endure a 90% drop in fine revenues. The cops know this better than anyone.

      1. Did the Sheriff’s office take part in the slowdown? That’s where your “big ticket” items are.

  7. Very well said, Mr. Krayewski.

    Here’s what the Times doesn’t get (or won’t accept) – every time there is an interaction between the cops and a “suspect”, there is chance something will go wrong. As you increase the number of rules for the police to enforce, you in necessarily increase the number of interactions between cops and “suspects”. As you increase the number of interactions, you will inevitably increase the number of times things go wrong.

    Now, maybe the Times wants police to continue enforcement at current (it’s the Times, they want escalated) levels, only with less situations that go wrong to the detriment of suspects. That can probably be achieved. But, the cost is going to be more situations going wrong to the detriment of police. That means, yes, more dead cops. Maybe that’s a price the Times sees fit to pay. But, they should at least have the integrity to acknowledge as much.

    1. There are only a few serious rules — don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t assault.

      As more rules are added, they have to fill pettier and pettier cracks in the social contract, and they catch more and more people unaware. “Whaddya mean I can’t sell individual cigarets?” And because cops gotta get home safely at the end of the day, they choose to concentrate on the petty crimes and chalk it up to the broken window theory of police enforcement.

      So more and more interactions have the possibility of going to hell.

      1. Exactly.

        If I were better with Photoshop, I’d put together this picture


        With the caption, this is what nudging looks like.

      2. I don’t think that’s fair. The petty crimes also tend to be the ones people do out in the open. It required essentially zero police resources to catch Garner doing his thing.

        There’s no evidence there were rapes and murders that the cops in the Garner case chose not to investigate in favor of going after a cig seller.

        1. Six cops is essentially zero police resources?

    2. Parking enforcement doesn’t require interactions between police and suspects. It’s clear this is about punishing the mayor for not toeing the party line as tightly as they would like.

      1. I don’t care what their motives are. We’re probably, on net, better off without the excessive enforcement.

  8. Statists fear things like this for the same reason they fear government shutdowns:it exposes the fallacy that government is necessary. The justification for these petty crimes is that people, especially the poor, are simply too incompetent to live peacefully among themselves without doing themselves significant harm. Now the police are refusing to enforce these petty crimes and life goes on. Society has not broken down. The statist “social contract” is revealed as the nonsensical tool of petty thugs that it really is. Maybe, just maybe, one of these days people will start seeing the obvious.

    1. Did life go on in the 70s, 80s and early 90s when crime was through the roof and murders were counted in the thousands? Time will tell how much of the reduction in crime was due to the enforcement of infraction-type laws. Either way, it’s not the cops who will have their stores robbed and kids killed.

  9. The police are sworn public servants…

    Why is it that public servants are never servile?

    I don’t expect them to be cravenly submissive, but constantly barking orders is a bit much.

  10. I want all my groceries in one bag, but I don’t want it to be heavy. Do it now.

  11. my co-worker’s step-mother makes $82 /hour on the laptop . She has been fired from work for ten months but last month her pay was $13096 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check here……..

  12. So the cops say from now on, they’ll only make “necessary” arrests, and see how you like it!

    This is apparently a bargaining tool to get concessions from DeBlasio.

    So once the cops and the Mayor have worked out some agreement, then in exchange for concessions like pay raises and the right to appoint their own labor arbitrators, the cops agree to make unnecessary arrests again.

    Everyone wins!

  13. I be other people wish *they* could go on strike while keeping their jobs and paychecks. They wish they could turn their backs on their bosses without penalty, do a slowdown and get paid the same amount, etc.

    1. I *bet* other people

  14. This would never happen if they would lower the cigarette tax to the level Virginia has. Then the black market would disappear. Government involvement in the lives of private citizens is always a bad idea.

    1. There are so many things wrong with your suppos’n, it’s hard to know where to begin. The main thing is, cops don’t need any particular law to behave badly.

  15. The vast majority of actions by the police are not against anything in NY’s constitution.

  16. There’s not just a state constitution, but also a federal constitution that the states had to agree to abide by in order to become a state. The first ten amendments to the federal constitution (aka: the Bill of Rights) enumerate broad sweeping rights that naturally belong to people, which government must respect. These rights were viewed as “God given”, and not something that could be rightfully taken away by a government, or even surrendered longer than momentarily by the individual. For a police officer to violate any of those rights violates a public trust which immediately invalidates their authority. As ruled by the Supreme Court on multiple occaisions, a law that violates the Constitution is invalid from the moment of inception. Any enforcement of such a law is unconstitutional before a court has even ruled, and therefore a tyranny.
    As for Democracy, we don’t have on here in the U.S. and we really don’t want one. I wish the press would get that straight. In a democracy gays, blacks, women, and other minorities don’t have rights because the majority (people who do not belong to a minority) can and do vote them away.

  17. “New York City police officers were told they were operating in a “warzone” now.”

    It’s citizens who need to be told they’re in a war zone with an occupying army that increasingly treats them all as enemy combatants.

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