The New York Police Department (NYPD) will no longer arrest people for minor infractions such as consuming alcohol in public, urinating in public, littering, or taking up more than one seat on the subway.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said earlier this week that his office will no longer prosecute these misdemeanors, a move which they hope will ease the burden on the courts currently "bogged down with minor offenses committed by those who pose no threat to public safety."
Mayor Bill de Blasio added in a statement:
Today's reforms allow our hardworking police officers to concentrate their efforts on the narrow group of individuals driving violent crime in New York City. This plan will also help safely prevent unnecessary jail time for low-level offenses.
Fewer citizens with criminal records, a less clogged-up court system, more resources for cops to fight actual crime (the kind where there's actual victims). What's not to love?
Well, criminal justice reforms are only worth celebrating when they're actually executed, and a recently issued report by a federal monitor states that the NYPD is a few years behind on successfully implementing a very high-profile court-ordered reform.
According to the report, the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk (ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013) continues to be deployed throughout the city. Though its use is on a much smaller scale compared to the days of Mike Bloomberg's administration, many officers and supervisors are simply unaware of the change in policy and thus continue to use the tactic.
Addidtionally, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an independent entity responsible for vetting claims of police malfeasance, announced in a review that over a five-year period, NYPD officers made at least 157 illegal searches of homes. The methods they used to enter the homes included threats of violence, as well as brute force.
Miranda Katz writes in Gothamist:
…the police arrested a young man for a drug-related crime and took him to the precinct, where they took his house keys and sent officers back to his home to search for drugs…Police entered his home with his house keys and encountered his mother, who repeatedly refused to sign a form allowing the officers to search the place without a warrant. At one point, an officer said, "Goddamn it, you fucking Haitian, just do it."
In a 2013 case, a man was woken up by repeated banging on the door, which he opened to find himself face-to-face with the barrel of an officer's gun. Police had traced the signal of a stolen phone to the barbecue grill outside his house, and they accused the man's son of stealing the phone. When the man said that his son was at basketball practice and that the officers could not search his home, one said, "You're fucking lying…I can do anything I want," before entering and searching the house with his gun drawn while the man's five-year-old son and daughter looked on. Police later determined that an unknown person of no relation to the residents of the house had placed the stolen phone in the grill.
Any day the mayor and district attorney of a major city propose locking up fewer people is a good day, but a better day would be one where the civil servants charged with protecting and serving the citizenry are aware of the laws they are bound by.
Watch my 2013 report on the trial that should have ended the practice of stop-and-frisk below: