A union-encouraged police slowdown of arrests in New York City is backfiring; police officers are doing less work and making fewer arrests, but crime continues to drop.
The reason for the arrest slowdown? Officers are in a snit that one of their brothers in blue was held accountable for misconduct on the job.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo was recently fired five years after he was captured on video choking Eric Garner, an unnecessarily violent confrontation partly fueled by the belief that Garner was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Garner subsequently died and the coroner's report put the blame on Pantaleo's chokehold.
But, of course, any level of accountability among police officers is just shocking to the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), whose president called for a no-confidence vote against Mayor Bill de Blasio (which is the equivalent of pouring a bucket of water into the ocean) and Police Commissioner James O'Neill.
Slightly less formally, PBA Chief Patrick Lynch told New York Police Department (NYPD) officers to "proceed with the utmost caution when answering calls," which apparently was not a suggestion that they don't get unnecessarily aggressive or violent, but rather a suggestion that they arrest fewer people in an unofficial work slowdown.
The New York Post reports that's exactly what happened. Calling it the "Pantaleo Effect," New York City saw a plunge in arrests—a drop of 27 percent in mid-August when compared to last year at the same time. Criminal summons (citations) dropped 29 percent during that same period.
The Post piece is written with an emphasis on these poor heroes in blue being cautious and worried because they no longer feel they have the backing of City Hall or the police department and won't be protected if something bad happens. And the story presents the plunge in arrests as something New Yorkers should be deeply concerned about.
The problem, though, is that as these arrests are declining, the city continues to see crime levels largely dropping. According to the NYPD's CompStat crime data, crimes are dropping in almost all areas, particularly violent crimes. When compared to this same time last year, major crimes—which encompasses murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft—dropped 7.6 percent in the last week, and 2.7 percent in the last 28 days. Overall, major crimes in New York are down 3.7 percent at this point in 2019 when compared to 2018.
Despite the PBA trying to encourage New Yorkers to be fearful of less police coverage, they are not actually in increased danger due to this informal slowdown.
And this isn't the first time that these calls for a police slowdown have highlighted that New York actually has a problem with overenforcement. Back in December 2014, after two officers were killed in the line of duty—and after outrage by citizens boiled over again after a grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo—NYPD officers slowed down arrests. Petty crime enforcement came to a near standstill.
A study years later analyzing that slowdown in 2014–2015 found that major crime actually dropped in the Big Apple during that time frame, just as it's doing right now. And it threw into question whether New York's philosophy of "broken windows policing"—relentlessly enforcing petty laws to discourage more severe crimes—actually accomplished anything.
In other words, the data show that New Yorkers should not be cowering in fear in their homes simply because NYPD cops aren't citing or arresting as many people as usual.