Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Good News from NYPD


Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, “peacemaking” at pepinsky.blogspot.com

January 6, 2015


                Today in an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” NYPD union President Patrick Lynch explained why arrests are declining markedly in NYC.  Now, for self-protection, police are riding and patrolling two at a time.  In the death of Eric Garner, the police were following standing orders to crack down on untaxed cigarette sales (which, implicitly, allowed police to search and occasionally find illegal substances).  Now, says Mr. Lynch, tell us what to do and now as then, we will do it.

Normally, in the US crime-counting system, when street arrests go down, offense reporting goes up, normally in the face of public complaints that police won’t do anything about their victimization.  Under the monthly monitoring system, COMPSTAT, pioneered by NYPD in 1994, the unrelenting pressure on patrol officers has been to report fewer offenses in the crime index: murder, aggravated assault, rape, robbery, burglary, felony larceny-theft, auto theft, and a late addition, arson, and to produce arrests, sometimes in crackdowns, always with the promise that a stop and frisk might produce a felony arrest.  From the outset (explained in http://critcrim.org/critpapers/pepinsky1.pdf), this pressure even accounts for steep declines in “murder” rates.  For twenty years, “crime” has with remarkable momentum gone down, as arrests have climbed.  With great consistency, COMPSTAT has been generally accepted as demonstrating NYPD’s great success in getting crime down by getting criminals off the streets.  Now widely adopted across the US and abroad, COMPSTAT has become a crime-control-industrial success.

                If the police really thought they were impairing public safety—risking civil unrest—by failing to make arrest quotas for offenses not reported in the national crime index, hence jeopardizing their own personal safety, they would not be pulling back on “proactive” enforcement.  The work slowdown almost certainly includes reluctance to do the paperwork of filing index offense reports.  Now, for the first time I have seen in police reporting, the evidence points to arrests going down dramatically while (I expect) crime declines too.  For sure, officers are safer to themselves and others in pairs than alone, especially when they aren’t letting pressure to meet arrest quotas run their lives on duty, initiating fewer unfriendly encounters in the process.  A load has been taken off the police, risks to their own personal safety reduced.  It presents a moment of relaxation of tension—a sort of armistice—between police as a force and communities of color in New York.   I think I hear Mr. Lynch saying the officers his union represents would accept this new status quo.  From the time I’ve spent with officers, I’d say that when they feel safer, they become safer.  Instead of seeing the NYPD work slowdown as police failure to do their job, I see it as a peacemaking step forward.  Love and peace, hal



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