MANHATTAN (CN) — Turning a page from “broken windows” policing, four New York City boroughs shifted law-enforcement priorities Wednesday by expunging more than 644,000 decade-old summonses for low-level offenses.
Only deep-red Staten Island spurned the gesture toward criminal-justice reform.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio meanwhile applauded the other boroughs. “The safest big city in America is taking yet another step toward being the fairest big city in America,” he said in a statement.
“These warrants can derail lives, disrupt families, and lead to job loss and missed opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society,” de Blasio added. “We are all safer when our police officers are focused on preventing crime and arresting dangerous criminals instead of processing the arrests of those who pose no threat to public safety.”
De Blasio’s boast about New York City’s safety record contradicts rhetoric from President Donald Trump but has statistical backing.
Of the nation’s 30 largest cities, New York has the lowest incidence of crime, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group based at New York University School of Law.
The New York City Police Department accumulated its enormous backlog of petty offenses during a time when its crime-fighting strategies relied on the now-widely panned “broken windows” theory of criminology, which held that tough clampdowns on violations like graffiti, subway-turnstile jumping, and public urination were the key to deterring violent crime.
In practice, NYPD overwhelmingly enforced these violations on black and Latino people, leading to a spate of civil-rights actions such as a class action lawsuit tackling racial profiling in the department’s stop-and-frisk program.
Even as he turns the city away from these methods, de Blasio has been reluctant to denounce them.
Indeed, the mayor disappointed many of his progressive supporters by tapping early “broken windows” proponent Bill Bratton as his police commissioner.
When Bratton retired last year, de Blasio appointed the ex-commissioner’s chief of department James O’Neill to lead the NYPD into a new era of “neighborhood policing.”
Within New York City’s law-enforcement community, a new rhetoric of reform is taking shape.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said that leaving the system flooded with aging warrants serves only to “drive law enforcement and communities apart.”
“New Yorkers with decade-old summons warrants face unnecessary employment, housing, and immigration consequences; and because they fear they will be arrested for an old infraction, they don’t collaborate with law enforcement,” Vance said in statement.
Vance’s Manhattan office voided the bulk of summonses (240,472), ahead of Brooklyn (143,532), Queens (101,096) and the Bronx (159,394).
Staten Island, which is stubbornly clinging to the old system, is the least populous of New York City’s five boroughs but had the highest number of most-sued officers in 2014, according to a New York Daily News report.
That was the year that Eric Garner was detained for selling loose cigarettes — a typical quality-of-life offense – outside the Staten Island ferry and was killed in a police officer’s illegal chokehold.
Black Lives Matter, the activist movement that took off on social media after the death in Florida of Trayvon Martin, held mass demonstrations in the city after a Staten Island jury’s refused to indict Garner’s killer, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Staten Island is now represented in Washington by the prosecutor in that case, Daniel Donovan.