Commissioner James P. O’Neill’s on Wednesday acknowledged that there was a notable drop in the number of summonses and arrests during the last two weeks of August—the time period following his firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo and Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch’s subsequent call to officers that they exercise “the utmost caution” in their interactions with the public.
The Commissioner did not dispute the perception that officers are engaged in a work slowdown, though he declined to use that word when pressed by reporters at Police Headquarters.
Mr. O’Neill on Wednesday said that compared to the same time period last year arrests were down about 11 percent since Aug. 19, when he announced Officer Pantaleo’s dismissal. Misdemeanor arrests had decreased about 17 percent and moving-violations summonses were down about 32 percent.
But the Commissioner suggested that another reason for the reductions in arrests and summonses was a steady decline in crime citywide.
“This is a department that has been very efficient in bringing down crime, specifically over the last five years,” he said at the NYPD’s monthly crime briefing.
Still, he said the declines were significant enough that the department was combing through data to better ascertain any outlying causes. Regardless of the numbers, officers had a job to do, he added.
“We’re looking at response time, looking at radio backlogs. You’re looking at enforcement activity,” the Commissioner said. “There is accountability here, and there are leadership issues here. We have to make sure that the precinct, [Police Service Areas] and transit district Commanders are paying attention to this, and they are paying attention to this every day...Police officers have a responsibility to keep people safe. They need to do their jobs.”
‘Will Address Problems’
Mr. O’Neill did not highlight any problem commands and said enforcement varied precinct to precinct.
“Where it’s a problem, it will be addressed with the borough command and Chiefs of Patrol,” he said, adding that police work consists not just of issuing summonses or arresting people.
“We just have to make sure that people are doing their jobs,” he said. “We have expectations that our officers perform.”
On the same day the Commissioner fired Mr. Pantaleo for using a NYPD-banned chokehold while trying to arrest Eric Garner for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island in July 2014, Mr. Lynch said the dismissal would crush morale and “freeze” the department. While he did not explicitly call for a work slowdown, he instructed beat officers to be deliberate when having to make an arrest and to contact superiors if situations threatened to escalate into confrontations, physical or otherwise.
Mr. O’Neill said he was puzzled by Mr. Lynch’s guidance.
“Paddy’s message—Sometimes I'm not really sure I'm understanding it. Is he saying that we're not doing a good job? He needs to take a look at the facts, then,” he said, adding that he had not met with Mr. Lynch or leaders of other police unions since Officer Pantaleo was fired.
Mayor de Blasio, whose relationship with the PBA has been troubled for most of his tenure, said that regardless of a slowdown—perceived or actual—police enforcement was noticeable, and highlighted the scarcity of incidents at the previous weekend’s West Indian festival and parade, which in past years has been marred by outbreaks of violence.
“Crime is down; gun arrests up. J’Oouvert, which is a historic problem, was handled without a single incident,” he said at the crime briefing. “So our officers are keeping people safe and they're acting like professionals.”
Whatever “sporadic issues” come to light, the Mayor said, “will be dealt with.”
But he said he was confident that officers had chosen their police careers because they were invested in keeping the city and its people safe and that “they go about it as professionals and get the job done.”
Mr. de Blasio said he was not worried about the hit city coffers could take should any reduction in fines from summonses prove significant.
“I'm not concerned,” he said. “Again, what I see is officers doing their job.”