Researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice have noticed a significant shift in misdemeanor arrests between 1993 and 2016, according to a study released Feb. 1.

For the first time, in 2015 and 2016, the number of arrests based on citizen complaints, as for crimes against persons or property, exceeded those based on police officers’ observations, which covered most arrests for marijuana and other drug offenses and for turnstile-jumping and other theft-of-services violations.

The arrest rates for blacks and Latinos were higher than the arrest rates for whites for all charge categories throughout the study period—a fact remarked on by Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.

‘Same Old Crap’

“It’s the same old crap,” Mr. Gangi, who ran in the Democratic primary last year against Mayor de Blasio, said in a telephone interview. In a follow-up email, he said the John Jay report “doesn’t change the basic harsh reality of the impact of policing on the ground, especially in low-income communities of color.”

PROP cited statistics from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services that showed 87 percent of misdemeanor arrests last year involved people of color. That number has remained roughly steady for the past three years.

Ninety-one percent of arrests for both possession of small amounts of marijuana and theft of service involve people of color, according to the state statistics.

Crime of Young: Pot

Over the course of the study period, John Jay reported, 16-to-20-year-olds had higher arrest rates for marijuana and victim-related property charges relative to the oldest age group (35-to-65-year-olds). The older age groups (25-to-65-year-olds) had higher arrest rates for drugs other than marijuana relative to the youngest age group (16-to-20-year-olds).

Steady Declines

Arrests rose during the study period and declined toward the end of it. Felony arrests started at 83,797 in 1980, peaked at 151,336 in 1989, then declined to 88,551 in 2016. Misdemeanor arrests started at 63,310 in 1980, peaked at 250,578 in 2010, then declined to 179,427 in 2016. Criminal summonses issued were 557,186 in 2003, hit 606,593 at their peak in 2006, then fell to 271,205 in 2016.

Stop-and-frisk encounters started at 145,525 in 2003, peaked at 649,251 in 2011, and ended at 11,079 in 2016--differing from the NYPD’s statistics, which showed a peak of 685,724 in 2011. Finally, the number of jail admissions decreased from 121,328 in 1995 to 60,218 in 2016.

‘Broken-Windows’ Bugaboo

PROP has argued throughout Mayor de Blasio’s years in office that “broken-windows” policing, which calls for strict enforcement of low-level offenses as a way of fighting serious crimes such as robbery and murder, targets minorities and low-income New Yorkers.

The broken-windows theory was brought to New York in the late 1980s by William J. Bratton during his time as Transit Police Chief and elevated to prominence in 1994 when he became Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Police Commissioner. The dramatic drop in crime since that era has thrown some doubt on what was once an article of faith among police and city leaders.

A PROP flier says, “Mayor de Blasio: you cannot, as you have tried, credibly champion ‘broken-windows’ policing and immigrants’ rights. The two postures are in direct conflict.”

The statistics from the state “expose the harsh reality that the NYPD persists in applying quota-driven ‘broken-windows’ arrest practices that target low-income NYers of color for engaging in minor infractions that have been virtually decriminalized in white neighborhoods,” according to the PROP flier.

Worse in Trump Context?

“Unjustified by any criteria in normal times, this law-enforcement approach is especially objectionable in this terrible Trump moment when the Federal Government threatens to sweep up and dump into deportation procedures sizable numbers of arrested immigrants who, like the rest of us, are supposed to be presumed innocent, before their cases are settled.

“Mayor de Blasio cannot credibly sustain his dubious stance as a champion and protector of immigrant rights while he also champions a policing strategy, ‘broken windows,’ that has the undeniable effect of violating those rights and of endangering the lives and well-being of our city and country’s most politically vulnerable people.”

Jeremy Travis, the former President of John Jay who is now Executive Vice President for Criminal Justice at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, said that the report on misdemeanors, “through careful documentation of the increases and decreases in arrests for low-level misdemeanors, provides the basis for a timely policy discussion on the costs and benefits of these practices.”

John Jay has issued other statistical reports on criminal-justice issues. The college does not make recommendations or speculate on reasons for trends, instead leaving the numbers out there to inform policy discussions.


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