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The most-astonishing thing about the 44-percent jump in homicides in the city and a doubling of shootings here compared to 2019 is that those crimes had already reached alarming numbers by the time in mid-July that Mayor de Blasio signed into law a City Council bill that virtually guaranteed that police officers would take a more-tentative approach to making arrests.
The Mayor acknowledged that top NYPD commanders warned him about the damage that would be done to enforcement efforts if he enacted the law, which leaves cops subject to criminal charges if, in the course of getting someone under control, they compress any part of that person's torso. He did it anyway.
The City Councilman who belatedly added that penalty to a bill he had long pushed making chokeholds a crime—something the state did a short time earlier—said he upped the ante because he knew Mr. de Blasio didn't have the political courage to veto the bill and risk being overridden by Councilmembers who overwhelmingly approved it. He clearly was right, but we have to wonder why the Mayor also lacked the common sense to understand the ramifications of signing off on the measure.
That restriction was so unrealistic in situations where just one or two officers were present and needed to subdue someone who was resisting that one longtime correction-union official argued that officers from a legal standpoint could get into less trouble if they beat the stuffing out of that person to render him helpless.
From the beginning of last year, defenders of this and other criminal-justice reforms have responded to complaints by both top NYPD officials and the police unions by saying it was too early to conclude that the changes were worse than the problems they were designed to remedy. Well, we've had a full year to look at the impact that bail reform and expanded discovery requirements have had on crime in the city, and five-plus months to examine the effect of the compression bill. The problems haven't lessened; the numbers have actually gotten worse as the year moved along, even as the weather got colder, which typically has lessened criminal activity.
The Mayor's claim that the rise in both categories is a consequence of the hard times brought about by the pandemic doesn't wash. Index crimes like robberies that have a clear economic component have declined, and the first couple of months of the year—before the virus moved many people indoors—began the trend of more shootings and murders.
There was brief talk in August about repealing or at least amending the compression bill, but it quickly dissipated. The author of the measure, Rory Lancman, who said at the time that standing firm on the law was an important test of the Council's mettle, has since moved on to a consumer-related job with Governor Cuomo.
The question remains: how long are the Mayor and Council Members willing to live with a continuing spike in violent crime before admitting they overreacted to complaints about police brutality and look to undo this mistake that has forced officers to be more deliberate in how they approach suspects—and not for the better?