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New York City police slowdown puts some on edge

January 11, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — Of all the statistics from the recent New Year’s Eve in Times Square — 1 million revelers, 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of confetti, thousands of police officers, dozens of surveillance cameras — there is one number that stands out: zero, as in zero tickets for low-level crimes.

No tickets for having an open container of alcohol, no tickets for public urination, no tickets for double parking, no tickets for furry, costumed characters hassling tourists to take their picture.

And that wasn’t just on New Year’s Eve. That was for the entire week containing the holiday. During the Christmas week, when the neon-lit streets were every bit as jammed, the total for such infractions was 23 — compared to more than 650 summonses per week the previous year, according to police statistics.

Times Square is perhaps the most jarring example of a slowdown in low-level enforcement across New York City amid tension between police and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Police accuse the mayor of encouraging violence against officers by siding with protesters after the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Many police officers were particularly angered by comments in which the mayor said he had warned his biracial son to be wary in dealing with officers.

In the two weeks after two officers were shot to death in their patrol car Dec. 20 by a fugitive who had ranted online about avenging police killings, low-level arrests citywide dropped 61 percent. Arraignment courts have been so slow they have sometimes closed early, and Rikers Island’s jails have about 2,000 fewer inmates.

On Friday, Police Commissioner William Bratton said he’d concluded that some officers had purposefully cut down on small-time arrests and tickets — and that enough was enough.

“We’ll work to bring things back to normal,” he said, adding that the numbers were already rising. No officers are being disciplined, with Bratton noting “the extraordinarily stressful situations” in a month filled with protests, police funerals and discord. The latest figures will be available Monday.

Police unions say there was no sanctioned work slowdown.

“Our members are doing their job,” said Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents 24,000 officers.

The 14-block precinct in the heart of Times Square was among at least seven across the city where not a single summons was issued for parking, moving or criminal violations during New Year’s week — a statistic that makes some people nervous.

“It’s dangerous for the public to know that the police are doing less,” said Madeline Sorel, 57, who teaches knitting at a senior center in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, one of the zero-summons precincts. “It might make criminals more eager to do crime.”

The slowdown in enforcement hasn’t translated to a rise in crime. In the past two weeks, reports of serious crimes were down to 3,704 from 4,130 in the same period a year earlier.

That has critics questioning Bratton’ signature crime-fighting tactic: the theory that targeting low-level infractions discourages more serious crime.

Some police reform advocates say the slowdown proves that the city can do without a tactic they see as heavy-handed.

“There have been unnecessary arrests, and this proves it,” said Monifa Bandele of Communities United for Police Reform.

But Bratton says the arrests are no less necessary.

“If over time you don’t address an issue, over time it will create a larger issue,” he said.

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