Targeted Enforcement, Neighborhood Policing: How the NYPD Keeps New York City Safe Today

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August 25, 2018

By: First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin B. Tucker

NYPD cops come to work to save lives, do good, and make New York City stronger.  Every day, they perform acts of heroism and take people off the streets who commit the crime and hurt others, driving down crime to record levels.

The new film Crime + Punishment paints an unrecognizable and distorted picture of these cops and their police department. It tells the story of the so-called NYPD12, a group of police officers who have sued the department for the alleged enforcement of quotas for arrests and summonses. The first thing the film’s audiences should know is that all aspects of the suit bearing upon arrest and summons quotas have been dismissed with prejudice by the trial judge. Plaintiffs couldn’t even marshal the evidence to get those claims into a courtroom, much less win a decision.

The second thing audiences should know is that the NYPD doesn’t arrest and summons people to fill the city coffers, as the film strongly implies. Arrests cost money in officer time to process them, and criminal summonses don’t raise significant funds in the context of an $89 billion city budget.  The film cites a figure of about $900 million in annual New York City fine revenue, but these fines are largely for parking violations, violations captured by traffic cameras, sanitation violations like unclean sidewalks, building violations, and restaurant violations. The total annual revenue from arrests and criminal summonses does not exceed $20 million per year, including $2 million from driving while intoxicated offenses. The city raises $7 million more than that from restaurant fines alone, and some 25 times the revenue from parking fines.

The third thing audiences should know is that both arrests and summonses have been declining sharply for years, hardly evidence of a quota-driven system in the NYPD. At the end of July, arrests were down 35 percent from five years ago and summonses were down 79 percent. That’s hundreds of thousands fewer people without arrest records or summonses requiring their appearance in court.

At the same time, lawsuits against the NYPD challenging police enforcement action decreased by 31% last year.  Complaints alleging excessive force by police officers are down 40 percent since 2013, and officer-involved shootings in 2017 were at the lowest level ever recorded.

Starting in 2014, the current management of the police department has been redirecting the department’s enforcement efforts toward a more precise approach. Management is encouraging officer discretion in situations that can be resolved without enforcement action and discouraging arrests and summonses for their own sakes. We have established the theme of quality over quantity — quality arrests and summonses being those that have an impact on crime and safety. Not only are there no quotas, but unnecessary arrests are also disparaged as a waste of time.  The focus instead is on very targeted operations that will have a decisive impact on crime and violence. Recent policy changes, calling for summonses instead of arrests for both marijuana smoking and fare evasion, are further reducing arrests this year.

The NYPD has undertaken a vast reform agenda in recent years. Its centerpiece is Neighborhood Policing, which anchors patrol cops in sectors within precincts to build trust and local relationships, work at local problem solving, and develop knowledge and intelligence about local criminals and crime conditions.  As a result, Neighborhood Policing is simultaneously a community connection model and a crime-fighting model, as sector-based officers have become a resource and critical support for our investigative efforts.

We have supported Neighborhood Policing with extensive reforms in training to better equip our officers to manage and defuse street confrontations and bring these encounters to peaceful conclusions. Our new police officer performance evaluation system de-emphasizes the number of enforcement actions in favor of performance measures like communication, community connection, initiative, teamwork, and problem-solving.

Today’s NYPD is the very opposite of the allegedly arrest-driven juggernaut pictured by the film. We are exercising our enforcement powers judiciously and embedding our officers at the most local level within the communities we serve.

The NYPD is proud of our work, but we are never afraid to look in the mirror, see how we can improve, and then make real change.  We are strong enough to listen to our critics.  Let’s just make sure the criticisms are fair and legitimate — and not the kind of stuff you’d see in the movies.

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Posted by Charles Fisher and Randy Fisher (@HHSYC).

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