More Low-Level Arrests under de Blasio than Bloomberg

In the first seven months of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the NYPD made more arrests for petty crimes than it did last year under former mayor Michael Bloomberg—and the racial breakdown of those arrests remains the same, according to numbers released yesterday by the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). From January through July of 2014, police made more than 137,000 arrests for misdemeanor offenses, 86 percent of which involved people of color, according to data obtained by PROP from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. Last year’s number during the same period was just above 136,000, with 87 percent involving racial minorities.

Repairing relationships between the NYPD and the city’s black and Latino communities was a primary tenet of de Blasio’s campaign for mayor. Since taking office, however, he has faithfully defended the strategy of Broken Windows policing, which charges officers to aggressively enforce low-level infractions in the hopes of preventing more serious crimes.

“I could understand why any New Yorker might say, ‘Well, that may not be such a big offense, or that may not be something that troubles any one of us individually’… But breaking a law is breaking a law, and it has to be addressed in one form or another,” de Blasio said at a news conference held after the death of Eric Garner, who was killed during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes in July.

In the wake of that death, however, some New Yorkers are asking whether repairing relationships and maintaining Broken Windows are irreconcilable goals.

“Unfortunately, these practices continue not only to inflict harm on and to fuel anger and resentment in low-income communities of color, but also to divert needed police personnel and resources from addressing the serious felonies that beset certain areas in our city,” said Robert Gangi, PROP’s director.

The third most common charge for a misdemeanor arrest continues to be possession of marijuana. These arrests received particular scrutiny under Mayor Bloomberg, since small-scale marijuana possession is only illegal if the substance is in public view. Defense attorneys argued that police were arresting large numbers of African Americans and Latinos after compelling them to empty their pockets. After much public outcry, then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered officers to obey the public-view law.

Marijuana arrests dropped by nearly half during the final years of the Bloomberg administration (from 50,000 in 2011 to 28,600 in 2013) but have remained steady under de Blasio—and almost exclusively target people of color. In the first seven months of this year, the NYPD made more than 17,000 marijuana possession arrests. Nearly 50 percent of arrestees were black; 38 percent were Hispanic.

The city has also faced controversy over arrests for trespassing in public areas of apartment buildings and public housing developments. In a class action lawsuit still making its way through the US District Court, public housing residents claimed that they are stopped so frequently by police that it amounts to a de-facto pedestrian checkpoint system in their own homes. “You could not imagine this practice going on in many of the white neighborhoods of the city,” said an attorney for the Legal Aid Society, which helped to bring the suit.

From January through July of 2014, the NYPD arrested close to 7,600 people on misdemeanor trespassing charges. More than 87 percent were black or Hispanic.