Something interesting happened at the tail end of last year. There had been months of protest about the use of excessive force by police and the lack of accountability thereof, but little had been done. When a nut from Maryland who tried to kill his girlfriend showed up in Brooklyn and murdered two NYPD cops in cold blood, it looked like the isolated incident might be enough to knock the wind out of a burgeoning, unfocused protest movement. It’s still too soon to tell if that happened.
Police officers, and especially the unions who represent them, responded to the murder of two cops by freaking out. The president of the Police Benevolent Association said Mayor Bill de Blasio had blood on his hands for daring to talk to protestors. New York City police officers were told they were operating in a “warzone” now.
One byproduct of this frenetic response by police is a collapse in low-level petty law enforcement and “unnecessary” arrests. Although the numbers are only available for one full week, they show up to an 84 percent drop in drug arrests and a 92 percent drop in parking violations, compared to the same time a year earlier. This kind of deprioritization of enforcement of petty laws, which tend to disproportionately affect poor and marginalized communities, is an important step not just in making policing safer for police and those they are ordered to police but in restoring the practice of constitutional policing. Laws that appear unconstitutional, laws that deal with consensual, private, non-violent behavior, are difficult to enforce constitutionally.
Nevertheless, The New York Times has joined The New York Post in freaking out over the police decision, apparently independent of city hall, to stop enforcing petty laws that generally poor and marginalized communities. The Times’ editorial board writes: