With U.S. crime rates at historic lows not seen since the 1950s, the NYPD has decided to ramp up its harassment of citizens. After all, if there are fewer murders, rapes, and armed robberies, then law enforcement should shift its efforts to relatively harmless offenses like jay-walking, selling cigarettes without a license and, now, turnstile hopping. Or, at least, that’s the rationale according to the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement.
According to the NY Daily News, the broken windows strategy was born in Newark, NJ over 40 years ago. While the strategy never actually reduced crime, it did reduce the fear of crime. A little-known article in The Atlantic Monthly explains how reducing the fear of crime tricked citizens into believing crime had been reduced:
But how can a neighborhood be “safer” when the crime rate has not gone down—in fact, may have gone up? Finding the answer requires first that we understand what most often frightens people in public places. Many citizens, of course, are primarily frightened by crime, especially crime involving a sudden, violent attack by a stranger. This risk is very real, in Newark as in many large cities. But we tend to overlook another source of fear—the fear of being bothered by disorderly people. Not violent people, nor, necessarily, criminals, but disreputable or obstreperous or unpredictable people: panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed.
Thus, if law enforcement focused on forcing “panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed” to move-along to a different area, the citizens in the recently vacation location would feel safer.
This brings us to the NYPD’s latest enforcement effort on a relatively minor and almost entirely harmless “crime”: turnstile hopping or “fare evasion.” Whereas the NYPD used to write a ticket for fare evasion in the past, it’s now toughening up by directly arresting turnstile hoppers.
According to a report from the New York Daily News, New York’s police officers have made around 24,747 arrests for fare evasion. This may not be the best use of police arrest power given that the typical amount of an unpaid fair is $2.50.
In an effort to explain this change in tactics, NYPD spokeswoman Cheryl Crispin said arrests will only be made if the suspect has a warrant or criminal record or if they don’t have ID. However, the New York Daily News points out that African American people are bound to suffer from this the most, especially since records show that they made up 36% of the turnstile-hopping arrests and incarcerations since 2008.
“Every time you get arrested, you build up a record. And so if police train their sights disproportionately on black people, then black people are also going to be more likely to have a record for these minor offenses. And when you walk into court with a record, you’re less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt or a second chance,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“It’s important to think about the consequences of the decision to arrest somebody rather than give them a summons for something as minor as jumping a turnstile.”
With most of the nation focused on Ferguson after Michael Brown’s shooting, this is a bad time for the NYPD to show its unfriendliness to people of color. This is especially true since most of the people arrested are actually trying to get to home, school or work but can’t pay for the $2.50 fare.
Article by Tony Kahlil