The tension between New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and some of the city’s police officers has been accompanied by what appears to be a drop in the number of arrests. This may or may not be related to this rift, which we will return to in a moment. But first, before getting to the ongoing story there, it is worth pausing to look at something rather remarkable.
With just a few hours left in 2014, there have been 321 killings in New York City this year, a number that the New York Times reports is the lowest figure since before the police department started keeping track in 1963.
That is an incredible shift from where the city was very, very recently. Last year, there were 335 murders and deaths by non-negligent manslaughter, according to the New York Police Department. (The number of murders declined nationwide last year, the FBI reported, dropping along with the number of robberies and aggravated assaults.) This was praised by then-Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office as a big drop from the previous year, which was itself praised by Bloomberg as a record low.
Consider, though, just how low these numbers are. Between 2002 and 2012, there was an average of 531 murders in New York City each year. And consider that in 1990, there were 2,245 murders in New York, the city’s highest number on record for a single year and an average of a little more than six killings a day.
Meanwhile, there are other statistics involving the police that are getting a lot more attention right now. As the New York Post first reported, police have been making far fewer arrests recently, with many officers seeming to stop enforcing things like parking and traffic. Now, if you were to read (and believe) the New York Post, these statistics show that police officers “were mounting an undeclared slowdown,” as the Post put it. The outlet quoted a police source as saying: “This is not a slowdown for slowdown’s sake. Cops are concerned, after the reaction from City Hall on the Garner case, about de Blasio not backing them.”
We do know that there has been a decline in this kind of policing. Here are the numbers released by police (via Reuters):
There was a marked decline in arrests and court summonses in the last week, according to statistics released by police on Tuesday. Police said they made 1,820 arrests last week, compared with 5,370 arrests for the same week a year ago, a 66 percent drop. The number of court summonses issued for minor crimes dropped 94 percent to 300 last week, from 4,831 over the same week in 2013, police said.
These numbers do tend to fluctuate, as the Times notes, but such a big drop across the city would at least suggest movement on the parts of the officers.
Of course, the irony of the police making fewer arrests, following on the heels of the recent protests in New York, has not been lost on people:
Meanwhile, the fissure remains between de Blasio and the unions. On Tuesday, a day after de Blasio addressed the police academy graduation and was greeted with some boos, he met with union leaders in Queens. The mayor’s office and the unions both issued relatively benign statements after the meeting, saying that both sides were united in protecting officers and offering little else in the way of an update.
“There were conversations on a number of issues but no resolution on any,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest union, said in a statement for the five unions. “Actions speak louder than words and we’ll see what happens.”
Similarly, De Blasio’s press secretary, Phil Walzak, said that the meeting “focused on building a productive dialogue and identifying ways to move forward together” as well as on bringing the community and police together.
On Wednesday, with no end in sight for the acrimony, attention shifted toward the next major event on the schedule that would, again, bring the mayor and a large number of officers together in a public space. De Blasio was set to receive a briefing on New Year’s Eve preparations from William J. Bratton, the police commissioner, before participating in the Times Square ball drop later in the night to ring in 2015. The mayor and his family will be joined by a huge crowd gathered to watch the ball drop as well as the thousands of police officers who will be assigned to Times Square.