Crime Data Send Mixed Messages
Arrest Levels Gradually Rising After Drop-Off, but Number of Summonses Still Down
By Pervaiz Shallwani in the Wall Street Journal
New York Police Department arrests gradually are returning to levels closer to those seen during the same period last year after a drop-off that began in December, but the number of criminal summonses has remained down, according to the city’s crime data.
Statistics compiled by the NYPD for the week ending Feb. 8 show criminal summonses fell 38.7% to 3,507 from 5,723 in the same period last year, while arrests dropped 11.5%.
Criminal summonses are tickets for minor offenses.
Part of the reason is a drop in marijuana arrests and summonses, which are down 64.8% and 18% respectively through Feb. 8, the NYPD said. Last fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton directed officers to issue tickets instead of making arrests for low-level possession.
Overall arrests are up from a month ago, when officers were engaged in a slowdown following the Dec. 20 shooting deaths of two police officers, though officials said Friday a “residual effect” remained.
Chief of Department James O’Neill said several factors were at play: cold weather, which tends to lessen crime, but also a focus by commanders on making arrests for low-level crimes only when necessary.
“Obviously the numbers are down, but maybe this allows us to reset where we need to be on enforcement levels,” said Chief O’Neill.
“Just because you gave 100 summonses last year doesn’t mean you have to do the same number this year,” he said. “Are you correcting the condition?”
To address the slowdown, top NYPD officials have focused on areas where the number of summonses decreased but more serious crimes increased. One such precinct has been identified in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx. Officials declined to name them.
The reduction in arrests and summonses comes as the city continues to see fewer murders, robberies, burglaries and felony assaults. All were down for the year through Feb. 8 compared with the same period last year.
Shootings, however, have remained up—29.5% more so far this year compared with the same time last year.
Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay School of Criminal Justice, said the drop in summonses was “dramatic.” While he supported giving officers discretion over when to issue summonses, he said a balance is needed to ensure community concerns are addressed.
“This is a big gray area,” he said.
Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said there had been less demand from commanders for arrests, but that the rank-and-file was more cautious in making them after criticism of police in high-profile cases, such as that of Eric Garner. Mr. Garner died after being placed in an apparent chokehold during an arrest.
“Nobody wants to be the next headline for something that goes bad,” Mr. Mullins said. “Policing isn’t a perfect job.”