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Friday, January 02, 2015

Hello! And, the NYPD "Slowdown"

Hi everyone---it's great to be here. This is my first Prawfs visit (hopefully of many), and I really feel like one of the cool kids now. Also, appearing here reminds me of Dan---he and I were in law school together back in the dark ages (my 15-year reunion is coming up in a few months---madness), and I remember when he started this blog years ago. Last saw him a couple AALSes ago in New Orleans---you are missed, Dan. Relatedly, I hope to see many of you at MarkelFest tomorrow @AALS. And if you have nothing else to do at 8:30am tomorrow morning, come see me being terribly intimidated on the same panel as Harold Koh and Judith Resnik, at the law and humanities section. But actually, word is that there's a Ferguson panel at the same time, which is obviously much more important.

For the next month, I'll be blogging about some of my crazy interdisciplinary stuff---there will be a lot of math-ey things, including a series of posts about game theory for legal scholarship, maybe even a post about algorithmic grade curving. I'm also considering other crazy interdisciplinary things (any requests?), including classical Athenian law (more important than you might think!), jurisprudence (of course), and the other stuff I do. And more frivolous things. Possibly live-blogging my attempt to defeat a traffic ticket in Princeton municipal court. I've written a bench memo. It includes a hypo.

Speaking of Ferguson, Eric Garner, etc.---I'd like to open a thread to discuss the NYPD "slowdown" in response to the Mayor's remarks about his fears for his multiracial son. According to media reports, the police have responded by refraining from citations and arrests "unless they have to," and, in particular, by drastically cutting down on arrests for things like open container and public urination, as well as tickets. (Presumably, they are also not arresting people for selling untaxed cigarettes.). Some journalists have suggested that this is cause for celebration, not dismay---that this slowdown will reveal that we don't need these kinds of trivial arrests, and that the city (with the possible exception of its bottom line, now missing the revenue from these kinds of citations) will be better off for it. I'm inclined to agree, and to wish for a smart economist to figure out a way to measure the impact of such things---of the (how regressive?) tax effect of such penny ante law enforcement, and the economic benefits of such "broken windows" policing against the costs it imposes to those targeted (and the second-order costs in lost productivity, lost consumer spending, etc.). Thoughts?

Posted by Paul Gowder on January 2, 2015 at 12:13 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


One prediction we can make is that if police stand by while untaxed cigarettes are sold, tax revenue is going to fall, and sales in stores (that presumably will have to pay the taxes still) will drop drastically.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Jan 6, 2015 10:02:44 AM


As Zimring's work demonstrates in great detail, New York City's crime decline outstrips that of any other city. The "waning" of the crack epidemic (and why should we assume that policing had nothing to do with this "waning," I wonder?) has some explanatory value, as do a variety of other factors, but no non-police factor can explain the length and magnitude of the decline in New York. We should remember as well that New York's Compstat approach was widely imitated in other cities and produced similar results, as in Los Angeles.

Based on data now more than a decade old, Harcourt and Ludwig explained New York's success as a regression to the mean. Time has proven them quite wrong. In his subsequent work, Ludwig has acknowledged the efficacy of hot-spot policing of the type used in New York.

Zimring has challenged others to produce in non-police-related explanation for New York City's special success in reducing crime. No one has been able to produce data arguing that lead, abortion, immigration, or any other non-police-related factor explains New York City's record, although all these factors likely played some role as well. New York may well have been a victim of its own success -- by pushing stop-and-frisk past the point of diminishing returns and producing such lasting and dramatic crime declines that crime receded as a political issue -- but it is hard to ignore the relationship between changes in New York's policing strategy and reductions in crime.


Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Jan 3, 2015 3:32:49 PM

In addition, ' pushed stop-and-frisk past the point if diminishing returns in recent years' is not a casual and trivial thing.

Posted by: Barry | Jan 2, 2015 7:38:34 PM

"It may well be that the NYPD was so taken with its own success that it pushed stop-and-frisk past the point if diminishing returns in recent years, but no one has yet produced a convincing non-police-related explanation for New York City's unusually long and dramatic crime decline."

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University Fowler School of Law

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has been covering the links between crime and lead; it's pretty good science. Perhaps you should read up on this, Prof. Rosenthal.

Posted by: Barry | Jan 2, 2015 7:38:01 PM


There have been several studies that show that crime dropped across the nation during the relevant time period that "broken windows" policing was being practiced in NYC, even in jurisdictions that did not practice an aggressive form of stop and frisk or broken windows. Harcourt and Ludwig argued in the Chicago Law Review (2006) that crime dropped during that time due to the natural waning of the crack epidemic. http://home.uchicago.edu/~ludwigj/papers/Broken_windows_2006.pdf Others criticisms are collected here: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/politics-and-law/breaking-broken-windows-theory-72310/

Posted by: anon | Jan 2, 2015 5:52:15 PM

If it turns out that the work action results in conditions that are as good or better than the status quo ante, will New York City be able to layoff the apparently superfluous police officers? Or does state and local law forbid that?

Posted by: brad | Jan 2, 2015 4:08:35 PM

Has not crime been reduced significantly over the time period as well in non-NYC jurisdictions? It would require a close look at the data to show what specifically was needed to get the same results, including specific policies. And, how it is done is particularly important. If you are going to do something that is likely to be controversial for certain groups, it would be important to deal with the controversy with some finesse. A police chief's response to a letter critical of protests has received a lot of play. His long record provides a way to be police AND community friendly here.

The word "convincing" also apparently includes various criticisms (surely found in academic and non-academic sources) that question the hypothesis but such and such person doesn't find them compelling. This too would require specialized analysis. Finally, in some cases, the fact something contributes to positive results clearly does not save it from controversy. This was noted, e.g., in an extended as I recall "Atlantic" article on the stop and frisk policy.

Finally, my first comment did not immediately save, which explains the partial duplicate nature of the second. If desired, one can be deleted.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 2, 2015 3:22:00 PM

There is quite impressive evidence that New York City's policing strategies over the past three decades have reduced crime in general and homicide in particular -- most prominently, in the work of Franklin Zimring. It may well be that the NYPD was so taken with its own success that it pushed stop-and-frisk past the point if diminishing returns in recent years, but no one has yet produced a convincing non-police-related explanation for New York City's unusually long and dramatic crime decline.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University Fowler School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Jan 2, 2015 1:40:41 PM

"a natural consequence of de Blasio's policies"

What ones? I know of his response to "stop and frisk" but not quite sure how far that goes here. One policy he has concerns addressing pedestrian deaths. I think traffic laws would be useful in that respect. I can see things like open container laws being seen as petty and open to discriminatory enforcement, but as a resident of NYC, I think enforcing traffic laws shouldn't be seen as just some sort of cynical money making device. If it should generally be left to so-called "meter maid" type personnel, that's a different matter.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 2, 2015 1:39:48 PM

"de Blasio's policies"

what ones?

"it's wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets"

From the Rolling Stones piece. I reckon this might be true in regard to some personnel, but others are there to enforce traffic laws and so forth. Why it isn't "their job" to ticket breaches is a bit unclear. Unless this is supposedly something that should be left to traffic personnel alone.

A policy of the new mayor, e.g., is dealing with pedestrian deaths. Cars violating traffic laws makes it more dangerous for them in various cases. Parts of NYC have a particularly bad reputation here. If police in general shouldn't worry about such laws someone in the city should.

There are various violations (such as open container laws) that seem a better example of things that seem overly petty and oppressive. But, the idea that enforcing traffic laws is just some petty money making scheme -- I say this as a resident -- is a tad much.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 2, 2015 1:36:32 PM

There might be! Are there any economists (or criminal justice folks) in the house? I would love to see any such work, if it's out there...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jan 2, 2015 12:41:40 PM

Seems like there is already a body of work addressing broken windows policing in that context? Presumably the overwhelming scholarly consensus is that it's ineffective.

I bet though that a lot of the scholars behind such work aren't big fans of this slow down, even though they probably support "industrial action" in many or most other contexts.

In any event it seems like a natural consequence of de Blasio's policies, if nothing else.

Posted by: Think Like a 1L | Jan 2, 2015 12:37:52 PM

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