New York Times
January 6, 2015


Life in New York City, Where Arrests Are Down and Tickets Are Rarities

By VIVIAN YEE

In a city of more than eight million people and 33 million subway rides a week, police officers arrested or ticketed just 22 people for jumping the turnstile last week. In the same period a year ago, nearly 1,400 fare-beaters were caught.

Tuesday morning’s alternate-side parking period found 25 cars on the wrong side of one block in Park Slope, Brooklyn, still occupying the spaces they were required to leave an hour earlier, without a single ticket in sight. None of this appeared to faze the street sweeper moving down the block — or the police cruiser just behind it, which did not stop.

At New York City housing projects from the Bronx to Staten Island, residents said they had seen fewer officers patrolling their hallways and streets, leaving some people relieved and others frightened for their safety.

And on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx on Tuesday morning, Leyni Soto relished sipping from a Red Bull in a brown paper bag. When he did the same thing two months ago, an officer asked him what was in the bag.

But this time was different. “They slowed down their pace, they looked at me, they looked at the bag and they kept going,” said Mr. Soto, 28, an assistant manager of a cellphone store. “It felt really good.”

If the Police Department’s own statistics are any indication, Mr. Soto was not simply getting a lucky break. For two consecutive weeks, New York City police officers have seemed to sit back, ignoring minor offenses and parking transgressions so completely that only 347 criminal summonses were written in the seven days through Sunday, down from 4,077 in the same period a year ago.

Such startling numbers reflect a continuing conflict between rank-and-file officers and Mayor Bill de Blasio, on whom they have literally turned their backs. But for the New Yorkers in the middle, the slowdown has not appeared to translate to a spike in serious crime so much as in a fading, for good or ill, of the blue line that keeps the city’s streets in order.

In Tottenville, Staten Island, on Tuesday, drivers were taking traffic officers’ indifference as an invitation to help themselves to spots in no-standing zones and to block fire hydrants with impunity, their cars accumulating snow. Not a single parking or moving violation ticket was issued in that precinct last week; the year before, 332 had been issued.

In Jackson Heights, Queens, delivery truck drivers said they were still getting ticketed for parking where they should not, but the end-of-the-day stacks of orange envelopes under their windshield wipers were thinner these days. A homeless man, Tony Moore, said he had not been asked to move by police officers since Christmas. “Recently, they just haven’t been around,” Mr. Moore said.

In the past two weeks, it has become common to see no police officers around the Melrose Houses in the Bronx, residents said.

“You come out, and it’s completely dead,” said Stephanie Garcia, 21, who commutes from the Melrose Houses to Hunter College in Manhattan most days. “I would like them to come back and bring back the comfort of being safe.”

Yet another resident, Schoneiska Aulita, 37, whose father is a retired corrections officer and whose cousin is a police officer, said she supported the slowdown, whatever its effects on public safety. “As much as people don’t like police officers,” she said, “without them, our streets would be crime-ridden.”

Parking tickets and traffic tickets were down citywide by more than 90 percent last week; arrests fell by half.

The drop in enforcement began shortly after two police officers were shot dead in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, murders that police union officials have laid at the feet of Mr. de Blasio for statements and positions they view as critical of law enforcement. At both officers’ funerals, many officers turned their backs during the mayor’s eulogies.

Several police officers who were approached on Tuesday declined to talk about the statistical drop. A number of officers were walking in pairs, following a safety directive from police leaders after the shootings to double up on foot patrols.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement on Tuesday that “there is no union-initiated or -supported slowdown,” though he did not deny the existence of a slowdown.