Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The cost of ‘quality of life’ policing

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“Quality of life” policing can wreck people’s lives, and it is specifically targeted at people of color—just read this report by Tobi Haslett in the New Yorker:

On a nippy Sunday afternoon last month, about a dozen volunteers for the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) descended on Park Slope, Brooklyn. Zipped up against the chill, they were unassuming, anonymous. In three groups of four people (a few more arrived later), they patrolled the western perimeter of Prospect Park, stood guard by the Park Slope Food Co-Op, and walked the avenues of kingly row houses. They were scouring the streets for white people behaving badly—littering, spitting, jaywalking, biking on the sidewalk, carrying open containers of alcohol, letting their French bulldogs off the leash, or committing any other quality-of-life violations, as the city’s officials call them. The day’s action was part parable, part prank. PROPvolunteers were to approach wrongdoers and flash a sheet of paper that looked like a summons. It was, in fact, a little pamphlet, and inside everything was explained: these are not police officers, this is not a real stop, and you have notbeen given a criminal summons, “although you very well might have if you were in a different neighborhood and a person of color.” As Bob Gangi, the white founder and director of PROP, told me, “We want to dramatize a point.”

Tanyanne Ball was the best at dramatizing the point. Ball is a small, polite woman with a bun of curly red hair and a Northern English accent. She worked as a police officer in the United Kingdom for two years, a job she is at pains to distinguish from its American counterpart. (British bobbies don’t carry firearms.) She lives in Park Slope, and the volunteers had gathered at her house beforehand for a training session, the turkey sandwiches circulating in her light-filled living room on the top floor of a converted brownstone. Ball seemed to have mastered the form of affable confrontation: as soon as she saw someone perpetrating a civic peccadillo, she would stride up and calmly, grinningly ask, “Are you aware that you have just committed a violation?”

Reactions varied. Some offenders stood politely, listened to the whole speech, expressed one of several variations on liberal piety (they were, after all, well-informed people), and then went briskly about their business. A well-dressed couple—man and woman—briefly stopped but grew resentful of this rude interruption in the name of politics. Halfway through an activist’s little lecture, the man snarled that this was taking longer than an actual ticket would have. Gangi, in one of the first stops of the day, launched his body in front of a bicyclist who was freewheeling down the sidewalk. The rider, a woman with a backpack, was incensed. Gangi presented his information—bikes couldn’t be ridden on sidewalks, certainly not by black or Hispanic people—but she refused to be placated. To each of his statistics, she replied, with bitter insistence, “Yes. Yes. I am perfectly aware of that. Now get out of my way.”

Although quality-of-life violations are against city law, they have been effectively decriminalized in places like Park Slope, where affluent couples push strollers down gleaming sidewalks and life pulses along to the gentle beat of white liberalism. If you jaywalk, it’s safe to assume that no cop will stop you and no penalty awaits you. But in the poorer, darker neighborhoods of New York, something as small as jaywalking can often lead to a ticket. The numbers on thePROP pamphlet are stark: about eighty-one per cent of the 7.3 million people who were charged with summons violations between 2001 and 2013 were black or Hispanic. Or, to zoom in a little, there were eight bicycle-on-the-sidewalk summonses in Park Slope between 2008 and 2011; in Bedford-Stuyvesant, there were two thousand and fifty.

This sort of enforcement is the cornerstone of broken-windows policing, a method rooted in the theory that cracking down on minor infractions can reduce the incidence of more serious crimes. (If people can jaywalk with impunity, what else might they try to get away with?) The method has been denounced in progressive quarters for its disproportionate and largely negative effect on low-income communities of color. In 2013, twenty per cent of the four hundred and fifty-eight thousand summonses issued in New York City were dismissed because the original tickets were either defective or deemed factually insufficient. But the practice persists. “You’re not going to find the scientific study that can support broken- windows one way or the other,” Bill Bratton, the city’s police commissioner, recently told Ken Auletta. “The evidence I rely on is what my eyes show me.”

Certain consequences, however, are clear. That ticket for jaywalking, if ignored, can result in an open warrant. A subsequent stop for jaywalking, or littering, or public urination, or an open container can lead to arrest. (In the case of Eric Garner, who had a history of selling untaxed cigarettes, such a stop led to his death by asphyxiation.) The offender is then exposed to a criminal-justice system that, in the view of Gangi and PROP—and the thousands who flooded the streets to protest the police killings of Garner, Michael Brown, andhundreds of other people of color—is racist.

Back in Brooklyn, the sun fell behind a bank of clouds; it was getting colder and the Park Slopers were becoming more possessive of their time. They marched, bent, down the avenues. Impatient smiles flashed across their faces asPROP volunteers tried to stop them. They could be any old street canvassers, pleading for a contribution or a signature. A handsome couple in their twenties, each bearing a bouquet of flowers, were kind enough to stop (they had jaywalked) as Ball explained to them the privilege that they had so thoughtlessly exercised. The man fidgeted, the woman blinked into the wind. “The inequality is ridiculous,” she said softly. “I don’t know anyone who has ever been harassed by the police.” They walked on.

“What they’re admitting is that they don’t know any people of color,” Shivani Manghnani, who had been posted at the Park Slope Food Co-Op, said as the couple moved out of earshot. By this point, we were standing outside the Barnes & Noble on Seventh Avenue. Someone peered through the glass and saw that there was an officer, in full N.Y.P.D. regalia, stationed inside, guarding the door of the bookstore. Ball, the most diplomatic of the group, went in to talk to him.

Their conversation began cordially enough . . .

Continue reading.

Alexandra Natapoff, professor of law and associate dean at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, writes in the Washington Post:

At their inaugural debate, the Democratic presidential candidates finally agreed that black lives matter. If they mean it, they should take a stand against a common but overlooked way that our criminal system devalues black lives: convicting African American men of minor crimes that they did not commit.

These wrongful convictions are largely byproducts of “order maintenance” or “quality-of-life” policing, in which police arrest large numbers of young black men on baseless charges. Baltimore police, for example, are under court-ordered monitoring for making baseless quality-of-life arrests. As described by one former officer, police tell young men to move along, then arrest them for loitering when they don’t. Maryland courts have already explained thatthis police practice is illegal: people who are merely standing on the street, even those ordered to move along, are not actually “loitering,” which the city ordinance defines as “to interfere with, impede or hinder the free passage of pedestrian or vehicular traffic” after having been warned to desist.

But police in many cities use loitering-type arrests for all sorts of purposes — to clear a street corner, to send a message to gangs or drug dealers, or to assert their own authority. Once charged, the misdemeanor process then exerts enormous pressure on individuals to plead guilty, especially if they are stuck in jail because they cannot make bail. As a result, many of them end up convicted of crimes they never committed, such as loitering, trespassing, disorderly conduct, or resisting arrest. It can happen to anyone, but because we overpolice young black men in low-income neighborhoods for precisely these types of minor crimes, it’s more likely to happen to them.

Similarly, New York police had a 20-year policy of arresting people on the premises of public housing projects even when they had the legal right to be there. The vast majority of those charged with trespassing pled guilty — the easiest way to get out of jail. The policy was so egregious that the Bronx District Attorney’s Office announced in 2012 that it would no longer file trespassing cases based solely on police reports, and in 2013 the policy was found unconstitutional. But thousands of individuals had already been convicted, many of them wrongfully.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that police in Ferguson, Missouri, illegally arrest numerous residents for the vague offense entitled “Failure to Comply.” As the DOJ explained,

Officers frequently arrest individuals under Section 29-16(1) on facts that do not meet the provision’s elements. Section 29-16(1) makes it unlawful to “[f]ail to comply with the lawful order or request of a police officer in the discharge of the officer’s official duties where such failure interfered with, obstructed or hindered the officer in the performance of such duties.” Many cases initiated under this provision begin with an officer ordering an individual to stop despite lacking objective indicia that the individual is engaged in wrongdoing. The order to stop is not a “lawful order” under those circumstances because the officer lacks reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. [] Nonetheless, when individuals do not stop in those situations, FPD officers treat that conduct as a failure to comply with a lawful order, and make arrests.”

Once arrested, innocent residents can languish in a jail so filthy and dangerous that one lawsuit described it as “Dickensian.” They may also face extortionate bail prices.  Most people plead guilty. (The DOJ described trials in Ferguson as “rare.”) The problem is pervasive across St. Louis County.

We know such details about Baltimore, New York, and St. Louis County because of high-profile lawsuits and investigations.  But quality-of-life policing occurs all over the country, and the misdemeanor process exerts the same pressures to plead on millions of defendants.  In other words, this type of wrongful conviction is likely occurring every day out of public sight.

Such wrongful convictions represent the convergence of two of our criminal system’s worst flaws: . . .

Continue reading.

Bill Bratton said that he supports “broken-windows” policing because, he said, it works, and his evidence for that comes not from any research or data—there is none. He says, “The evidence I rely on is what my eyes show me.” His eyes are selective about what they look at, apparently.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 11:55 am

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