NYPD Commissioner Bratton's misleading statements about arrests and the police use of force

“Mendacity is a system that we live in."

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton appearing at a press conference on May 25, 2014.  Source :  Photo Illustration by Progress Queens based on an official photograph courtesy of the Office of the State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman/Flickr

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton appearing at a press conference on May 25, 2014.  Source :  Photo Illustration by Progress Queens based on an official photograph courtesy of the Office of the State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman/Flickr

By LOUIS FLORES

At a news conference last week, New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton denied reports that the NYPD was deliberately making unnecessary arrests.

“I think the impression that’s been presented is that there are countless people being carted off to jail inappropriately. In fact, you have to work very hard to go to jail in this city,” Commissioner Bratton said.

Commissioner Bratton’s statement follows years of public protests over the NYPD’s practice of targeting minority communities for arrests, sometimes by entrapment, like the NYPD carried out against men at gay bookstores ; sometimes by criminalizing the use of some forms of birth control, like the NYPD carried out against transgender women, who carried condoms ; sometimes by profiling minorities, like the NYPD carried out according to quotas during the build-up and at the height of its use of stop-and-frisk tactics, which were chiefly targeted against Black and Latinos ; sometimes by physically surrounding protesters, sometimes with the aid of flexible plastic nets and other times even injuring civilians by running over them with scooters, like the NYPD most recently carried out during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

After the public, the media, or the courts discredited those tactics, the NYPD turned to its neoconservative and discriminatory “Broken Windows” approach to policing as an invention for a legal rationale to justify making high levels of arrests.

For this article, Progress Queens made requests to the public information unit of the NYPD, making it a condition to receive and review statistics about how many stop-and-frisks conducted in 2014 led to arrests before requesting an interview with the an NYPD official for this article.  However, the public information unit did not answer the request for statistics.

The jump in the stop-and-frisk arrest rate

According to a report published by the New York Civil Liberties Union, a total of 532,911 stop-and-frisks conducted in 2012 led to 32,315 arrests, representing an arrest rate of 6,1 per cent.  Whilst the NYPD did not provide statistics to Progress Queens for 2014, the first full year in the term of the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City), the NYPD made 46,235 stop-and-frisks, according to statistics published in a report by The New York Daily News, leading to arrests in 18 per cent. of the time.

Mayor de Blasio has defended the higher arrest rate as resulting from more targeted use of stop-and-frisks ; however, the NYPD are still applying stop-and-frisks to the same percentage of minorities, the report in The New York Daily News showed. 

“Under de Blasio, 55% of those stopped were African-American and 29% were Latinos — virtually the same as every year since 2003, when the police started tracking the race of people stopped,” wrote the journalist Jennifer Fermino, in her report for The New York Daily News, meaning, that matters of race determined which people are being subjected to stop-and-frisk, factors that have nothing to do with how hard a person has to try to lead to an interaction with a police officer, much less lead to an arrest.

The NYPD work slowdown

What is true is that during the slowdown of police work, which took place over the winter, the incidence of arrests did drop at that time then, by approximately 50 per cent. from the same period in the prior year, according to a report of an analysis of police statistics published by The New York Times.  During the winter work slowdown, it was accurate then to say that it was difficult to get arrested, as it was revealed that the police had sharply cut back on Broken Windows-related arrests.

Initially, Commissioner Bratton denied that rank and file police officers had been engaged in a work slowdown, according to a report broadcast by WPIX Channel 11 News .

“At this time, I would not use the term slowdown,” said Commissioner Bratton at a news conference at One Police Plaza, remarks made at a time when the WPIX broadcast report noted that arrests were down 56 per cent., the issuance of parking summonses were down 93 per cent., and DWI arrests were down 67 per cent. from a similar period in the prior year. 

The slowdown followed the unfortunate December 20, 2014, shooting of two NYPD officers, Wenjian Lui and Rafael Ramos, in Brooklyn, which led to a flashpoint of tension between Mayor de Blasio and NYPD rank and file police officers that also rolled up to some NYPD union officials.

Commissioner Bratton walked back his refusal to acknowledge the work slowdown when he later admitted the work slowdown did exist, but only after the work slowdown was reportedly ending, the conclusion of which followed allegations that NYPD brass had threatened to refuse to approve vacations and paid sick days for rank and file officers until there was a rebound in each of the making of arrests and the issuance of summonses.

Arrests of protesters

Prior to the eruption of tension between police unions and the de Blasio administration, Mayor de Blasio had instructed Commissioner Bratton to refrain from making arbitrary and capricious arrests of activists.  In the first two evenings following the announcement that a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer would not be charged by a grand jury in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, mass protest marches in solidarity with Ferguson activists erupted in New York.  Even after protesters had shut down an entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and had blocked traffic on the West Side Highway, police limited arrests to a handful, sometimes two, of protesters.

However, during large protest marches, which took place Wednesday night in solidarity with Baltimore, Maryland, activists, police arrested over 100 activists, even deploying counter-terrorism officials, treating activists as if they were enemy combatants.

Some activists reported that NYPD officers were reportedly heard making orders that a series of arbritary arrests of activists should be carried out.

Arrest quotas

Besides the race-based nature of police interactions and the politically-motivated orders to make arrests of activists, each of which have nothing to do with how hard citizens try to get arrested, the NYPD has long faced accusation that it imposes arrest quotas, which inflate the incidence rate of arrests to an arbitrary level in order oppress minorities for simply being minorities, again, a factor that has nothing to do with how hard a person has to try to lead to an interaction with a police officer, much less lead to an arrest.

Commissioner Bratton’s statement that it was difficult to get arrested in New York was further revealed to be misleading after WCBS Channel 2 News reported the normally inert City Council struck a deal to decriminalize certain low-level offenses with the goal to bring about a lower incidence rate of arrests.

The City Hall press office would not address the discrepancies in Commissioner Bratton’s statement about the difficulty in getting arrested.  A request made by Progress to the City Hall press office for comment about Commissioner Bratton’s remarks went unanswered, continuing City Hall’s media blackout on requests made by Progress Queens.

Attacking the media over policing controversies

Following a string of political embarrassments early in Mayor de Blasio’s first year in office, the City Hall press team held a meeting, during which the mayor’s press secretary, Phil Walzak, instructed press officials to go on the “attack” in the face of criticisms.

Since then, officials with the WNYW Channel 5 News program, “Good Day New York,” have claimed that the program has been the target of a “calculated boycott” by the de Blasio administration over that program’s criticisms of the mayor.

Late in December 2014, when Mayor de Blasio was facing protests from police reform activists and shaming by rank and file police officers, who were publicly turning their backs on the mayor, Mayor de Blasio lashed out at a reporter for asking the mayor to comment about aspects of the police reform protest marches.  At that time then, Mayor de Blasio blamed a reporter for asking politically embarrassing questions about the loss of confidence with the de Blasio administration being expressed by police reform activists when, in fact, the reporter was correct is asking Mayor de Blasio to account for activists’ loss of patience with his administration.

Not tolerating dissent

At a speech last January at New York Law School, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the nation’s top federal prosecutor for New York’s southern district, made an observation of the political bosses, who controlled the state’s capital : “You punish independent thinking, because you can.  You get swept up in the power and the trappings, because you are never challenged, and because you can easily forget who put you there in the first place.”

Seemingly affirming U.S. Attorney Bharara’s complaints about political bosses’ distaste for dissent, Mayor de Blasio, who campaigned for office, in chief part, on the theme of police reform, only to make the regressive appointment of Commissioner Bratton to head the NYPD, has instructed New Yorkers facing arrest to surrender without complaint.

“When a police officer comes to the decision that it’s time to arrest someone, that individual is obligated to submit to arrest,” Mayor de Blasio said, adding that, “They will then have every opportunity for due process in our court system,” echoing statements once made by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-New York City), when he, in turn, said about the scores of arrests made by the NYPD during the 2004 Republican National Convention, “You can’t arrest 1,800 people without having somebody in the middle who shouldn’t have been arrested,” adding that, “That’s what the courts are there to find out afterwards.”

To both former Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor de Blasio, it doesn’t matter if innocent activists are being falsely arrested by the NYPD.  The activists should still submit to the unlawful arrest, anyway.

It didn't even bother Mayor de Blasio when Commissioner Bratton was caught providing misleading testimony at a City Council hearing over the incidence rate by which NYPD officers use force when making arrests.

Until the well-funded nonprofit police reform groups come to grips with how Mayor de Blasio consents to Commissioner Bratton’s unadmitted embrace of an elevated number of arrests, nobody in the media will have the courage to fully challenge Commissioner Bratton over his pattern of making misleading statements about the incidence rates of arrests or the use of force.

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