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Minor Crime Arrests Skyrocketed During Stop-and-Frisk Era, Stats Show

By Murray Weiss | September 5, 2013 6:48am
 A look at the number of arrests for quality of life infractions during the Bloomberg Administration.
A look at the number of arrests for quality of life infractions during the Bloomberg Administration.
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DNAinfo/Billy Figueroa

NEW YORK CITY - Stop-and-frisk isn't the only NYPD tactic to have been ratcheted up during the Bloomberg era — the number of arrests for minor crimes has also skyrocketed, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Under a "zero tolerance" arrest policy — where people are collared for low-level offenses to prevent them from committing serious crimes — nearly 90,000 more people were arrested in 2010, stop-and-frisk's peak year, than were locked up when Bloomberg first took office more than a decade ago, according to NYPD data.

Even last year, when the NYPD was coming under criticism for aggressive policing, they arrested 60,000 more people than they did in 2002, the data showed. The majority of those people were picked up for public urination, turnstile jumping, drinking on the street, smoking pot and disorderly conduct, and then put through the criminal justice system.

As the number of arrests for minor crimes rose dramatically, arrests for serious crime — such as rape, robbery and assault — declined roughly 10 percent during the same period.

Unlike stop-and-frisk, which has been the subject of lawsuits and remains at the forefront of mayoral debates, the sharp increase in arrests for petty offenses has flown under the radar.

The strategy was initially introduced in the early 1990s by then-Police Commissioner William Bratton. At the time, the city was awash in historic levels of crime that included more than 2,200 murders in 1992.

Coupling "zero tolerance" with other strategies, including tracking daily criminal activity and holding commanders accountable for attacking crime under their watch, serious crime in the Big Apple fell.

By the time Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, the number of murders had dropped to 649, with other major crime categories such as robbery and car theft falling as much as 75 percent.

Bloomberg believed he had to build on that success, and he did — but critics now question the cost to civil liberties and police-community relations.

The NYPD made 338,788 arrests during Bloomberg’s first year in office in 2002, according to NYPD figures. Only 44,695 of those were for serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, assault, grand larceny, burglary and car theft. The remaining 294,093 collars were for quality-of life, petty criminal activity.

The next year, total arrests dipped to 334,562, with 292,590 for minor crimes.

After that, the arrest numbers took off every year, reaching a peak in 2010.

That year, the NYPD arrested 422,982 people, with 383,869 of them for minor offenses.

That is nearly 90,000 more people put through the criminal justice system for up to three days than there were in 2002 — or an average of nearly 250 more arrests every day for minor offenses.

Some experts believe that the ramping up of quality-of-life arrests likely played a greater role in the city’s historic crime drop than stop-and-frisk, insofar as a only portion of those pulled off the street are hardened criminals.

“Does this approach sweep up some criminals? Yes,” a former police official told “On The Inside.” "Does it keep them from doing something worse? Probably.

“But is it worth what it is costing the city in terms of overtime, police-community relations, and clogging the court system?" the official said in reference to the ramped-up zero tolerance policy. "I don't think so.”

In fact, roughly 10 percent of all NYPD quality-of-life arrests get tossed out by the city’s five district attorneys and judges without any court action even taken, court statistics show.

During the Bloomberg era, overall crime has declined roughly 30 percent since 2002, with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly crediting stop-and-frisk, the targeting of gangs and flooding crime hot spots with rookie cops as the prime reasons.

“On the Inside” first reported last year that skyrocketing stop-and-frisks had no statistical impact on shootings and gun seizures during Bloomberg’s era.

This column also reported that the "zero tolerance" policy led to the arrest of a seminary student in town on a class trip. A group of students was heading to Lincoln Center with opera tickets in hand when one was arrested in the subway for carrying a 1-inch pocket knife on a keychain.

“That seminary student should not have been arrested,” a former top NYPD tactician said.

“There are bad actors out there and they are doing bad things, and if they are taken off the streets for a minor offense, they are not committing a robbery, a burglary or a rip-off,” the official continued. “At the end of the day, crime is going to go down, and there is a validation to the overly zealous approach because it is a secret to the success.”

But even perceived successes, he quickly added, need to be constantly tweaked because they can become “numbers games” with serious risks.

“You have to constantly re-evaluate what you are doing and ask, 'Are you getting the right persons?' the former strategist said. “What do these numbers really mean?”