New York isn’t the first city to see police slowdowns in which officers do the minimum required, NPR reports. There are several names for it, such as “depolicing” and “rule-book protest.” Kristen Ziman, a police commander in Aurora, Il., calls it “Blue Flu.” Her department suffered a bad case of it in 2011 after it laid off eight officers. She says the remaining officers became less effective; traffic stops dropped by double digits. Last summer, police in Memphis called in sick in droves when the city reduced health benefits. That may be a factor in New York, where officers are in contract talks with the city. “In the simplest terms,” explains retired Seattle officer Mike Severance, “officers aren’t doing proactive police work. They’ll respond to their calls, you know, if something heinous happens … But you’re not going out looking for the bad guys.”
Severance says de-policing happens when officers feel stretched too thin or overburdened by bureaucracy. It also happens when police feel whiplashed by what seem to be contradictory demands. Merrick Bobb, who has been advising cities on police reform since the 1990s, remembers seeing slowdowns during the reform process in Los Angeles. “What I think you see in New York is an angry, sullen, in-your-face kind of rejection of the mayor and anybody else who sees fit to criticize the police,” he says. Bobb says the New York Police Department may be due for a fundamental reform program, such as those imposed on other cities by the Justice Department. That approach would not go over well with unions.