‘Overpolicing’ Still Common in NYC Black Neighborhoods, Report Finds

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Photo by Dave Hosford via Flickr.

When Bill de Blasio first ran for mayor of New York City, seven years ago, he promised to ensure that police take a less aggressive approach, especially in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. 

That pledge has still not been fulfilled. 

Although the total number of arrests, criminal summonses and pedestrian stops all fell in recent years, Black neighborhoods across New York City have continued to be policed at a higher rate than white communities, according to a new report released this week by the Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

 John Jay College researchers Luke Scrivener, Allie Meizlish, Erica Bond and Preeti Chauhan found that in 2018, there were 5.8 enforcement actions against Black people for every one enforcement against a white person. 

“Despite significant efforts to shrink the footprint of the criminal justice system, we still see these racial disparities,” Erica Bond, the data center’s policy director, told the New York Times. 

For their research, the authors examined New York City’s enforcement rates from 2003 to 2018, adding years of data to a previous DCJ report from 2015. They also analyzed crime trends, arrest data, criminal justice policies, and looked for changes in disparities in police enforcement by race/ethnicity, age, and sex. 

Their key findings uncover data on overall enforcement rates of the New York Police Department (NYPD) rates of NYPD enforcement against young people, frequent offenses, and racial disparities. 

Key Findings

In terms of overall enforcement rates, the researchers found that in 2018, there were 1,187,643 fewer combined arrests, criminal summonses, and pedestrian stops (“enforcement actions”) than in 2011.

Moreover, between 2011 and 2018, the greatest declines for felonies, misdemeanors, and criminal summonses were for charges related to drugs and alcohol. “Although arrests involving drugs and alcohol were subject to some of the starkest decreases, these charges were still some of the most frequently enforced offenses in 2018,” the researchers added. 

However, racial disparities have persisted over the years.  

Even though the researchers found that overall enforcement rates have see-sawed between 2003 and 2018, racial and ethnic disparities have persisted in terms of police enforcement. The new report details that Black New Yorkers are still being arrested and civility stopped at nearly twice the rate of the average city resident. 

In 2018 alone, the DCJ researchers discovered that “Black people had an enforcement rate of 7,795 enforcement actions per 100,000 Black individuals, Hispanic people had an enforcement rate of 4,188 per 100,000 Hispanic individuals, and White people had an enforcement rate of 1,334 enforcement actions per 100,000 White individuals.”

Put simply, there were 5.8 law enforcement actions taken against Black New Yorkers for every one enforcement action against a White person in 2018. 

This finding holds true across different age groups for that same year. 

For people aged 16-17, the Black enforcement rate was nine times greater than the white enforcement, 7.9 times greater for Black enforcement than white enforcement for 18-20-year-olds, and 7.8 times greater for Black enforcement than white enforcement for 21-24-year-olds, the DCJ report documented. 

“Everything is different about policing in communities of color, and it always has been,” Delores Jones-Brown, a visiting professor of criminal justice at Howard University, told the New York Times.

“Black people, especially young people, don’t get to enjoy public space in same way whites do.”

NYPD officials, when asked for comment, did not respond on the report’s findings, but they did tell the New York Times that 911 calls determine enforcement, not the Police Department.

“It’s the nature of police assignments that you put the bulk of your cops on the dots — the hot spots, if you will,” William Bratton, the former commissioner, said in an interview with the New York Times

“Those hot spots are based on call workloads and complaints, and there are a much larger proportion of them in poor minority neighborhoods,” Bratton concluded. 

The DCJ report’s findings come at a critical time, as New York, like other cities across America, is seeing a sharp spike in violent crimes in the wake of the George Floyd and police reform protests that have enveloped the city. 

And, these findings emerge in an “exceptionally fraught political moment,” as NYPD officials and city leaders are scrambling to get the rising gun violence under control, the New York Times reports. 

Overall, Preeti Chauhan, one of the authors on the paper and the DCJ center’s director, told the New York Times that to better understand the racial disparities uncovered in this research, more data is needed regarding how the NYPD deploys officers after receiving 911 calls, and how many stops and arrests are “discretionary” as opposed to responses to calls for service.

For now, the authors conclude, more most be done to understand the divers of these blatant disparities, and our communities must come together to support those who are enduring the heightened enforcement. 

Luke Scrivener, M.S., is a Research Associate at the Data Collaborative for Justice where he primarily uses statistical and geo-spatial methods to analyze administrative and Census data.

Allie Meizlish, J.D., is a Policy Consultant for the Data Collaborative for Justice. Previously,  Allie was the Deputy Director of the Policing Project at New York University School of Law and the Senior Counsel for Crime & Justice Policy at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ).

Erica Bond J.D., is the Policy Director for the Data Collaborative for Justice where she brings expertise in the areas of the government, non-profit, public policy, and legal sectors.

Preeti Chauhan, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is also the Principal Investigator and Founding Director of the Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ).

The full Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice report can be accessed here. 

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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