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Op-Ed: Bratton’s Hiding Broken-Windows Data (NY Daily News)

by Donna Lieberman

The death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD gave New Yorkers a rare peek into the grim reality of broken windows policing.

To echo the Aug. 4 Daily News cover, the NYPD’s broken windows policing strategy is beyond broken. We can tell that much from the numbers that are available — which reveal profound racial skewing in enforcement of minor crimes.

But how much deeper does the problem go? The truth is, we don’t really know, and that’s a crime of its own.

Last year, the NYPD stopped collecting even modest information on the race and ethnicity of New Yorkers who receive summonses for crimes as small as spitting on sidewalks and failure to have a dog license.

It has to reverse this error — and start proactively collecting and sharing that data.

It’s obvious that there are major problems waiting to be revealed. As reported in The News, a New York Civil Liberties Union analysis indicates that 81% of New Yorkers slapped with a criminal summons between 2001 and 2013 for minor infractions are black or Latino.

Unfortunately, this is at best an educated guess about the true scope of the problem, because the NYPD has not been collecting demographic data on a majority of its summonses for years. From 2001 to 2012, the NYPD only collected race data on about 30% of summonses. In 2013, that number dropped significantly, to just 4%.

So, are young black and Latino men currently the ones who overwhelmingly get summonses for riding bikes on sidewalks, open containers or minuscule amounts of marijuana?

From what we’ve seen, yes. But the Police Department’s data collection follows a see-no-evil approach. That’s ironic coming from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who is a self-proclaimed enthusiast for collecting and crunching numbers.

His NYPD must immediately prioritize recording basic demographic information about the New Yorkers it is targeting with criminal summonses. And then that information must be publicly reported.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn) just introduced a bill to make courts across the state collect, track and release summons data to the public.

This is a lesson we should have learned from stop-and-frisk. From its early days, the Bloomberg administration cherry-picked crime data to support its claim that the NYPD’s racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk program was all about getting criminals — and guns — off the streets. Supposedly, it was therefore necessary for public safety.

Uncensored stop-and-frisk data told another story: The tactic wasn’t targeting criminals, it rarely led to an arrest and it almost never resulted in seizure of a gun.

Transparency enabled us to learn the scope of the practice, its impact, and its risks and benefits.

Today, we have the lowest number of street stops since the NYPD started tracking the data, and New Yorkers have the information we need to hold this administration, and the one that comes next, accountable.

But stop-and-frisk is just one shard of the NYPD’s own broken window. The department’s most frequent activity is issuing summonses for minor infractions like riding a bike on a sidewalk or even spitting. From 2001 to 2013, the NYPD issued nearly 6.9 million such summonses — almost 2 million more than the number of stop-and-frisks.

The consequences for a summons can be far more disastrous for people than a stop-and-frisk. If you get a summons, you’re required to go to court, perhaps take off from work and jeopardize your job, pay $300 in court fees and wait in lines for hours. If you fail to appear, the court issues a warrant for your arrest. Last year, there were more than a million open warrants based on summons charges.

We can’t forget the lessons of stop-and-frisk just because the numbers are low today. If almost 81% of summonses are being issued to black and Latino people, we must know before we once again have a national shame on our hands.

Lieberman is executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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