The One Simple Policy Change That Bill de Blasio Should Make to Fix the NYPD

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Nov. 6 2013 2:22 PM

The One Simple Policy Change That Bill de Blasio Should Make to Fix the NYPD

Bill De Blasio.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

On Tuesday, New York City voters elected Public Advocate Bill de Blasio as the city’s first Democratic mayor since David Dinkins took office in 1989. Among other things, de Blasio has promised to reform the New York Police Department by reining in its controversial stop-and-frisk program and replacing Commissioner Ray Kelly. Both of these moves would be reasonable ones, and would go a long way toward re-establishing community trust. But it’s just as important for de Blasio to reform the department’s quota-and-stat-driven policing culture, which is the root cause of odious policies like stop-and-frisk.

Though the NYPD has officially denied that its officers face any stop, summons, or arrest quotas, plenty of evidence suggests otherwise. In 2008 Officer Adrian Schoolcraft began surreptitously taping his bosses exhorting him and his fellow cops to meet various quotas in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Though Schoolcraft was made a pariah, an internal NYPD investigation later validated his claims. Around the same time, Officer Pedro Serrano began making his own tapes that indicated similar practices in his own South Bronx precinct. More recently, several New Yorkers filed a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD alleging that quotas were responsible for “about 700,000 questionable summonses since 2007.”


Quotas aren’t just controversial, they’re counterproductive. They demoralize both working police officers and the members of the communities they serve. As NYPD union leader Patrick Lynch wrote in a Daily News op-ed this October, “Quotas are the worst possible way to try to produce more effective policing. They risk turning officers into automatons and fuel predictable, pervasive distrust between cops and communities.”

So why do these policies persist, both in New York and elsewhere? Blame City Hall. A rising crime rate can be fatal to a mayor’s broader ambitions. Thus, elected officials will pressure the police commissioner to keep the crime rate down—to “do more with less,” in the soulless, detached jargon of our times. The police chief passes those orders on to his subordinates, who in turn exert pressure on rank-and-file cops to stay active and effective.

Too often, though, “activity” means issuing superfluous summonses and harassing innocent people for no real reason, while “efficacy” means ignoring or downgrading reports of serious crime. “Certainly, there's enforcement value to issuing tickets and stopping people on the street,” Graham Rayman, who broke the Schoolcraft story, acknowledged in the Village Voice in 2010:

[B]ut the true value of this "activity," the [Schoolcraft] tapes indicate, was that it offered proof that the precinct commander and his officers were doing their jobs. With those numbers, the precinct boss could go to police headquarters with ammunition. Low numbers meant criticism and demotion; high numbers meant praise and promotion.

This maddening, oafish emphasis on “looking busy” is what’s really behind the NYPD’s abuses of stop-and-frisk. Bill de Blasio can spark serious police reform by making it clear that, in his administration, quotas and statistical manipulations won’t be tolerated, and he can appoint a police commissioner who will follow through on that promise. If he does that, then New York’s short-term crime rate may well rise, as precincts stop policing to make the numbers look good rather than to keep neighborhoods safe. But the department will never truly change until and unless City Hall instructs it to stop prizing appearances over meaningful results.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?