Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

13Nov/140

John Jay College Presents Findings on Misdemeanor Arrests in New York

A report was released last month by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice looking at low level policing practices in the State of New York. Not to our surprise, there was a finding that the most pronounced increase in policing activity was with "minority" men, particularly African American and Hispanic.

You can find the report here, with the specific race data breakdown beginning on page 39 of the report, and the conclusion and implications described beginning on page 76.

I hope everyone is clear that the kinds of findings presented in this report, and more specifically the powder keg dynamic that is created by these policing practices, are very consistent with what we're seeing in Ferguson, Missouri.

Listening to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton talk about these dynamics with Connie Rice of the Advancement Project, it's clear that the leadership in New York City are far more comfortable reflecting on this especially huge injustice, particularly when compared to their counterparts in Ferguson, St. Louis, and the State of Missouri more generally.

From the conclusion:

We hope that this report will prompt wide-ranging policy discussions about the role
of arrests in our response to misdemeanor crimes. Each of the arrests presented
here reflects a decision by a police officer to exercise an important power granted
under the law – the discretionary power to hold someone that is believed to have
committed a crime for court processing. This report raises a host of questions about
significant, sometimes dramatic, shifts in the exercise of that power. Why has it
happened? How much was driven by policy choices? How much of the change in
arrest patterns is responsible for changes in victim calls for service? How much of
this phenomenon can be attributed to the availability of police resources freed up by
declining felony arrest rates? How much does this heightened use of misdemeanor
arrests reflect strategies designed to respond to community concerns about “quality
of life” offenses? These important issues can be better understood and debated with
the data provided in this report. We plan to hold a national conference at John Jay
College of Criminal Justice in Spring, 2015, funded by the Arnold Foundation, to
provide a platform for these discussions.

This report also powerfully illustrates the reality that increases in enforcement
activity have not been evenly distributed across or within these cities. On the
contrary, the increase has been concentrated among young minority men. This
reality raises questions about fairness, perceptions of legitimacy within an important
demographic, and changes in patterns of crime. It further highlights the need to
consistently document race/ethnic and age-related trends in criminal justice
processes to better understand how social burdens disproportionately impact young
minority men. The report also underscores the importance of better understanding
the role of prosecutors and judges in processing and adjudicating these arrests. Each
of these arrests is subjected to legal and judicial review and consumes significant
resources of a system facing daunting resource constraints. Finally, we hope that
these analyses will lead to an examination of the role of government in responding to
low level criminal behavior and problematic community conditions. In some cases, a
misdemeanor arrest should be viewed as only one option in our response to
misdemeanor crime. Other options that may be far more effective should be
explored.

From the report overview from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice:

The purpose of the study was to explore and compare trends in misdemeanor arrests from 1980 to 2013 by analyzing data from the New York Police Department, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the United States Census. This marks the first time that a comprehensive and comparative data set has been created to analyze these trends. This analysis will help frame the ongoing discussions about law enforcement and criminal justice practices regarding appropriate responses to low-level crimes.

There were four key findings from these rigorous data analyses. First, New York City – as well as other cities in New York State – experienced significant increases in the number and rate of misdemeanor arrests from 1980 to 2013. Second, young minority men have experienced the greatest increases in misdemeanor arrests in New York City. Third, there is significant variation in New York City in the kinds of charges for these arrests, their disposition and subsequent sentence, and how they are initially processed. Fourth, the increases in misdemeanor arrests are not uniform across New York City. Indeed, there is significant variation by precincts.

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