Posted in Rants on January 5th, 2015 by Ed

In the era of downsizing, we all secretly fear our employers discovering that we are expendable. You take a couple of weeks off for a vacation, family leave, illness, or whatnot and the company finds that things worked just as well without your presences as they do when you're around. Of course in a bad job market this is possible because some other poor sap got stuck with all of your responsibilities in your absence without any additional compensation. Imagine if instead they found out that 90% of what you do is completely unnecessary. The company has been paying you to spend 10% of your time running payroll and the other 90% writing songs on the accordion. When you're absent, suddenly they realize that maybe a company that makes HVAC equipment doesn't need an accordionist at all.

Even if 2/3 of the work you do was found to be superfluous, the logic of the free market would have your employer showing you the exit door in short order. The situation is different in the public sector where people are harder to fire, but you would expect roughly similar logic to apply. So sometime in the next week I'm assuming we'll see about half of the NYPD laid off.

Using a technique as old as organized labor (or even disorganized but disgruntled labor) the officers of the NYPD have been engaged in a slowdown, although some media incorrectly call it a "work stoppage." They're showing up to work but making only arrests deemed "absolutely necessary." Which, you know, raises the question: How many arrests have they been making all these years that don't meet that standard? Has the largest metropolitan PD in the country not basically admitted that the vast majority of the arrests they make have almost no bearing on public safety?

Simply put, if the NYPD could cut its arrests by 60-80% without adversely affecting the city – and by all accounts New York has hardly noticed the difference – why in the hell haven't they already done it?

A police slowdown does not prove, as cops might wish, that America turns into Thunderdome without them. It proves that they're making an awful lot of arrests and issuing a huge number of citations that collectively accomplish absolutely nothing beyond raising money and trapping people in the Sarlaac pit of the justice system? To the first point, did anyone notice during the Michael Brown ordeal that the Ferguson PD gave out ten thousand more arrest warrants in 2013 than there are people in Ferguson? Ten thousand. Start with one non-violent crime, let the administrative fees and fines pile up, and the next thing you know you're wanted. The police then set out to arrest you because you haven't handed over enough money from the last time they arrested you. Repeat ad infinitum.

State and local budgets are pinched, your State Legislature doesn't have the political balls to raise taxes, and there are huge surplus populations that the economy decided it doesn't need and who need to be warehoused or at least Kept in Their Place. So the police do the municipal version of a bake sale, except instead of cookies they hand out thousands of expensive fines for petty crimes. Those who pay are a lucrative source of income, essentially off-the-books tax collection. Those who don't pay – well, there's another bucketful of violations you can use to drown them.

Ideally this would be a Teachable Moment for our society, an opportunity to reflect and ask ourselves some important questions about what we value. Is it possible we have too many laws? That rabid enforcement of those laws isn't making us any safer? Are candy-assed old white legislators trying to look tough by passing the most punitive laws they can imagine doing more to harm our cities and towns than the crimes themselves? Have police departments completely lost focus on the meaning of "public safety" in favor of writing as many citations and making as many arrests as possible? Light bulbs should be appearing over our heads, collectively: "The cops stopped making most of the arrests they make and it hasn't made one goddamn lick of difference. What the hell have we been doing all these years??"

That's a pipe dream, though. Some people know perfectly well, though they would never admit it, that they see rounding up poor people as the entire point of law enforcement. Keeping the dark people and the mulleted hillbillies away from our nice homes on whatever pretense can be concocted is precisely what the police are supposed to do. How depressing it will be over the next few weeks to realize that for some of our fellow citizens will applaud when the NYPD resumes the majority of arrests deemed unnecessary when they want to make a political statement.