The number of arrests made by police in New York city has tumbled by as much as 66 per cent amid a bitter disagreement between officers and the city’s civilian leadership. The number of citations for traffic offences and minor crimes has fallen by as much as 90 per cent.
Officials at the main police unions have officially denied officers are not responding to crimes, but reports say privately officers have admitted they are enforcing a deliberate slowdown because of the stand-off with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“This is not a slowdown for slowdown’s sake,” one police source told the New York Post. “Cops are concerned, after the reaction from City Hall on the Garner case, about de Blasio not backing them.”
The dispute focuses on claims by officers that the mayor has not sufficiently supported the force amid a national controversy over the treatment of black suspects by some officers. Indeed, Mr de Blasio went as far as to say that he had advised his son, Dante, who is of mixed race, to “take special care” in any encounter with police officers.
The nationwide concern, that has let to protests in many US cities, has been fuelled by events such as the shooting dead by a policeman of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Eric Garner, a 46-year-old man from New York, who died after police placed him in an unauthorised choke-hold.
The anger has been further fuelled by a series of decisions in which officials announced they would not be charging the officers over the deaths of the suspects.
The fall-out between Mr de Blasio and the New York Police Department was underscored following the shooting deaths of two officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were killed last week in New York.
The gunman, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who subsequently killed himself, had posted anti-police messages online, referring to the cases of Mr Garner and Mr Brown.
In the aftermath of the deaths of the officers, killed in their patrol car by Brinsley, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, claimed Mr de Blasio had “blood on his hands”.
At a press conference held at the hospital where the bodies of the patrolmen were taken, a number of officers turned their backs on Mr de Blasio as he left the building. Officers performed a similar act of public disrespect when the mayor delivered a eulogy at Mr Ramos’s funeral service last Saturday.
Officers representatives have said part of the reason for the slowdown in arrests is a concern over safety. Reports in the US media say officers have been warned to exercise “discretion”. One union president reportedly told officers: “The the rules are made by them to hurt you. Well now we’ll use those rules to protect us.”
In an effort to defuse the crisis, Mr de Blasio this week talked with the representatives of five police unions in a two-hour meeting in Queens. Reports said a union head lectured Mr de Blasio on public relations while the mayor defended his record and told the officials to go back and check his comments supporting the force.
“There was no yelling,” Al O’Leary, a spokesman for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest police union, told the New York Times. “And there was no laughing.”
It remains to be seen how the dispute will be resolved. There is broad support for the police force across the city. But the force risks a backlash if people believe officers are not keeping the city safe as a result of the disagreement with the mayor.
Meanwhile, an annual report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that 50 officers were killed by guns in 2014, a sharp increase from 32 deaths in 2013. Despite that, police deaths by guns remain far below a high of 156 in 1973.
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