The Price Of Quality of Life

A settlement has been reached in Stinson v. City of New York, a class-action lawsuit seeking damages against the City for for making the quality of life for blacks and Latinos suck so that the quality of life in the good neighborhoods wouldn’t.

New York City has agreed to pay up to $75 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit that accused its Police Department of issuing hundreds of thousands of criminal summonses that were later found to be without legal justification, according to a signed copy of the proposed deal filed on Monday.

The summonses had been issued for typically minor offenses, like disorderly conduct, trespassing and drinking in public — quality-of-life concerns that had been a major theme of policing in New York for two decades or so.

The link is to Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s “quality of life” initiative, but this was all the rage back when Giuliani was mayor and Bratton was still police chief the first time, before Rudy fired him for being more popular than he was.

The New York City Police Department yesterday announced a citywide campaign that would make it more difficult for people committing minor offenses like urinating in public and possessing marijuana to escape punishment.

Pursuing Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s theme of improving the quality of life in the city, the Police Department will overhaul procedures for issuing Criminal Court summonses, with the goal of reducing the number of evaders. Under the current system, only a fraction of people given summonses show up in court.

The Stinson settlement, in contrast to the consent decrees that have become more appreciated in anticipation that they won’t be coming from Sessions’ Department of Justice, actually does something. It puts $150 in the hands of the people who got spanked with bogus Quality of LIfe summons that failed to establish probable cause.

Will the defendants actually get the cash? Who knows? Experience suggests that sending out letters notifying people of their eligibility isn’t going to be very effective. People have a tendency to move around, and a lot of people gave phony addresses in the first place. It was a common practice to beat the summons system.

Many offenders now evade summonses by giving false names and addresses or simply by not appearing in court, the police said. In addition, warrants for failure to appear are not issued because cases go unrecorded on court calendars.

“We have about three-quarters of the people who get summonses thumb their noses at them,” said Jeremy Travis, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters.

Jeremy knows. He used to be a Legal Aid lawyer before he went to the dark side. But now that Stinson has been settled, all is right with the post “stop and frisk” world?

New York City’s crime rate continues to plummet, even though the city has backed away from abusive policing strategies that the Police Department once viewed as essential to keeping people safe. With a proposed court settlement filed on Monday, the city is trying to turn the page on a period when black and Latino New Yorkers in some neighborhoods were routinely stopped and frisked by police officers or issued unjustified criminal summonses for minor offenses, like disorderly conduct, trespassing or public drinking.

If something seems awkward about this, there is a good reason. Stop and frisk is now recognized as an abusive program, not because the phrase, borrowed from Terry v. Ohio, was wrong, but because of its implementation.

The suit challenged the constitutionality of the summons process and argued that the Police Department had pressured officers to issue sham summonses — an allegation that the city denied.

Years ago, everybody, notably including the same New York Times that now calls it abusive and extols its demise, demanded that New York City put an end to “Quality of Life” crimes, the ones that made life for the nice New Yorkers unpleasant. Remember the Squeegee Men? Horrifying. This must be stopped!

At the same time, CompStat was born, and we loved empiricism as the thing that would save us from this very evil, the subjective notion of who was a bad hombre so that the cops would persist in arresting blacks and Hispanics because everybody knew they were more criminal-ish.

And yet, the only thing empiricism did was provide cover for the cops to focus on Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx because the numbers said that’s where the crime was. Of course, that’s what the numbers said because that’s where the cops focused. Empiricism is wonderful, except for that GIGO problem.

The complaint was that the cops were given quotas, and so they went out, issued bogus summonses to make their numbers. This isn’t quite accurate, as CompStat informed the police that they should be issuing X number of summonses, make Y number of arrests, and when a precinct fell short, its commander was obviously not doing his job. Since shit flows downhill, he took it out on his underperforming cops, who then had to do their 20 summonses by the end of the month to keep the brass from breathing down their neck. If he happened across you, you lost the summons lottery. Too bad, so sad.*

New York was good with it, however, and by New York, that includes the New York Times. After all, who was against a better quality of life? But everybody is against quotas and discrimination. The difference is that back in the 90s, quality of life was the trite phrase that got everybody up in arms. In the 2010s, the bill came due.

The New York Times now notes that the “crime rate continues to plummet.”

The year ended with fewer than 1,000 shootings, a record low. There were fewer murders (335) than in 2015 (352), fewer rapes, fewer burglaries, fewer robberies. Over all, 101,606 major-category crimes were reported in 2016, compared with 105,921 in 2015.

Except these aren’t the offenses involves in Stinson. These aren’t the crimes for which sham summonses were issued and kids tossed against brick walls and concrete sidewalks. What this tells us is that Bill Bratton’s “broken windows” theory, that quality of life offenses are the gateway to more serious crimes, may not be accurate. What this also tell us is that the “stop and frisk” that former Chief Ray Kelly informed us was the only thing standing between good New Yorkers and rapists may not have had anything to do with the crime rate.

What all of this informs us is that our tendency to embrace simplistic policies, the sort of stuff that can be explained in a twit and leads us to think, “well, that kinda makes sense,” ends up badly. Whoever musters the best rhetorical device captures our hearts when it comes to fixing whatever problem is on the front burner today. And we shamelessly flip-flop when it turns out that the collateral consequences of an unduly simplistic grasp of criminal law and process does more harm than good.

And yet, we continue to do the same thing, latching on to the phrase that best suits our fears and sensibilities at any given moment. For more than a generation, quality of life was the mantra in New York City. The price is $75 million and a lot of needless misery. On to the next quick fix.

*And for those who thought judges, sitting as initial arbiters of probable cause might prevent harm from happening, they didn’t.

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