For some New Yorkers, there are broken windows wherever they go.
Critics of the NYPD’s aggressive policing of quality-of-life offenses to prevent more serious ones — a strategy known as “broken windows” — say it has created a tale of two cities, one primarily populated by whites, where minor infractions like drinking on a stoop or smoking a joint are rarely punished, and another, primarily populated by blacks and Hispanics, where walking down the street could be cause for interrogation.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said the disproportionate number of summonses for low-level offenses doled out in minority communities are a result of cops concentrating their efforts on “the most problematic areas of the city,” riddled by crime and quality-of-life complaints.
“Very often times our enforcement activities in the communities, based on a study that we have out there at the moment about quality-of-life enforcement, are based on 311 and 911 calls, service requests, complaints that we receive,” he said at a City Council hearing on Monday.
But a new analysis by the Daily News has found this tale of two cities seems to follow blacks and Hispanics wherever they go. Not only do the communities where they are the majority get slapped with far more summonses — they are also far more likely to be ticketed in low-crime, primarily white communities.
The disparity in summons activity is highest in the 24th Precinct (Upper West Side – North), where blacks and Hispanics make up just 34% of the population but received an estimated 84% of the summonses, and the 84th Precinct (Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO), where they made up 28% of the population but received 78% of the summonses — both a spread of 50 percentage points.
That’s followed by the 20th Precinct (Upper West Side – South) with a 48-point spread, the 19th Precinct (Upper East Side – South) with a 43-point spread, and the 13th Precinct (Gramercy) with a 42-point spread.
The analysis also found blacks and Hispanics received the vast majority of summonses for scores of common offenses, such as disorderly conduct (88%), loitering (89%), spitting (92%) and failure to have a dog license (91%) — even though the Health Department estimates that less than 17% of dogs citywide are licensed.
“In terms of quality-of-life types of offenses, those are in fact actual criminal acts witnessed by a police officer or violations of city ordinances — traffic offenses, littering — all these things are in fact against the law,” Bratton said on WNYC in August. “If people would obey the law, then they would not draw the attention of the police.”
The NYPD declined repeated requests to comment for this article.
For this analysis, The News looked at state Office of Court Administration data on 6.9 million criminal court summonses issued between 2001 and 2013 — a period that was almost entirely under former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly — and NYPD numbers on precinct demographics.
Dozens of agencies can issue summonses, but the vast majority that come through the criminal courts are handed out by cops.
The News based its estimates on the 1.7 million summonses from police precincts that contained information about the recipient’s race.
The analysis found blacks and Hispanics received a disproportionate share of summonses, with a spread of 20 percentage points or greater in 32 of the city’s 75 police precincts.
The only precincts where the share of summonses received by blacks and Hispanics were close to their representation in the population were ones where they made up more than 90% of residents.
“The traditional law enforcement excuse is that black and Latino neighborhoods suffer from disproportionately higher shares of crime, and that’s why broken windows is disproportionately enforced. These numbers reveal that the broken windows strategy targets blacks and Latinos all throughout the City of New York, even in neighborhoods of relatively low crime,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn).
Jeffries was one of six New York members of Congress who sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month calling for an investigation into constitutional and civil rights violations stemming from broken windows, citing an earlier report by The News that found blacks and Hispanics, who make up about half of the city’s population, received an estimated 81% of the summonses.
“We have not gotten a formal response yet,” said Jeffries. “Congress returns into a session on Monday, and I expect that we will actively engage with the (Justice Department) upon our return.”
The News’ estimates also found blacks and Hispanics’ share of summonses varied based on the offense.
For example, the two groups received a share of summonses close to their proportion of the population for offenses such as operating a commercial bicycle without an ID card or nameplate, smoking where it is illegal, and providing alcohol to someone younger than 21.
But for most offenses, their share was far greater than their percent of the population.
In the Upper West Side – North, which was tied for having the biggest disparities, blacks and Hispanics got 131 of the 143 summonses for spitting that contained race data, 160 of the 232 summonses for failure to have a dog license that had race data, and 394 of the 411 summonses for loitering that had the information.
Eric Jones, a 40-year-old black sanitation worker, said he felt targeted when cops wrote him an open container ticket near Columbia University, in the 26th Precinct, which had a 40-point spread between the black and Hispanic share of the population and their percentage of summonses.
“I wasn’t actually carrying a cup. It wasn’t even in my hand,” said Jones. “They said I was the closest person to it, so it’s yours.”
“There’s lots of white folks in my neighborhood; they’ll be drinking on their stoops in their brownstones,” said Jones. “But the tickets are getting written to minorities.”
The News found blacks and Hispanics received an estimated 87% of the open container summonses in the Morningside Heights precinct, which is dominated by the Columbia and City College of New York campuses. They also received 93% of the summonses for unlawful possession of marijuana.
A new summons form was issued in 2010 that removed race entirely. As the old form was phased out, fewer and fewer summonses contained information about the race of the recipients. By last year, only 2% of the forms contained the identifying feature.
“The disparities jump off the page, but they also make it clear that we need to have a systemic way of gathering complete information about who’s getting summonses and for what,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We don’t know whether the racial disparities persist in the way that they did in the past.”
Bratton said at the hearing Monday that the summons forms are designed by the state.
“They’re not designed by us. So to change the form I’m not sure what the rationale was for changing the information field, but we would not be opposed to bringing back to those forms that classification,” he said.
A class-action lawsuit was filed shortly before the new form was issued, accusing the NYPD of pressuring cops to issue bogus summonses in order to fill quotas, in a practice that “disparately impacts” minorities.
“They’re going to issue summonses to minorities . . . because there’s the perception that these groups won’t assert their rights,” said Gerald Cohen, an attorney in that case.
Criminal court summons activity has continued its downward trend under Bratton, with 15% fewer issued this year as compared with last, according to the most recent CompStat report.
While still defending broken windows as a crime-fighting strategy, Mayor de Blasio told reporters last week that ensuring efforts are “applied fairly and equally” will be part of a department-wide retraining.
“We’re going to apply the law equally. We want people in every community to know they’re going to be treated fairly. We have more work to do,” de Blasio said.
With Laura Bult, Thomas Tracy and Erin Durkin