Bureaucracy and the NYPD Slowdown

NYPD BadgeOver the last few days, I’ve watched the goings on with the police force slowdown in New York with some interest.  As the police have done less, there has been little change in overall crime.  Opponents say this is proof that there is something amiss in the NYPD and their tactics.  In truth, it hasn’t been long enough to prove much of anything except arrests and citations do not necessarily make a society safer.  To me, it unearths the shows the inherent problems with the modern bureaucracy.

Since a society without codified rules can be an unwelcoming place, especially to minority viewpoints, a bureaucracy is necessary.  The problem is that we often go too far and end up codifying social norms and making minor offenses subject to fines.  This leads to arbitrary, asymmetrical justice and increases mistrust of the system.

Vincent Freeman, Illegal jaywalker for the sake of a womanTake jaywalking.  With the rise in autos, many cities made it illegal because drivers disapproved of people crossing willy-nilly.  It made sense as it could improve driver and pedestrian safety.  Upon enforcement however, government bureaucracy makes it is a mess. 

Example: A person jaywalks and a police officer stops them.  In this situation, the officer has great leeway depending on the overall interaction.  They could:

  1. Let the person go after warning them on the dangers
  2. Run their name through the warrant system
  3. Pat them down to see if they are committing other crimes
  4. Write them a jaywalking citation

Ideally, all involved would want the least invasive to happen.  The police officer to tell them not to do it again and leave the matter at that.  However, the bureaucracy prevents this.  There are ticket quotas or standard operating procedures to run names or to stop and frisk people committing minor offenses.

What happens is that more often than not after a citizen’s private life is reviewed, they end up with a citation.  Even if they go to court and prove themselves innocent, they still pay court costs and take time out of their lives to fight it.  So in the end, it is often lose-lose interaction when a police officer stops a citizen.

What makes this more insidious is that getting caught for jaywalking varies depending on where it happened in a city.  Police patrol more in high-crime areas.  These tend to be poorer neighborhoods that are statistically more likely to have a greater portion of minorities.  So, citizens in these areas end up with more citations and more negative perceptions of the police.

This hurts neighborhoods.  It makes people avoid police.  Many have had run ins for minor offences, and those who haven’t feel they can get scrutinized for trivial matters.  Often the citizenry becomes disdainful, making interactions with authorities tenser than they need to be.  Polices in-turn feel many of the citizens they protect are criminals, given their reluctance to communicate amicably.

In the short-term, I think the slowdown is good for New Yorkers in general.  It will give people time to cool off.  If it continues long-term, it might be of questionable benefit as society adjusts to these changes. 

It would be a good time to rethink how police should interact with who they protect.  They could start by abandoning revenue (citation) generating quotas.  This simple change would lessen the adversarial nature of many interactions as police no longer target minor infractions in an effort to stay employed.

Real Gun Control Won’t Happen

I have been following the gun control debate after the Sandy Hook shootings with an interest toward how we’ll fail to accomplish much of anything lasting.  Sure, there will be laws passed at all levels of government as well as the inevitable lawsuits.  However, these will not solve the basic problems causing gun violence in the US.

NRA is right; gun aren’t the cause, they are the tools of violence.  However, much of the rest of their rhetoric, such as if we ban guns only criminals will have them, is insipid and lends nothing to the debate.

Gun control advocates are also have some facts on their side.  There is too many guns in the US today.  Though they are short-sighted to think that stricter laws or outright bans will do anything in the near to mid-term.

The problems are societal.  Some are a part of our DNA, which started hundreds of years ago as the Europeans kicked out the Native Americans.  The solutions are difficult culturally but need not be expensive and insurmountable.

  1. Better mental healthcare, especially for young men.  Face it, men are more likely to murder.  It also takes an odd duck to go into a place and kill unarmed people.  One change is to update state and local laws to make it easier for people to get loved ones help.  Also we need religious, social,and charitable help lines for those who see help on their own.
  2. Increase work opportunities for ex-con and those with lower skills and education.  This would not have helped the children Sandy Hook, but at some of the 30,000+ deaths from guns a year could be prevented if people people had something legal to do.
  3. Legalization of drugs, starting with marijuana.  Gang deaths were around 29,400 in 2011.  Legalization of drug would significantly lower gun violence by taking the profit out of the trade.  Who would go to a dealer when you could pick up a pack of joints at Walmart?  Mexico would thank us too.
  4. Less ghettoization.  Most poor live in poor areas clustered together, especially in cities.  Current zoning laws play a heavy roll in this.  Richer areas set zoning laws that stifle affordable housing such as apartments and other high density living to protect their property values.  This puts the poor area with fewer job prospects.  It also makes it harder to interact with other classes to network, a key in finding better paying jobs.
  5. Social change to stigmatize gun hording and survivalist conduct.  The changes in public attitudes did more to decrease the cigarette smoking rate than any $1 a pack tax rise or law banning public smoking.  A concerted effort by family, friends, and society is needed to make it more difficult for the negative activity to take place in society. 

As you can see, most of my ideas are local in nature.  The Federal government can do little to make a difference.  Even if they were to ban all gun sales, it would be decades before we’d see an effect as there is at least 310 million guns is the US today.