This Friday, the Daily News and ProPublica published an investigative report detailing the NYPD’s questionable stings against owners of liquor stores, delis and laundromats in low-income neighborhoods. Undercover officers would enter small businesses and attempt to engage patrons in illegal activities like buying stolen electronics or participating in underage drinking. The patron would be arrested and the shop owner hit with a judge’s order to close the business until the trial.The report highlights that officers overwhelmingly targeted minorities during these stings. This practice reflects the misaligned priorities of the NYPD, who seem to wrongly believe that arresting everyone in sight is the same thing as keeping criminals in check.
These lawsuits are made possible by the nuisance abatement law, which was originally put in place in the 1970s as a measure to stop the growth of prostitution and other illicit activities in Times Square. Today, it has been appropriated and twisted to force store owners, who are often immigrants, to pay a swath of fines. They are also forced to navigate a labyrinth of legal procedures if they want to defend their businesses. All of these actions seem to point towards an attitude of callous disregard for the rights and the wellbeing of New York’s minority communities, who already often find themselves in the crosshairs of the NYPD for other reasons. As an unnamed judge in ProPublica’s investigation puts it: “You never see the white bar owner from the Meatpacking District in here; it’s always some bodega owner from Uptown.”
These unwarranted civil actions stem from a de facto quota system that allegedly instructs officers to make a certain number of arrests and summons each month, or risk negative evaluations. While the NYPD has steadfastly denied the existence of any such quota, the 12 minority officers currently suing the department tell a different story. These officers maintain that quotas are applied disproportionately to minority neighborhoods and communities. They further allege that they have been punished for condemning what they perceive as a racist policy, having endured suspension, promotion denials and even harassment within their department for speaking out.
These pointless sting operations are a repulsive symptom of an overarching NYPD belief that more arrests equate to safer communities. This couldn’t be farther from the truth; harassing and shutting down businesses in minority communities can only result in more poverty, more community instability, more distrust in police and more crime. In a world of nuisance abatement, there are no more friendly neighborhood policemen in the eyes of the community — only bureaucrats with their eyes fixed on the numbers. If anything, these lawsuits are evidence that reforming NYPD culture is an instrumental step toward alleviating racial inequality. Disincentivize pointless arrests, and minority businesses will be allowed to survive and prosper unharassed.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 25 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]