I grew up in New York City in the 1970’s on the Upper West Side of New York City. The area was made up on mini enclaves of immigrant communities, housing projects, middle class workers, and the wealthy all crammed together. Within a twenty block radius of where I lived, the Irish lived to the south in Hells Kitchen, the Latinos to the north and the housing projects right by my doorstep.
I went to grammar school on the East Side. I had to take two buses to get home at night and it required my being able to safely, and sometimes not so safely past many of those enclaves in order to get home. Given that I was small and traveled alone, there were always packs of predators around ready to pounce. Clearly, I survived and am thankful for all those “colorful” and “educational” experiences.
Since the city was a dangerous and exciting place, the police were there to keep the peace, settle disputes when they arose, and generally keep things from getting totally out of control.
All that changed in the 1990’s when Rudy Guilani became Mayor of New York City. New Yorker’s had gotten fed up with the crime. The city had become a dangerous place. Under Guilani’s Administration, the police came out in force and became a very visible and effective presence. The general philosophy of policing was based on “The broken window theory’ which is that criminals will commit more crimes when they see that a neighborhood is not being maintained. So where there is more trash and broken windows, more crime tends to occur.
The NYPD began arresting people for littering, jay walking, public drunkenness and a slew of petty crimes. The city got cleaned up quickly, citizens were happy and the safety and overall environment of the city markedly improved. But it didn’t stop there. Cameras were installed all over the place to monitor the city. Red light cameras were installed to automatically ticket drivers; stop and frisk procedures were implemented whereby the police could stop randomly frisk anyone if they looked suspicious. While the events of 9/11 accelerated this process, NYC took notice that good policing was good business as well.
The city Administrators realized they could make good money by handing out tickets. Over time, this evolved to the police having been given quotas whereby they have to write so many tickets per month. The original goal of cleaning up the city morphed into something else: a new way to extract money from its citizens.
In my final years living in NYC, I was stopped twice for driving a suspicious vehicle (I drive a minivan), received two red light infractions (by a camera) and two parking tickets. Tickets in NYC are not cheap at $200 per fine. But NYC is not the only city that has taken notice of this revenue windfall. Cities and states all over the country have gotten involved in this scam.
All of these municipalities are desperate for money and the politicians know they can’t raise taxes. SO, They now have de facto taxes, whereby the police are “encouraged” via quotas to harass the citizens…the same ones that employ them.
In the city that I live in now, there are cops everywhere giving tickets for the most minor infractions. The police no longer have the support of the average citizen as they know the police are no longer there to serve them. People have come to loathe the police as they have effectively become a new taxing authority.
The police motto is “to protect and to serve” but who do they protect and who do they serve? Clearly they now serve the government as a way to generate revenue…with an apparent ever decreasing duty to protect individual citizens. There have been numerous cases throughout the country where the police failed to respond in an appropriate manner to help individuals and the courts have always ruled that the police have no obligation to any individual…only to the public at large (see here).
What the police and politicians don’t seem to understand is the enmity and resentment that has grown between the police and the populace. The people now view police as an arm of the I.R.S. They know that if they truly needed their help, the police are under no duty or obligation to help. With the courts backing up this approach where do we go to find those people whose job it is “to protect and to serve?”
One cannot serve two masters and the police are no exception. Government or the populace…only time will tell.