Mayor Bill de Blasio has been in office barely a year, and already forces of entropy are roaming the streets, turning their backs on the law, defying civil authority and trying to unravel the social fabric.
No, not squeegee-men or turnstile-jumpers. We’re talking about the cops.
For the second straight week, police officers across the city have all but stopped writing tickets and severely cut down the number of arrests. The Times reported that in the week ending Sunday, only 347 criminal summonses were issued citywide, down from 4,077 over the same period last year. Parking and traffic tickets were down by more than 90 percent. In Coney Island, ticketing and summonses fell to zero.
The city has been placed in an absurd position, with its police commissioner, William Bratton — a pioneer of “broken windows” policing who has just written a long, impassioned defense of that strategy as an essential crime-fighting tool — leading a force that is refusing to carry it out.
Police union officials deny responsibility for the mass inaction. But Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said officers had talked among themselves and “it became contagious,” apparently like the flu.
Call this what it is: a reckless, coordinated escalation of a war between the police unions and Mr. de Blasio and a hijacking of law-enforcement policy by those who do not set law-enforcement policy. This deplorable gesture is bound to increase tension in a city already rattled over the killing by the police of an unarmed man, Eric Garner, last summer, the executions of two officers in Brooklyn last month, and the shootings on Monday of two plainclothes officers in the Bronx.
Mr. Bratton spoke delicately at a news conference on Monday. He said there could be other explanations, like officers being too busy handling police-reform demonstrations and attending funerals. He promised to investigate — and to “deal with it very appropriately, if we have to.”
Mr. de Blasio’s critics foretold doom when he was elected a year ago. They said graffiti, muggings and other crime would rush back with a vengeance. They were dead wrong — crime rates continued to decline to historic lows in 2014 — but now it seems the cops are trying to help prove them right.
The madness has to stop. The problem is not that a two-week suspension of “broken windows” policing is going to unleash chaos in the city. The problem is that cops who refuse to do their jobs and revel in showing contempt to their civilian leaders are damaging the social order all by themselves.
Mr. de Blasio, who has been cautious since the shootings, found his voice on Monday, saying for the first time that the police officers’ protests of turning their backs at the slain officers’ funerals had been disrespectful to the families of the dead. He was right, but he needs to do more.
He should appeal directly to the public and say plainly that the police are trying to extort him and the city he leads.
He should invite the Justice Department to determine if the police are guilty of civil rights violations in withdrawing policing from minority communities.
He should remind the police that they are public employees, under oath to uphold city and state laws.
If Mr. de Blasio’s critics are right and the city is coming unglued, it is not because of what he has done. He was elected by an overwhelming vote, because he promised action on police reform, starting with the end of stop-and-frisk tactics that corralled so many innocent New Yorkers into the criminal-justice system. The city got the mayor it wanted — and then, because of Mr. de Blasio, it got Mr. Bratton.
Mr. Bratton’s faith in “broken windows” needs rethinking. But nothing will be fixed as long as police officers are refusing to do their jobs.
A video emerged this week of a New York cop, apparently with nothing better to do, horsing around on the hood of a squad car, falling off and hitting his head. It would be hard to invent a more fitting image of the ridiculous — and dangerous — place this atmosphere of sullen insubordination has taken us.