New York Police Department

From December 29 through January 4, New York City police “officers made a total of 2,401 arrests, compared with 5,448 for the same week the year before, a 56 percent decline,” reports the New York Times. Declines were far steeper for traffic and parking tickets and for criminal summonses.

This work slowdown is a result of (among other things) protests of police practices—particularly the arrest leading to the death of Eric Garner; the racially motivated murders of two NYPD officers on December 20; and (in the Times’s words) “the growing divide between the city’s police force and its mayor, Bill de Blasio.”

Beyond the question of why the slowdown has occurred, is the question of whether the slowdown is good or bad. The answer depends on relating police activity to the proper purpose of government: to protect people’s rights. Police should act to protect people’s rights, and they should not act to violate people’s rights. Insofar as the work slowdown consists of protecting people’s rights less consistently, it is bad; insofar as it consists of violating people’s rights less, it is good.

Note that the proper distinction in this regard is not between so-called “low-level offenses” (to quote the Times) and high-level ones. Government agents should strive to protect people’s rights by stopping and punishing rights violators in all cases (whenever feasible), not only in particularly egregious cases.

Partly the work slowdown involves “offenses” that are not rights violations, such as peaceably possessing guns and selling cigarettes without charging city taxes (as Garner is alleged to have done). When police arrest or ticket people for actions that do not violate others’ rights, the police themselves violate rights. City officials should repeal all measures permitting police to violate people’s rights, so that police “work” doing so not only slows but totally stops. . . .

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