UrbaNerd: Big Drop in Misdemeanor Busts in NYC

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Misdemeanor arrests in New York are on pace to end the year at their lowest level since 2004.

Misdemeanor arrests in New York are on pace to end the year at their lowest level since 2004.

One of the signal features of New York City’s approach to law enforcement during the Bloomberg era was the rise in arrests for misdemeanors, which climbed every year from 2003 to 2010 despite continued decreases in felony crime. Busts for these lower-level offenses, which can involve alleged crimes as varied as selling illegal cigarettes or hawking counterfeit goods or hitting someone, decreased slightly toward the end of the former mayor’s time in offense. But that did not satisfy advocates concerned about over-policing: Misdemeanor arrests are closely linked to quality-of-life enforcement and the controversial broken windows strategy, both of which disproportionately affect communities of color.

So when Bill de Blasio came to office promising policing reforms yet misdemeanor collars in 2014 largely kept pace (see chart 1 below), it fueled concerns that the mayor was shying away from meaningful change.

New data obtained by City Limits suggests that de Blasio’s second year in City Hall looks very different from his first. A breakdown of top charges in cases involving misdemeanors provided by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services indicates that from January through September of 2015, there were just under 148,000 misdemeanor busts in the city, down 15.6 percent from the same period in 2014 and 15.1 percent from the first nine months of 2013.

The city is on pace to record the lowest number of misdemeanor arrests since 2004 by year’s end.

Fewer drug arrests explain a huge share of the 26,000-arrest drop from 2014. In the first three quarters of 2015, there were 9,600 fewer busts for fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana or criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, the lowest-level charges associated with pot or other drugs, respectively. Big drops were also seen in busts for third-degree assault, theft of services (penal-code jargon for turnstile jumping), criminal trespass, driving while intoxicated, resisting arrest and petit larceny.

A few crimes did see modest increases in arrest numbers in the first part of 2015 (see chart 2, below). There were 358 additional arrests, for example, for low-level gambling offenses. Tiny increases were also recorded in arrests involving patronizing or promoting prostitution or torturing animals.

Since Commissioner Bratton introduced broken-windows policing under Mayor Giuliani, people have debated whether there is a connection between enforcing low-level laws and preventing more serious crime. Through October 25, New York City’s crime rate was down 3.1 percent, though rates for murder, robbery and rape were up.


1) Misdemeanor arrests in New York City, 1970-2014
Year Misdemeanors
1970 49,363
1971 55,656
1972 65,984
1973 56,079
1974 64,372
1975 67,845
1976 72,587
1977 82,357
1978 82,604
1979 72,064
1980 63,244
1981 73,525
1982 95,616
1983 104,407
1984 113,296
1985 126,720
1986 136,120
1987 142,783
1988 138,227
1989 129,236
1990 118,119
1991 119,660
1992 120,634
1993 128,697
1994 168,833
1995 180,532
1996 180,674
1997 203,620
1998 213,736
1999 195,837
2000 222,903
2001 192,927
2002 188,000
2003 187,964
2004 188,575
2005 194,220
2006 204,116
2007 228,752
2008 230,985
2009 242,523
2010 248,381
2011 246,490
2012 235,313
2013 227,378
2014 221,851

2. Main drivers of the decrease in misdemeanor arrests, 2014-2015

Crime Change in arrests
TOTAL MISDEMEANOR ARRESTS -26,140
PL 221.10 CRIM POSS MARIJUANA-5TH -9695
PL 220.03 CRIM POSS CONTR SUBST-7TH -3183
PL 120.00 ASSAULT-3RD -1852
PL 165.15 THEFT OF SERVICES -1810
VTL 1192 DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED -1702
PL 140.10 CRIMINAL TRESPASS-3RD -1550
PL 205.30 RESISTING ARREST -1013
PL 155.25 PETIT LARCENY -998
PL 221.40 CRIM SALE MARIJUANA-4TH -996

3. Detailed list of misdemeanor arrests in New York City during the last three years

Total Jan-Sept 2013 Total Jan-Sept 2014 Total Jan-Sept 2015
TOTAL MISDEMEANOR ARRESTS 173627 174814 147487
PL 120.00 ASSAULT-3RD 22593 24064 22212
PL 165.15 THEFT OF SERVICES 25525 23715 21905
PL 155.25 PETIT LARCENY 18517 19267 18269
PL 220.03 CRIM POSS CONTR SUBST-7TH 17501 18781 15598
PL 221.10 CRIM POSS MARIJUANA-5TH 22294 22225 12530
PL 140.10 CRIMINAL TRESPASS-3RD 5818 7120 5570
PL 265.01 CRIM POSSESSION WEAPON-4TH 6160 6221 5525
VTL 1192 DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED 6715 6678 4976
PL 145.00 CRIMINAL MISCHIEF-4TH 4037 4426 4227
PL 221.40 CRIM SALE MARIJUANA-4TH 4036 4481 3485
PL 120.14 MENACING-2ND 2987 3228 2930
PL 240.30 AGGRAVATED HARRASSMENT-2ND 4129 2680 2724
PL 121.11 CRIM OBSTRUCTION OF BREATHING OR CIRCULATION 2497 2632 2564
PL 215.50 CRIMINAL CONTEMPT- 2ND 2305 2473 2359
PL 205.30 RESISTING ARREST 3777 3297 2284
PL 140.15 CRIMINAL TRESPASS-2ND 2467 2306 1778
PL 145.60 MAKING GRAFFITI 1840 1634 1551
PL 230.00 PROSTITUTION 1365 1430 1195
PL 165.40 CRIM POSSESSION STOLN PROP-5TH 1763 1546 1192
PL 120.20 RECKLESS ENDANGERMENT-2ND 1175 1340 1164
PL 190.23 FALSE PERSONATION 683 1157 1052
PL 195.05 OBSTRUCT GOVERNMENTL ADMIN-2ND 1385 1255 991
PL 130.52 FORCIBLE TOUCHING 727 692 752
PL 260.10 ENDANGERING WELFARE OF CHILD 722 730 689
PL 165.05 UNAUTH USE OF VEHICLE-3RD 571 724 624
PL 230.04 PATRONIZE A PROSTITUTE-3RD 1038 572 605
PL 165.16 UNAUTHORIZED SALE OF FARECARD 669 567 588
PL 215.55 BAIL JUMPING-3RD 598 568 559
PL 120.15 MENACING-3RD 653 638 553
PL 165.71 TRADEMARK COUNTERFEITING 3RD 673 666 477
PL 170.20 POSSESS FORGED INSTRUMENT-3RD 481 590 450
PL 245.00 PUBLIC LEWDNESS 401 474 440
PL 225.05 PROMOTING GAMBLING-2ND 173 198 411
PL 221.15 CRIM POSS MARIJUANA-4TH 483 407 365
PL 220.50 CRIM USE DRUG PARA-2ND 561 466 339
PL 240.50 FALSE REPORT INCIDENT-3RD 349 320 291
PL 155.30 GRAND LARCENY-4TH 315 255 269
VTL 600 LEAVE SCENE OF ACCIDENT 174 227 230
TAX 1814 EVADE CIG TAX LAW 397 444 220
PL 225.30 POSSESSION GAMBLING DEVICE 96 117 205
PL 140.35 POSSESSION OF BURGLAR TOOLS 275 256 171
PL 205.20 PROMOTING PRISON CONTRABAND-2ND 174 193 171
PL 260.20 UNLAWFULLY DEALING W-CHILD-1ST 267 160 168
PL 225.15 POSSESS GAMBLING RECORDS-2ND 160 107 164
PL 240.37 LOITERING FOR PROSTITUTION 277 198 163
PL 240.10 UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY 225 208 161
PL 215.51 CRIMINAL CONTEMPT-1ST 157 184 161
PL 135.05 UNLAWFUL IMPRISONMENT-2ND 184 176 157
PL 120.45 STALKING-4TH 120 160 141
PL 190.25 CRIMINAL IMPERSONATION-2ND 199 192 129
PL 165.30 FRAUDULENT ACCOSTING 110 155 100
PL 170.05 FORGERY-3RD 64 91 87
PL 230.20 PROMOTING PROSTITUTION-4TH 48 48 87
PL 145.05 CRIMINAL MISCHIEF-3RD 63 99 72
PL 221.35 CRIM SALE MARIJUANA-5TH 163 95 68
PL 145.65 POSSESSION OF GRAFFITI INST 90 89 65
AM 353 TORTURE ANIMALS 33 38 57
PL 270.00 UNLAW DEALING W-FIREWORKS MISD 95 127 56
PL 165.00 MISAPPLICATION OF PROPERTY 78 55 50
PL 130.20 SEXUAL MISCONDUCT 48 48 48
PL 165.09 AUTO STRIPPING-3RD 57 42 46
PL 215.40 TAMPER WITH PHYSICAL EVIDENCE 118 101 45
PL 210.45 FALSE WRITTEN STATEMENT 44 40 45
PL 240.08 INCITING TO RIOT 106 98 42
PL 275.35 FAIL DISCLOSE ORIGIN RECORDING-2ND 132 61 41
PL 130.55 SEXUAL ABUSE-3RD 67 81 41
PL 240.45 CRIMINAL NUISANCE-2ND 39 65 39
PL 175.05 FALSIFY BUSINESS RECORDS-2ND 33 17 37
PL 240.25 HARASSMENT 1ST-STALKING 65 50 35
PL 190.78 IDENTITY THEFT 3RD 20 34 34
PL 220.45 POSSESSION HYPODERMIC INSTRUMT 53 50 31
PL 178.10 CRIM DIVERSON PRESCRIP-4TH 48 46 29
PL 190.81 UNLAWFUL POSS PERSONAL ID-3RD 16 20 27
VTL 511 AGG UNLICENSED OPERATION OF MV 375 31 26
PL 260.24 ENDANGER WELFARE OF INCOMPT/DISABLED PERSON-2ND 2 37 26
PL 130.60 SEXUAL ABUSE-2ND 31 22 25
PL 270.25 FLEE OFFICER IN MOTOR VEH-3RD 37 42 24
PL 145.14 CRIMINAL TAMPERING-3RD 11 20 24
PL 240.05 RIOT-2ND 53 80 23
PL 165.25 JOSTLING 27 30 23
PL 175.30 OFFER FILE FALSE INSTRUMNT-2ND 28 19 21
PL 195.00 OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT 17 24 17
PL 165.45 CRIM POSSESSION STOLN PROP-4TH 25 43 16
PL 150.01 ARSON 5-INTENT DAMAGE PROPERTY 9 16 16
COR 168 FAILURE TO REGISTER AS SEX OFFNDR 7 8 15
PL 130.25 RAPE-3RD 13 13 14
PL 120.50 STALKING-3RD 23 28 13
PL 115.00 CRIMINAL FACILITATION-4TH 11 14 13
PL 205.05 ESCAPE-3RD 8 5 13
PL 145.15 CRIMINAL TAMPERING-2ND 61 31 12
PL 215.10 TAMPER WITH WITNESS-4TH 14 20 12
PL 270.05 UNLAW POSS-SELL NOXIOUS MATTER 9 12 11
PL 265.10 MANFACTRE-DESTROY WEAPON 6 8 11
PL 135.45 CUSTODIAL INTERFERENCE-2ND 19 14 10
PL 145.25 RECKLESS ENDANGERMENT PROPERTY 14 19 10
PL 190.60 SCHEME TO DEFRAUD-2ND 9 6 10
PL 235.05 OBSCENITY-3RD 4 6 10
PL 135.60 COERCION-2ND 2 7 10
PL 230.40 PERMITTING PROSTITUTION 28 15 9
PL 205.55 HINDERING PROSECUTION-3RD 11 15 9
PL 180.00 COMMERCIAL BRIBERY-2ND 1 15 9
PL 240.36 LOITERING UNLAW USE CONTRL SUB 16 24 8
PL 195.07 OBSTRUCT GOVERNMENTL ADMIN-1ST 11 6 6
PL 260.21 UNLAWFULLY DEALING W-CHILD-2ND 1 4 6
PL 175.35 OFFER FILE FALSE INSTRUMNT-1ST 14 8 5
PL 170.70 ILLEGAL POSS OF VEH IDENT NO 32 14 3