Resisting Arrest: Is There a Trend?

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Photo by: Michael Fleischhacker

Police commissioner William Bratton told the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC yesterday that there's a trend of people resisting arrest.

“What we’re seeing … over the last several months [is] a number of individuals just failing to understand that you must submit to an arrest, that you cannot resist it,” Bratton said.

Is there such a trend?

According to data provided to by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there was a spike is arrests for NY Penal Code section 205.30, resisting arrest, between February and March, a drop in April, and another jump in May before a decline in June.

But compared to the first six months of 2013, the early part of the de Blasio administration actually saw a year-on-year 10 percent decrease in busts for resisting.

Arrests for Resisting, by Month, Jan. 2013-June 2014

Those statistics don't capture everything the commish might be talking about: If someone were picked up for a more serious offense than resisting arrest but also charged with resisting, the stats wouldn't reflect the lesser charge. And of course, cops might not charge everyone who gives them a hard time with resisting.

Bratton also told WNYC that, “The place to argue your case is in court, not in the middle of the street.”

This message was cheered by the New York Post, whose editorial board has taken up the police union line of argument that Eric Garner would be alive today if he had just let himself be handcuffed.

The Post's statement is accurate in that it describes the sequence of events that occurred, even if there an almost invisibly thin logical link between a man committing a misdemeanor (resisting arrest is an A misdemeanor) and winding up dead at the hands of a police officer. It is, however, a common thread in the defense of police killings; there were those who argued that Amadou Diallo, had he not reached for his wallet and followed police instructions about which way to move, would not have had 41 bullets fired at him.

Still, what Bratton says is true: Cops have the right to arrest you, and you can't fight them. Full stop.

But even though it is what one should do, submitting quietly to arrest is a lot easier to talk about—especially among people who very likely will never experience it—than to do.

On average, it took 24 hours to get from arrest to arraignment in New York City last year, which for some arrestees means missing work and having to figure out who takes care of the kids overnight. That must be hard to swallow for the substantial number of arrested people (about 20 percent, or 70,000 people in 2012, according to the annual report of the Criminal Justice Agency) who emerge from arraignment either with a dismissal or a promise by the court to dismiss the case if there are no other run-ins with the law occurs for six months.

In an environment where the emphasis is on arrests for low-level misdemeanors and violations, which for obvious reasons carry very short sentences, the process is the punishment. Even those who plead guilty to such charges at arraignment are often sentenced to time already served in the holding cell. Some who might contest the charges plead guilty because they can't make bail and a plea gets them out of jail faster than waiting for trial. And others get their cases dismissed altogether. But they all might walk out of the courthouse at the same time, having suffered the same unpleasant night as a ward of the NYPD and court system.

The point is, for thousands of arrestees, guilt or innocence doesn't necessarily determine how taxing their interaction with the system is. When the process is the punishment, anyone who goes through that process gets punished.

That's not a reason to disobey a lawful order by the police. But it's why it's more difficult to do so than one might think.

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