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Misdemeanor arrests in NYC rise sharply in past 30 years

An NYPD patrol car is shown in this

An NYPD patrol car is shown in this file photo taken on March 18, 2012. Credit: Getty Images

The number of misdemeanor arrests in New York City has sharply risen in the past three decades, in contrast to the steady decline seen in more serious felony apprehensions, according to a report released Tuesday by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The explosion in misdemeanor arrests -- covering crimes such as turnstile jumping, minor drug offenses, prostitution, theft and weapons charges -- saw a jump of more than 246 percent, from about 65,000 in 1980 to more than 225,000 in 2013, according to data mined from the NYPD and the state court system. The results contrasted sharply with the rest of the state and its smaller cities, which saw much more modest increases.

Overall rates per 100,000 population for misdemeanor arrests in the city among black, Hispanics and whites generally increased. The rise was sharpest among black males aged 18-20, with the rate nearly tripling from 1990 to 2013, the report noted.

Some of the steepest increases in New York City seemed to occur in 1994 through 1996, when William Bratton was in his first term as commissioner and pushed his "broken windows" theory of policing, which targets less serious, quality-of-life crimes. Virtually all precincts saw larger numbers of misdemeanor busts in 1994 and 1996, compared to 1993, the study showed. Data for 2014 wasn't available.

But because of the large growth in New York City's population, from just over 7 million in 1980 to 8.4 million in 2013, the actual rate of nonviolent and violent crime per 100,000 people actually dropped.

Misdemeanor arrests had also been ending in steadily declining convictions, with almost 40 percent of cases in 2013 being dismissed in court. Prosecutors declined to prosecute about 8 percent of the arrests, the report found.

In introducing the report, Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay, said the document took no position on some key law enforcement issues, including what had caused the arrest increases shown in the data.

"I don't know the answer to that question, that is a very important question," said Travis.

He also wasn't prepared to draw any conclusions about how the results reflect on the big crime decline in the city since 1990. Bratton attended the breakfast in which the study was discussed, but didn't comment later to reporters.

The study used rate of arrests per 100,000 to make comparisons among various age, racial and ethnic groups, said John Jay Professor Preeti Chauhan, who played a major role in the research.

In terms of how the NYPD handled misdemeanors, the study found that since 2006, police have been resorting more to giving defendants desk appearance tickets, which allows them to leave police custody and appear later in court, instead of having to spend time in a detention center.

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