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Poll: Voters back NYPD but want officers in chokehold-death of Eric Garner prosecuted

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton at police headquarters

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton at police headquarters in Manhattan on Monday, July 7, 2014. Credit: Agaton Strom

A majority of New York City voters want the NYPD to go after low-level quality-of-life offenders but also think officers should be prosecuted for the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died last month in a confrontation with police, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Quinnipiac University poll is the first since Garner's death July 17 after an NYPD officer put him in a banned chokehold after he resisted arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. While the results showed a drop in support for the NYPD citywide, voters overwhelmingly approved of the job officers were doing in their communities.

Asked if they supported officers issuing summonses or making arrests for offenses like drinking in public or selling small amounts of marijuana, 61 percent of voters answered yes, 33 percent said no, and 6 percent didn't respond, according to poll data.

"It is really not a bad poll for the cops," said poll assistant director Mickey Carroll. The NYPD took something of a hit after Garner's death, Carroll said. But the department's approval rating would follow historic trends and recover.

Some 50 percent of city voters polled said they approved of how the NYPD was doing its job, 42 percent disapproved and 7 percent didn't know or didn't respond. That result was a significant drop since the June 59 percent approval rate.

But when asked about how officers were doing in the voters' communities, the approval rate jumped to 67 percent. A majority of white, black and Hispanic voters approved. The poll surveyed 1,021 city voters from Aug. 20 to 25 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Voters, by a margin of 68 percent to 24 percent, said there was no excuse for how officers acted with Garner. Ninety percent of blacks, 71 percent of Hispanics and 52 percent of whites concurred. Citywide, 64 percent of voters approved of the officers being prosecuted.

Garner's death has sparked renewed criticism of NYPD's efforts under Commissioner William Bratton to go after quality-of-life offenses as a way of preventing more serious crimes. Some critics, notably the Rev. Al Sharpton, say such enforcement hits minorities harder.

Wednesday, Bratton said he wasn't surprised at the public support voiced for quality-of-life enforcement, which he said is at the bedrock of the city's historic drop in crime.

"The return to quality-of-life enforcement and crime focused CompStat accountability policing began the crime turnaround in the early 1990s that has continued uninterrupted for over 20 years," said Bratton in a statement.

"I think it's clear around the city, people want to see enforcement on quality-of-life crimes. They want it to be fair," said Mayor Bill de Blasio at an event where Sharpton also attended.

Sharpton said that minority communities are under siege from "criminal elements that no one does anything about" but that he wants laws enforced equally.

George Kelling, the criminologist credited with pushing the "broken windows" theory of policing, said Wednesday that quality-of-life enforcement involves more than just arresting people. "From the very beginning I call for a wide variety of responses," Kelling said.

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