A Punitive Bind: Policing, Poverty, and Neoliberalism in New York City

Article excerpt

Narrowly conceived, neoliberalism is a system of economic ideas and policy initiatives that emphasize small government and market-based solutions to social and economic problems. Adopted in response to the fiscal, welfare and racial crises of the Keynesian state, neoliberalism has become the dominant governing principle in the United States over the last forty years. A growing body of literature has shown how the rise of neoliberalism has underwritten the massive expansion of the American criminal justice system and the growth of its incarceral arm. Yet theorists of neoliberalism have largely ignored how the rise of neoliberalism has affected policing practices and, in turn, have failed to consider the role that police play in the neoliberal state.

This Note considers policing practices and policies in New York City under the rise of neoliberalism. It argues that the rise of neoliberalism has led to significant and lasting changes in the accountability structures, enforcement priorities, and policing strategies and tactics of New York City's policing apparatus. While new approaches to policing have been heralded by some as making the NYPD internally more efficient and more effective at fighting crime, this Note contends that the adoption of neoliberal policing techniques cannot be evaluated without a broader account of the historical, social, political and economic contexts in which they are implemented. An analysis of policing within these broader contexts reveals that there is good reason to be concerned about many facets of neoliberal policing, which include shifting accountability structures, the policing of disorder and the deployment of stop-and-frisk policing. Collectively, these neoliberal policing practices constitute the punitive governance of disproportionately marginalized communities, which erodes police legitimacy and may ultimately make poor people and people of color less secure.

INTRODUCTION

During the 1990s, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani cut taxes, eliminated thousands of city jobs, and significantly decreased funding to the city's university system, health system, and housing support system. (1) The cuts to city government reflected a continuation of a philosophy of city governance that began over a decade earlier under Mayor Ed Koch who announced that the job of the government was to "get out of the way." (2) Yet this downsizing of New York's government was accompanied by the simultaneous upsizing of its police force. Over the 1990s, New York City added 6,000 new police officers to its ranks, giving it the most police officers per capita of any out of the ten largest cities in the United States, and expanded public safety funding by fifty three percent. (3) The larger police force was put to task with a more active and expansive approach to policing. The New York Police Department (NYPD) launched new policing initiatives that resulted in over 175,000 individuals in New York being stopped and frisked by police officers in one fifteen-month period, (4) a number that would grow to over 575,000 in 2009.5 Stops were also accompanied by a massive increase in arrests. In 1998, the NYPD arrested over 100,000 more people than it had in 1993, despite the fact that the number of reported crimes had dropped by nearly 300,000.6 If the NYPD was any indication, the New York City government was doing anything but getting out of the way.

While the expansion of New York's police force in an era of small urban governance may appear to be anomalous, the rise of neoliberalism helps resolve this apparent contradiction. In its most narrow definition, neoliberalism is a system of economic ideas and policy initiatives that emphasize small government and market-based solutions to social and economic problems. (7) Adopted in response to the fiscal, welfare, and racial crises of the Keynesian state, neoliberalism has become the dominant governing principle in the United States over the last forty years. …