Every night for more than a month, the New York Police Department has been publishing a precisely detailed tabulation of officers' visits to a variety of private business and public spaces, on which they remind citizens that large gatherings of people are not allowed. Last night, for instance, the NYPD announced that between 8:00 a.m Tuesday and 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, officers had visited 3,116 supermarkets and pharmacies, 7,278 bars and restaurants, 1,211 public places, and 3,017 personal care facilities, with the visits resulting in zero arrests and zero fines.
This is useful information, as far as it goes; according to the NYPD's numbers, 23 arrests have been made and 188 summonses have been issued on these visits since March 17. What it isn't is a comprehensive accounting of all arrests and fines—the maximum is now $1000—related to New Yorkers violating social distancing orders since those orders were put into effect. That makes it strange that the NYPD is presenting it as such.
Earlier this week, I contacted the NYPD's public information office to ask if the department if data on social distancing fines were being published anywhere or were otherwise available. A flack quickly replied, "We have been putting out a nightly report since March 22. Please check with your desk." I asked where I could find this report. "@NYPDnews on twitter," the flack replied. I examined the account and found that it offered numbers on how many arrests were made and fines were issued specifically in connection with officers' visits to private businesses and public spaces.
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Seeking clarification, I told the flack I sought information on the total number of fines—not all of which would necessarily be issued on these visits—and asked if I understood her correctly that any and all fines given out to anyone for violating social distancing orders would be reflected in these reports.
"Summonses =fines" came the reply. My follow-up question asking whether these nightly reports on Twitter would capture any and all instances of anyone being issued a summons by the NYPD for violating social distancing orders was not responded to.
The NYPD's position, then, seems to be that the @NYPDnews Twitter account is the authoritative source of information on how many fines the NYPD is issuing over social distancing violations. The numbers, though, clearly aren't comprehensive. In the time period covered by the NYPD report published last night, a dozen people were issued summonses at a funeral in Brooklyn, with mourners violating the ban on gatherings so blatantly that Mayor Bill de Blasio got personally involved. Whatever the actual citations, these were obviously fines given due to the social distancing order. Meanwhile, anecdotal accounts of fines and arrests abound. A VICE reporter's roommate saw people arrested on their block, seemingly in connection with violating the order, earlier this week; this wasn't reflected in the NYPD's nightly report, which cited zero arrests and summonses.
Not only are the NYPD's numbers not complete, if they were they wouldn't capture all fines the city is issuing anyway, because other authorities have the power to issue them. On April 19, the New York Daily News reported that according to the mayor's office, 244 fines had been issued. ("The number," the paper noted, "excludes violations issued in response to 911 calls and 311 complaints, which the NYPD declined to provide.")
The NYPD's unwillingness to provide basic information about enforcement actions is bewildering, if unsurprising; it's also, though, a boon for de Blasio. The mayor has been fulminating this week about how going forward, cops will fine and arrest, rather than warn, at large gatherings. How empty or not those threats are, and who ends up being targeted, no one will be able to say.
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