New York’s “Crimes of Poverty”
In just the first three months of 2017, the New York Police Department arrested more than 4,500 people for fare evasion and 90 percent of them were black or Hispanic. In 2016, young black men between the ages of 16 and 36 made up half of all fare evasion arrests even though they represent only approximately 13 percent of the population’s poor. This is what’s known as “broken windows” policing of low-level crimes of poverty, which disproportionately target communities of color.
The City recently did a feature on the number of people arrested each year for these ‘crimes of poverty’—i.e. shoplifting by the homeless and those with low income backgrounds, taking less than $1,000 in valuables; usually for food or hygiene products. According to statistics, there are approximately 20,000 petit larceny charges made each year in New York City alone. Arguably, these “crimes” should be met with compassion and social services instead of prosecution. Instead, a number of prosecutors in New York insist on jail time for a guilty plea; otherwise defendants are charged thousands of dollars in bail that they cannot afford.
Prosecutorial Discretion & Location Is Key
Indeed, when it comes to these petty crimes, prosecutorial discretion makes all the difference in the world: For example, Brooklyn tends to drop any petit larceny cases that involve small amounts and/or extenuating circumstances. People arrested will sometimes receive a ticket and a referral to a program called Project Reset. However, in Manhattan, it’s a different story: In 2018, there were more than 1,000 defendants prosecuted for petit larceny; approximately 42 percent of which were homeless and/or came from low-income homes (i.e. indigent arrestees). More than 75 percent of those arrested for petit larceny in general in New York County are black or Latino, and a majority end with a guilty plea; while 25 percent got jail time.
There is no question that this demonstrates that the main driver of the criminal justice system is poverty and arrests and prosecutions simply perpetuate a vicious cycle, where charges escalate quickly; depending upon where you are: For example, if a shoplifter is placed on a trespasser list at a store and attempts to steal there again, in Manhattan, the charge can be bumped up to third degree burglary, which is a felony. However, Brooklyn does not bump up the charge.
What happens also depends upon the store: not all businesses call the police; in fact, some simply ask those caught shoplifting to give the product back or purchase it.
Contact Our New York Theft & Shoplifting Defense Attorneys
Petit larceny charges appear to be more persistent than other crimes: their numbers have dropped significantly less compared to overall arrests for other reasons. For example, while total arrests decreased by 36 percent between 2012 and 2018, petit larceny arrests dropped by only 15 percent during that same period.
If you have been arrested for shoplifting/larceny, contact our experienced New York criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy to find out how we can help ensure that your rights are protected and you are not unjustly punished for these crimes.