David R. Henderson  

NYPD's Reverse Washington Monument Strategy

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Here's what Richard L. Stroup writes about the Washington Monument Strategy (WMS):

A perennial case in point is the "Washington Monument strategy" of the National Park Service. At budget time, the service frequently threatens to curtail visiting hours at its most popular attractions, such as the Washington Monument, if its budget request is not met, and it threatens to blame Congress and the budget process when tourists complain. Other agencies use this and similar tactics to seek more support for their narrow programs. In doing so, too often they impose enormous costs on society. It is hard to imagine a private firm--even a large, bureaucratic one--responding to hard budget times by curtailing its most popular product or service. The private firm would lose too much business to the competition.

This is from Richard L. Stroup, "Political Behavior," in David R. Henderson, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

I wrote about what I called the "Washington Monument Strategy on Steroids:"

It would be understandable if the government did not provide Park Service employees. But that's not what the Obama administration did. Instead, it did provide employees to prevent people from getting to the World War II Memorial. In other words, instead of just not providing employees, the U.S. Park Service spent real resources to prevent people from getting access, even though the Memorial is outdoors and, during normal times, has unlimited access.

How does all this apply to police with the New York Police Department? In "The NYPD's Insubordination--and Why the Right Should Oppose It," Conor Friedersdorf, quoting a piece in the New York Post, writes:
The statistics cited suggest significant solidarity among cops. Overall arrests rates fell 66 percent "for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show. Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame. Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent--from 4,831 to 300. Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241."

Much as I like a lot these results, I do worry about the precedent of the police acting essentially as their own agents rather than as agents of the government. Friedersdorf puts it well when he writes:
The right should greet it [the slowdown] with the skepticism they'd typically summon for a rally on behalf of government workers as they seek higher pay, new work rules, and more generous benefits. What's unfolding in New York City is, at its core, a public-employee union using overheated rhetoric and emotional appeals to rile public employees into insubordination. The implied threat to the city's elected leadership and electorate is clear: Cede leverage to the police in the course of negotiating labor agreements or risk an armed, organized army rebelling against civilian control. Such tactics would infuriate the right if deployed by any bureaucracy save law enforcement opposing a left-of-center mayor.

So I have little to add to that part of the discussion.

I want to make a different point, though, a positive one about public choice rather than a normative one about the slowdown. Because this is what I find fascinating.

Most people pretty much understand the Washington Monument Strategy: single out the thing that's most popular with the public and threaten to close that down if you don't get their way. But what are the police doing? Almost the opposite. I say "almost" because there are surely many people among the public who want the government to enforce against such things as running red lights or peeing in public. I say "the opposite" because a police force that was truly trying to carry out the WMS would enforce the petty things but cut back on investigating murders and attempted murders. Those latter are things that, almost unanimously, the public would want the police to focus on.

So this strategy makes no sense.

Unless.

Unless the police do not see the public as important players but, rather, see the city government as the important player to affect. And how would cutting down on traffic tickets matter to the city government? Cherchez la monnaie. The city government, I would guess, gets an enormous amount of its revenue from various fines. And so the police may actually be using the WMS.


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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory




COMMENTS (8 to date)
Kevin Erdmann writes:

+1. Very thought provoking framing.

sam writes:

The same trite saying about Facebook can be applied to the NYPD.

You don't (directly) pay the NYPD, the City of New York does.

You're not the customer, the City of New York is. You're just the product.

Andrew_FL writes:

“There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

Who said that? It was then Governor of Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge. He wouldn't stand for this-in fact he didn't. We could stand to learn something from the way he handled a very similar situation; the Boston Police Strike of 1919.

TMC writes:

If all the revenue from these tickets were handed over to the state, and redistributed to cities per capita, this strike would have no power. Of course most of these tickets would never have been written in the first place had this been the case.

taips writes:

Very good post. But I have a question:

Cherchez la monnaie
, really? How exactly did that become a catchphrase?
monnaie only means coin (similar to monies) or money in the macro sense. It really does not work there.

It's not the only French phrase that gets distorted and is used in English only and wrongly, but it confuses me a lot.

Jody writes:

Certainly they're doing this to impact the government and not the public. But I think there's another factor.

There has been a significant outcry from some quarters against the NYPD cops pursuing the aggressive stop-and-frisk + broken windows strategy which targets these petty crimes. Thus the NYPD cops are giving the people (at least the outspoken ones) what they want. Good and hard.

JKB writes:

Well, the NYPD have essentially shut down 'Broken Window' policing in the face of a mayor and City Hall that have withdrawn their support for such policing. No doubt City Hall likes the cash, but petty crime policing is a major source of heart burn for the NYPD rank and file with complaints and media hassles, who now feel the city government has abandoned them when enforcing these crimes.

Ruy Diaz writes:

The conclusion:

Unless the police do not see the public as important players but, rather, see the city government as the important player to affect. And how would cutting down on traffic tickets matter to the city government? Cherchez la monnaie. The city government, I would guess, gets an enormous amount of its revenue from various fines. And so the police may actually be using the WMS.

If that is so, how come the Police doesn't use the tactic during contract negotiations?

The surface story is straightforward once you see the Police as both a guild occupation and a paramilitary organization.

Military organization speak of the need of both up-chain and down-chain loyalty in the chain of command. That is, subordinates owe loyalty to the commanders and commanders owe loyalty to their subordinates in return. The soldiers protect their officers and the officers don't leave soldiers behind.

The police officers (the rank-and-file) feel upset with DeBlasio, their supreme commander, because he has broken this bond. Both ways of showing disapproval--turning their backs to him in public and the work slowdown are ultimately targeted at DeBlasio personally. They show him as a weak leader, unable to control the police.

The slowdown does not affect the investigation and punishment of serious crimes because doing so would break the bond of the police force with the public at large: they still feel they should serve and protect the people of New York City.

If I'm right the actions of the Police are aimed at DeBlasio personally, it is in the power of DeBlasio to end the slowdown with a small loss of face. He needs to have the equivalent of a 'beer summit' with police rank and file, listen to their concerns, and declare he was wrong in some of the things he has done. He could portray himself as a changed man, who has grown from the experience. He could even benefit from it politically. I'm not sure DeBlasio is capable of doing such a thing, however, even if his advisers recommend the strategy.

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