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.
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. (8) Several scholars have shown that the rise of neoliberalism has significant implications for how American society deals with crime. Loic Wacquant, Bernard Harcourt, Jonathan Simon, and Ruth Gilmore have argued that the neoliberal turn in the United States has underwritten increasing government intervention around the idea of crime and has led to the creation of a punitive state that turns to incarceration as a solution to structural economic inequality and political instability. (9) In these scholars' view, then, the expansion of New York's police force amidst austerity measures reflects the neoliberal turn in which the government gets out of the way except in the penal sphere.
Although scholarship on neoliberal policy and state governance addresses how the rise of neoliberalism has changed the workings of the criminal justice system as a whole, scholars have not fully considered how policing fits within the neoliberal criminal justice apparatus. (10) Scholars' failure to fully theorize the police as an independent site of governance within neoliberalism is a mistake. Most interactions residents of cities have with the criminal justice system are with the police, and most of those interactions do not end in an arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. (11) Indeed, out of the over 575,000 individuals stopped and frisked by the NYPD in 2009, nearly ninety percent were innocent of any crime. (12) These numbers suggest that the police are playing a significant, independent, and, as of yet, under-theorized role in regulating and disciplining the subjects of the neoliberal state.
This Note explores policing practices and policies under neoliberalism. How does the rise of neoliberalism alter police practices and policies? What role do the police play in the construction and entrenchment of the neoliberal state? I attempt to answer these questions through a detailed analysis of policing in New York City in the 1990s, the quintessential neoliberal city, on which other cities model reform. (13)
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, I contend 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, (14) the policing of disorder, (15) and the deployment of stop-andfrisk policing. (16) Collectively, these neoliberal policing practices constitute the punitive governance of disproportionately marginalized communities, which erodes the police's legitimacy and may ultimately make poor people and people of color less secure.
This Note is organized as follows. Section II establishes a theoretical framework for understanding how neoliberalism impacts crime and changes how American society thinks about and governs crime. It starts by tracing the history of the rise of neoliberalism in the United States and in cities. I argue that the rise of neoliberalism brings about new social conditions that may in turn create new patterns of crime to which the police must respond. (17) At the urban level, neoliberalism has important implications for the spatial development and governance of cities, which in turn affect patterns of crime, governance of police departments, and policing strategies and priorities. (18) I conclude by briefly reviewing the work of scholars who have argued that the rise of neoliberalism produces a massive expansion of the state's criminal justice system, especially its incarceral arm. (19) Although this scholarship lays a solid foundation for understanding the rise of hyper-incarceration in an era of neoliberalism, it does not fully address the ways policing changes under neoliberalism or consider how policing functions as an independent site of neoliberal governance. (20)
Section III of this Note takes an in-depth look at policing practices in New York City to consider how policing has transformed under neoliberal state practices. I contend that neoliberalism brings about new structures of accountability, which give elite and corporate institutions unprecedented influence over the city's policing function. (21) While policing services in the city have become more accountable to the interests of elite institutions, the NYPD has become less accountable to the articulated concerns of the city's poorer residents. (22)
The lack of structures to ensure police accountability to the concerns of poor communities is particularly troubling given the new policing strategies pursued by the NYPD, which I discuss in the third sub-part of Section III. In the early 1990s, the NYPD adopted the strategy of order-maintenance policing, which emphasizes the policing of low-level disorder. (23) Although its definition is heavily contested, (24) social disorder can be thought of as "incivility, boorish, and threatening behavior" and may encompass behaviors like public drinking, vandalism, and panhandling. (25) The implementation of disorder policing has led to the widespread use of punitive policing techniques against poor communities. (26) Unlike earlier eras, state policies under neoliberalism primarily approach the problems of poverty through the police. (27) These practices of policing create a punitive bind, where the state relies on police power to address the consequences of poverty. (28) This approach fails to address the underlying causes of disorder and leads to increased incarceration of poor communities. (29)
In the final sub-part of Section III, I consider the rise in the prevalence of...