Black and brown New Yorkers received 85% of the NYPD’s criminal summons last year, according to John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ). And the number issued are up for the first time since 2017 when the Criminal Justice Reform Act funneled many such low-level offenses out of the criminal courts and into the civil justice system.
The findings, which highlight a larger, upcoming report, was released this month stemming from a portion of 2021’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan dedicated to examining current criminal summons practices that disproportionately impact low-income communities and Black and brown New Yorkers. And there’s clearly more work needed.
Last year, Black New Yorkers were more than 9 times likelier to receive a criminal summons than their white counterparts. Often nicknamed a “C summons” or a “pink ticket,” the practice criminalizes “quality of life” crimes. For example, the top charges last year were disorderly conduct and public consumption of alcohol.
“A summons is an appearance ticket for committing certain low-level, non-fingerprintable offenses,” said report author Anna Stenkamp. “The numbers shown within this research note are only for those issued by the NYPD to individuals. On the summons it instructs the person who received it to appear in criminal court at a specific date, time and location depending on where the summons was issued. And it can result in a conviction or penalties or fines.
“If an individual fails to appear on their appearance date, then a warrant can be issued for that. Oftentimes the person will not be arrested, they are just [issued] this ticket and then instructed to appear and pay the fines.”
More than 61% of summons were issued to New Yorkers earning below the city’s median household income. But across the board, Black New Yorkers are disproportionately given appearance tickets—in fact, the $100,000+ household income bracket sees the highest percentage of Black New Yorkers issued criminal summons, although there’s a significantly smaller sample size to pull from.
So does the data indicate Black and brown New Yorkers are overcriminalized? Or are white New Yorkers under-criminalized? The researchers say since there’s little proving a higher volume of summons feeds into public safety.
“[We] are not aware of any evidence that issuing a large number of summons through low level infractions reduces serious crime,” said Stenkamp. “It’s better to focus on tackling the disparities that we do see, by reducing the number of summons issued to Black and brown Yorkers.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.