The NYPD’s aggressive mis-enforcement of the state’s “gravity knife” law generally costs them money; at least $347,000 in false arrest and malicious prosecution settlements in the past five years, to put a rough figure on it.
But this past week, the department made a cool $18,000 from a man in the South Bronx for the dire crime of having a pocket knife. In a tweet sent out Sunday by Police Service Area 7, a unit that patrols public housing in two Bronx precints, the department gloated that they “arrested a male for a gravity knife and vouchered $18,000 dollars cash for forfeiture.” (Adding insult to injury, whoever runs the Twitter account over as PSA 7 decided to include an image of the arrestee’s car registration in their trophy shot, thereby publicizing his name and address, down to the apartment number. Without a more official account, we’re not citing that information here.)
We’ve written a lot about the abuse of the gravity knife statute in the five boroughs. A law passed in the 1950s, designed to outlaw large, switchblade-like knives, has increasingly been used to arrest people for common folding knives. As is the department’s wont, the vast majority of so-called “gravity knife” arrests have focused on people of color. The result is that thousands of people every year are arrested for knives that are widely available at reputable retailers in the city, and which they have no idea can land them in jail. The law has been the subject of broad reform efforts in recent years.
The arrest by PSA 7 is an especially cute one, however, with the added forfeiture element. As the Voice has documented, the NYPD’s civil forfeiture program —ostensibly a way for law enforcement to deny criminals their ill-gotten gains — is in fact a revenue generating scheme that often robs poor people of hard earned money with no due process. Under New York’s forfeiture laws, cash and other property can be seized before a crime is ever proven or even formally charged. Recovering those assets, even when they’re never linked to criminal activity, is a byzantine process that victims often simply give up on. Similar programs at the federal and state level have become infamous as a tool used to prop up police budgets and distort the criminal justice process with a powerful financial incentive.