Opinion: It’s time to end police enforcement of social distancing

traffic safety
Police officers from the 63rd Precinct receiving instruction.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to end the policy of requiring our NYPD to enforce social distancing. 

Now more than ever, we need our cops to focus on the real criminals taking advantage of this pandemic, which is causing more havoc at the expense of innocent New Yorkers. For example, commercial burglaries were up 169 percent in April compared to last year. 

In addition, there has been a 55 percent increase in robberies in our subway system compared to last year, despite an over 90 percent decrease in ridership. Also, our subway has become a rolling hotel for the homeless, making it an even more nerve-racking experience. 

Despite the fact that there are already MTA rules prohibiting using the trains as a hotel, City Hall has thus far turned a blind eye to this out of control problem. Just last week, two homeless individuals were found dead. Mayor de Blasio should utilize the NYPD to address this issue, and ensure our essential workers feel safe getting to and from their important work rather than using them to oversee New Yorkers enjoying the sunshine and nice weather with their families and friends. 

As one veteran train operator, Yann Hicks, admitted, “I don’t really want to ride the trains anymore because I’m afraid to ride the train. The trains are overwhelmed with homeless, and you never know what’s going to happen.” I think most New Yorkers who must still use the subway today would agree. 

Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, who also just called for the end of social distancing enforcement by the NYPD, summed up the misplaced priorities of City Hall succinctly when he stated, “Meanwhile, those same politicians are still watering down our laws, releasing real criminals and discouraging proactive enforcement of fare evasion and quality of life issues. As a result, our subways are in chaos and we have hero nurses getting mugged on their way to our hospitals. As the weather heats up and the pandemic continues to unravel our social fabric, police officers should be allowed to focus more on our core public safety mission.” 

With the continued anti-police sentiment that has been fueled by our politicians, especially the mayor, do we really expect there not to be any confrontations when a cop attempts to enforce social distancing? Indeed, last weekend in the East Village when officers were following the mayor’s order to enforce social distancing, three people were charged with resisting arrest. One of them was also hit with assault of a police officer and menacing charges.

Continuing this practice is asking for even more confrontations, and we know that when things get heated the mayor will turn his back on our cops. 

Adding more issues to social distancing enforcement by the NYPD, there have been mixed messages on this and the wearing of masks. A recent tweet from the NYPD showed an officer handing a mask to someone strolling on a crowded pathway. As Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) accurately tweeted, “We can’t go on where it’s literally a ‘No mask? No problem’ tweet and you’re handed a free one, but two miles away you’re given a court summons. Can’t be ‘open streets for fresh air’ but ‘there’s too many people out.’”

Once again, Borelli proves to be almost a sole voice of sanity and common sense at City Hall.

If the mayor wants to enforce social distancing, he should consider using his bloated City Hall staff of “senior aides” and “special assistants,” or traffic agents since they have more time on their hands with alternate side of the street parking suspended. But, for the sake of our essential workers and law abiding New Yorkers, let cops be cops.

Bob Capano has worked for Brooklyn Republican & Democrat elected officials. He has been an adjunct political science professor for over 15 years. Follow him on Twitter @BobCapano.