Although often considered petty crimes, offenses such as gambling, excessive noise, drug sales, and prostitution severely degrade the quality of life within city neighborhoods. Traditionally, police reacted to these activities by simply making arrests, but this response seldom permanently ended such behavior. Instead, criminals moved a few blocks away or laid low for a while and inevitably returned to their original location. This pattern has long frustrated both police and residents, who could only watch as chaos consumed their streets, leading to economic disinvestment in their communities.
Since arresting minor offenders was failing to prevent the debilitation of the City's neighborhoods, it became evident that an exploration of alternative responses was necessary. In 1992, the New York City Police Department established the Civil Enforcement Initiative with the goal of expanding the "menu" of problem-solving techniques available to local police commanders to include strategies that combine criminal and civil remedies.
The Civil Enforcement Initiative provides precinct commanders with in-house services of top quality attorneys. Previously, lawyers served police to keep them within the bounds of the law, but close working relationships were never fostered. The New York City Police Department is the first in the country to develop and institutionalize the concept of a permanent house counsel with attorneys who possess the expertise and ability to work effectively within the police department. The Civil Enforcement Initiative also encourages the creation of partnerships between the police department and other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to solve neighborhood problems more effectively.
Thus far, the Civil Enforcement Initiative has been the catalyst for the design of 13 innovative law enforcement tools that address community crime and quality of life concerns, and new strategies are continuously being developed. One new successful tactic is the Nuisance Abatement Law, which allows police to utilize a preliminary injunction, temporary closing order or temporary restraining order to close locations of illegal acts. The number of criminal locations closed by the Nuisance Abatement Law increased to 122 in 1994 from 23 in 1992. Another innovative strategy is Operation Losing Proposition, which attacks street prostitution by confiscating the cars of the "Johns" or clients. Due to this crackdown, the number of street prostitute customers placed under arrest rose from 196 in 1992 to 2,756 in 1994. The total revenue produced in dollars from all forfeitures to the police department increased from $322,538 in 1992 to $940,821 in 1994.
The public overwhelmingly supports the initiative because officers are providing visible results at the street level. Police presence across the City has increased and neighborhoods are experiencing noticeable improvements: from the decrease in street prostitution to the closing of crack houses and unlicensed social clubs. Most importantly, since the Civil Enforcement Initiative is an ongoing project, police and attorneys can continuously work together to gather and analyze information to identify evolving patterns and to construct new methods to effectively attack crime.