Policing the pandemic: estimating spatial and racialized inequities in New York City police enforcement of COVID-19 mandates

By Sandhya Kajeepeta, Emilie Bruzelius, Jessica Z. Ho, Seth J. Prins in Decarceral public health

November 10, 2021


November 10, 2021


12:00 AM


The use of policing to enforce public health guidelines has historically produced harmful consequences, and early evidence from the police enforcement of COVID-19 mandates suggested Black New Yorkers were disproportionately represented in arrests. The over-policing of Black and low-income neighborhoods during a pandemic risks increased transmission, potentially exacerbating existing health inequities. To assess racialized and class-based inequities in the enforcement of COVID-19 mandates at the ZIP-code-level, we conducted a retrospective spatial analysis of demographic factors and public health policing in New York City from 12 March–24 May 2020. Policing outcomes (COVID-19 criminal court summonses and public health and nuisance arrests) were measured using publicly available police administrative data. After controlling for two measures of social distancing compliance, a standard deviation increase in percentage of Black residents was associated with a 73% increase (95% CI: 35%, 123%) in the COVID-19-specific summons rate and a 34% increase (95% CI: 17%, 53%) in the public health and nuisance arrest rate. Percentage of Black residents and historical stop-and-frisk rates had stronger associations with COVID-19 summons rates than multiple measures of social distancing compliance. Findings demonstrate pronounced spatial and racialized inequities in pandemic policing of public health that mimic historical policing practices deemed racially discriminatory. If the field of public health supports criminalization and punishment as public health strategies, it risks reinscribing racialized health inequities.

Posted on:
November 10, 2021
2 minute read, 221 words
Decarceral public health
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