Public Urination in New York Becomes Test Case for Policing

The police often issue citations to people urinating in alleys off a bar-studded strip on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Credit Kevin Hagen for The New York Times

The police often issue citations to people urinating in alleys off a bar-studded strip on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Credit Kevin Hagen for The New York Times

Matt Flegenheimer and J. David Goodman write:

Evidence pools beneath rows of pay phones, between parked cars, outside bars where last call has come and gone.

The culprits can be found in any neighborhood of New York City: the West Village or Williamsburg, Chelsea or Elmhurst. And teams of plainclothes police officers, unsympathetic to the urge, know where to lie in wait. Sometimes.

“This is tradition,” Alejandro Gomez, 31, said recently from a bench in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he shared a six-pack with two friends who rose to urinate, undetected, beside a park around 2 a.m.

As city leaders wrestle with how to adapt police tactics to a lower-crime era, the Police Department in recent months has suggested it would loosen its approach to public urination, a quintessential quality-of-life crime whose effects have a tendency to linger — both on the street and for the person cited.

Skeptics have bemoaned any proposed shift as an emblem of backslide after decades of aggressive policing. But Commissioner William J. Bratton, in a May letter to the City Council, said he was open to treating the offense as a violation only, rather than a misdemeanor, so long as officers preserved the right to make an arrest if necessary.

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