Study: Pandemic Policing in New York City Disproportionately Affects Black Residents

a protester was arrested for breaking the 8pm curfew in new york city

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Key Takeaways

  • A study found that zip codes with a higher percentage of Black New Yorkers had higher rates of COVID-19-specific criminal court summons from March 12 to May 24, 2020. 
  • The over-policing of Black and low-income communities have health consequences, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. 
  • Researchers call for more funding in care-based public health interventions rather than policing.

Pandemic policing disproportionately affected Black residents in New York City, according to a recent study conducted by Columbia University’s School of Public Health.

As New York City became the epicenter of the pandemic in March 2020, social distancing and mask mandates were enforced to reduce the spread of the virus. But researchers found that Black residents had a 73% increase in COVID-specific criminal court summons and a 34% increase in public health and nuisance arrests between March 22 and May 24 last year.

“We found that a higher percentage of Black residents did have significantly higher rates of both pandemic policing outcomes. We saw similar relationships with the percentage of residents below the poverty level,” Sandhya Kajeepeta, MS, a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study, told Verywell. 

Some COVID-19-related police stops were more violent in nature, according to the study. For example, videos have shown NYPD officers using excessive force to put a mother to the ground in front of her child for wearing a mask improperly. Another news report showed that an officer kneeled on a man’s neck during a social distancing arrest.

Racialized policing is not a new issue, but the study underscored how it exacerbates health inequities in low-income populations and communities of color.

“Neighborhoods that are over-policed may have an increased risk of spread,” Kajeepeta said, noting that. close interactions with unvaccinated police officers may have contributed to community spread.

“Police officers have been reporting higher rates of COVID infection than the rest of the city and also have reportedly lower rates of mask-wearing compliance themselves,” she said.

As of early November, the NYPD's vaccination rate went up to 86% after the Mayor Bill de Blasio's vaccine mandate deadline, although that number has remained stagnant and thousands of officers are on unpaid leave.

Beyond the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission, the Black communities in New York also faced other health consequences from over-policing.

“We know that living in a neighborhood with high rates of police stops is associated with a lot of negative health outcomes, including increased psychological distress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and asthma,” Kajeepeta said. 

A study found that exposure to police killings of unarmed Black Americans was associated with adverse mental health impacts among Black respondents.

Informing Policy and Public Health Outcomes 

Kajeepeta added that COVID-19 policing mirrors the discriminatory nature of the now-abolished stop-and-frisk policy, which has posed lasting consequences on underserved communities.

Seth Prins, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and senior author of the study, told Verywell that he hopes this study will inform funding decisions.

Restorative justice movements have been calling for reduced funding of police authority and power, Prins said. Instead, the city government can invest in "care-based public health interventions that are not punitive or associated with the criminal legal systems," he added.

“Police and criminalization are not effective means of producing public health outcomes," Prins said, adding that public health authorities should be critical about "collaborating with institutions that are based in violence, aggression, and racism, like the police."

What This Means For You

If you’re interested in learning about your rights during a police stop, read this ACLU guide.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kajeepeta S, Bruzelius E, Ho JZ, Prins SJ. Policing the pandemic: estimating spatial and racialized inequities in New York City police enforcement of COVID-19 mandatesCritical Public Health. 2021;0(0):1-12. DOI: 10.1080/09581596.2021.1987387

  2. Bor J, Venkataramani AS, Williams DR, Tsai AC. Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of black Americans: a population-based, quasi-experimental study. Lancet. 2018;392(10144):302-310. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31130-9

By Kayla Hui, MPH
Kayla Hui, MPH is the health and wellness ecommerce writer at Verywell Health.She earned her master's degree in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health and BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.