I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think about Spider-man more than the average person. When I was 19, I wrote a thesis about why comics-readers will never truly find love as long as Mary Jane, (posited in the thesis as the ideal woman), exists in their consciousness. This wasn't for a college paper, or a website, or any publication anywhere; it was just a thing I did as an exercise for me. As a child, I used to eat spiders on the off chance that they were radioactive and on the even farther off chance that I'd gain spider powers via ingestion.1 I read the comics, (even after the universe-shattering, retconning disaster that was One Day More), I watched the cartoon show, (even the Peter Parker/Mary Jane wedding episode), and I saw every movie twice on opening weekend, (even the third one which was, objectively, a wet, hot shitpile).
Yeah, that's what the Green Goblin looked like, you guys nailed it.
That's what makes this all so difficult for me. Last week I decided to stay up all night re-watching the Spider-Man trilogy, re-reading some old comics, and working on my homemade web shooters2, as I do from time to time, when a troubling question occurred to me:
Is Spider-Man Bad for New York City?
You want to believe Spider-man's good for the city, and, for the sake of my own mental stability, I need to believe he is, and the knee-jerk reaction is that Spider-man's a Godsend. He does the work of ten police officers and, as a vigilante, does so at no cost to the state. All of the work he does stopping criminals means other police officers will be free to focus on additional tasks, which would, if not double, certainly improve the NYPD's productivity. Further, Spider-man's advanced skill and superhuman abilities put him at a serious advantage over even the best of the NYPD. The average response time to a 911 call in New York City is 10.8 minutes but, Spider Sense, lightning-quick reflexes and the ability to avoid all non-bird traffic puts Spider-man's response time closer to the 2-3 minute range.3.
Also check out his right hand. NYPD can't do that little move either.
Simple math tells us that's a vast improvement, but let's take a closer look at those numbers.
A Closer Look at Those Numbers
Ignoring his results for a minute, let's study Spider-man's methods and, specifically, the webbing that he squirts all over the city and what kind of problems that may cause.
[Author's Note: Dan, don't forget to include an Obligatory Web-as-Semen joke here, I'm sure you'll think of something.]
At first glance, you'd think the problem facing New York would be "Holy s**t that's a lot of web to clean up." Your thoughts would be with the poor janitors and window-washers who would now be forced to scrape webbing off of every building in New York City. But as devotees will quickly point out, that's not a problem, as Spider-man's web, thanks to certain imbibed esters, will conveniently dissolve into a powder after about two hours.
The problem isn't the amount of web, necessarily, it's the quality. It's about as strong as high-tensile steel, certainly strong enough that we, as non-spidermen, can't move it or tear it apart. Now what does this mean? Well, Spider-man doesn't actually put anyone behind bars, he just leaves them tied up, scattered around the city; police officers still need to physically round up these criminals.
So every time there's a bank robber, thug or gang member that gets caught in Spider-man's web, this means the New York Police Department needs to send out one but probably two police officers to show up, stand guard and wait up to two hours for the web to dissolve before carting the criminal off to jail. The alternative is no cops wait, and the criminals just quietly walk away when the web dissolves. The cops can't move the crook; they'll get stuck to the web if they try to budge it, and they can't cut it down, it's too strong. They just have to stand there and wait.
"Oh, for f**k's sake."
"This is bullshit, he doesn't have to use this much. He doesn't."
We think that having Spidey around will free up some extra police officers, but if they have to show up to every single crime scene that he handles, New York is literally using the same amount of manpower to respond to emergencies as it did pre-Spider-man. And, of course, the original amount of manpower that NYPD required to keep crime down didn't factor in the additional superhero-specific crimes that naturally follow Spider-man wherever he goes, including but not limited to:
They will, understandably, need to make some special accommodations for all of the inevitable Spider-man-related crimes.
That is, if they have time. Pre-Spider-Man response time is 10.8 minutes, and if all of New York's finest are wasting their time waiting two hours for webbing to dissolve at every single crime scene, that number will only grow. There are some crimes that the NYPD can't solve quickly, some criminals they can't catch, that's true. But with Spider-man on the case, every single thief they chase down comes with a two hour time-out period, guaranteed.
But manpower, while important, is by no means the full argument. We need also to ask if Spider-man is good for New York fiscally, or whatever.
Is Spider-man Good for New York Fiscally, or Whatever?
In a word, the damage spider-man would cause to the already cash-strapped NYPD is catastrophic. In several more words, according to the ABC, as it stands already, hundreds of city officers are leaving the NYPD every year for higher paying jobs because, even though New York City has the largest staff, it also has probably the worst pay, and its numbers are dwindling. In 1991, 159 officers left for nearby, better paying jobs and, in 2007, the number was 990. New York City police officers are tired, underpaid, overworked and surrounded by neighboring departments that pay officers as much as $15,000 a year more. The majority of them that do stay only stay because the NYPD has such a rich history; they appreciate the prestige of being associated with the force.
That prestige will lose its luster and the department will become less appealing if these officers have to add "Babysit milk-slime-covered criminals for two hours" to their list of responsibilities. No one signs up for the NYPD with that job in mind.4 Not to mention the fact that, in the eyes of the public, regular police officers look pretty lameass compared to Spider-man. It is not unreasonable to conclude that Spider-man's presence in New York would, at the very least, raise the amount of police officers who leave the NYPD by 10% a year, and that is a fairly conservative, if albeit, completely-made-up-and-based-on-nothing projection.
Additionally the city has to spend $25,000 to recruit and train a replacement for every seasoned office who leaves the NYPD. Further, we can't ignore that Spider-man is a vigilante. The NYPD has a special unit for everything; a Major Crimes Unit, a Mounted Unit, a Transit Bureau, a Scuba Team, an Aviation Unit- everything. You have to assume they'd create a special anti-Spider-man Task Force charged with bringing the web-slinger to justice, they wouldn't be doing their duty if they didn't. This means special training, more men, and highly advanced weaponry and body armor that can compete with Spider-man's superhuman abilities, what would probably be called the "Spider-man Task Force Unit" or something.5
It all costs money, money the NYPD doesn't have.
So, in conclusion, Spider-man's isn't freeing up manpower, he's wasting it, and he's not saving the city money, he's costing it more. 5 years after Spider-man's reign and New York will be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and with 1/3 of the police force they require.
Which means, as much as it breaks my heart to admit it, the lone voice of reason in the Spider-man universe is and always has been:
I'm so sorry, Spider-man.
1. This is half true. I was not a child.
2. As of this writing, it's still in the "crayon sketches on a napkin" stage of development.
3. Or something.
4. At least I certainly hope not.
5. I'd also like to politely request that commenters think about this unit if they're considering posting any long diatribes refuting the claims made in this article.
Movies are never more unrealistic than when they're showing us exactly what a dollar can buy.