There are apt metaphors for New York City - readers here know I am particularly fond of the city as a Jungle (see Jungle Lovers here). However, there are metaphors, and I do believe there is a lawlessness here that makes this city feel at times like the Wild West.
I recall in the 1970s being told by a friend that he had been mugged in the West Village for $20. He subsequently saw the perpetrator some days later in the East Village and yelled, "Hey, you owe me 20 bucks." I don't recall if my friend was reimbursed, but in less enlightened times, that man would be behind bars very quickly.
In Washington Square Park e.g., the police know the drug dealers well, and the dealers know that the police know who they are. They often chat. And they conduct business with impunity. Why? There are a number of reasons, including the fact that the drug sellers know the law and have established a system of steerers, touts, lookouts and actual dealers, enabling them to work in a way that makes arrests difficult. Also, prisons are overcrowded and there is community opposition to new facilities. Often, drug dealers who are arrested are back on the streets in a day or two.
Here, home of the ACLU, police officers must be careful of what they do and how they do it. They know they may face harsh retribution for improper procedures and actions. I have spoken to officers who have said they feel that their hands are tied and they are often are disinclined to make arrests.
The New York City criminal is very street smart, savvy, and crafty and uses all this as a weapon to ply his trade. Thieves know what to do and how to do it. And they steal flagrantly and event flaunt their wares. The bike in the photo was found on Spring Street in SoHo. These orange DKNY bikes were originally part of a promotion - see Orange You Glad here. Apparently the new owner of the bike feels comfortable flaunting his new acquisition on Spring Street. Be glad it is not your bike, because in the Wild West, cowboys often steal with impunity :)