NYPD Watchdog Say Bratton’s ‘Broken Windows’ Hasn’t Worked

Outgoing (now gone) NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton vigorously disagrees .

One of Bill Bratton’s signature programs (along with Comp Stat) is adoption of the :Broken Windows” strategy based on the notion that nipping bad behavior in the bud will prevent worse behavior. The theory was introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kellin based on the metaphor that when broken windows are not repaired it encourages further environmental deterioration. As applied to policing, the strategy states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and toll-jumping creates an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening. Adopting this theory Bratton devoted substantial police resources to enforcing minor offenses. He believes it has made a great difference and claims the IG’s criticisms and data are flawed.

Excerpt from  NYPD Watchdog Shatters Bratton’s ‘Broken Windows’ – Now What?  June 28, 2016 by Nick Pinto and follow-up articles.

“As New York police commissioner under Giuliani, Bratton identified his own crime-fighting strategy with broken windows. But there were crucial differences between his interpretation and that detailed in the Atlantic piece. Kelling and Wilson had described a style of policing that reflected the individual sense of order of each neighborhood. Bratton’s NYPD imposed a uniform standard of order for the whole city. And where the Newark foot-patrol officers generally asserted their presence without arresting or summonsing people, the NYPD was told to take a much harder line, establishing quotas of low-level arrests each officer must meet. Often conflated with broken windows, this strategy is probably better known by a more precise name: Zero Tolerance Policing. (Bratton denies that arrest and summons quotas are in effect today, but a lawsuit filed this spring by twelve minority officers alleges otherwise.)

“Kelling, who has a formal consulting relationship with the NYPD, declined to speak specifically about the Inspector General’s report but told the Voice that where his theory has historically gone wrong is when it becomes equated with summonses and arrests. “That was never what Jim and I had in mind,” he says. “I’m not backing away from summonses or arrests — if people are saying, ‘Screw you, officer,’ that’s a challenge to authority that has to be responded to with forceful action. But you want to be relying on the minimum amount of authority necessary.”

But in New York, the rise of broken windows coincided with the advent of statistically informed policing, particularly in the form of the CompStat program Bratton inaugurated in the 1990s. The more nuanced forms of community interaction Kelling says are at the heart of a true broken windows strategy aren’t always easy to capture in statistics; arrests and summonses are.

“But if we only focus on those, we’re not paying attention to the other goals of community policing,” says Kelling. “Not just to reduce crime, but to ensure that there’s also justice in neighborhoods.”

“Policing in New York has fallen short of that goal. Under Mike Bloomberg’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, the NYPD relied on an especially aggressive form of contact with the community: Every year, police would stop, question, and frisk hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, often on the weakest of pretenses. In 2011, at the practice’s peak, police carried out more than 685,000 stop-and-frisks. The idea, Kelly repeatedly explained, was that if someone was thinking about carrying a gun, they might think twice if they knew there was a good chance they’d be randomly stopped, questioned, and patted down.

“One problem with this method, of course, was that in this country the Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. Another problem was that black and brown New Yorkers were bearing an overwhelming share of these stops — in 2011, 87 percent of those stopped were black or Latino — and the Constitution also guarantees citizens equal protection under the law. What’s more, even in those rare cases — 6 percent — that a police stop did lead to an arrest, nearly half the time it didn’t result in a conviction, and the program started to look like a campaign of racist harassment against basically law-abiding citizens. In 2012, staring down the barrel of a federal class-action suit, the NYPD radically drew down its rate of stop-and-frisks. Despite a drumbeat of doomsaying from stop-and-frisk supporters inside and outside the NYPD, who predicted civic chaos and blood in the streets, crime continued to go down.

“By 2013, when de Blasio campaigned for office tilting at the inequities of stop-and-frisk, the policy was essentially a lame duck. But to reassure the constituencies most invested in the sort of order that makes the city safe for business investment and ever-widening waves of gentrification, he brought Bratton back as commissioner. The result: Even as stop-and-frisks declined, they were replaced by the low-level “quality of life” arrests and criminal summonses called for under Bratton’s absolutist interpretation of broken windows. . . .

“Bratton has been hitting back hard on the report since its release. At a press conference last week he called it “useless” and “fatally flawed,” promising a substantial rebuttal within ninety days. In the meantime, the man hailed for bringing CompStat’s statistics-driven policing to the NYPD waved off the report’s empirical conclusions with vague anecdote. “Every day, you in the media report when my officers make a fare-evasion arrest and find a gun on that individual, make a fare-evasion arrest and find they’re wanted on warrants for murder,” Bratton told the Voice at the press conference, before pulling rank on the Inspector General’s Office: “I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I have a lot more expertise than they have on this issue.”

“Bratton also questioned the report’s methodology, noting that it looked at only six years of recent data and did not address a wider time period, including the miraculous turnaround years of the 1990s. But it’s worth noting that the NYPD hasn’t made comparably detailed statistics from that period publicly available; the report calls on the NYPD to “release historical incident-level and geographic data. . . .


“The IG’s report is hardly the first study to ask whether broken windows reduces serious crime — it’s a question that’s been hotly debated for nearly as long as the theory itself. As a Daily News editorial noted after the report was released, some researchers have found evidence to suggest broken windows does have an effect on crime. Others have found evidence that it does not. . . . ”


NYPD Defends Focus on Minor Crimes—But Says It Needs a Softer Touch

Bratton’s blast back at the IG’s smear of the NYPD

Damn liars and statistics: NYPD IG’s broken broken-windows report

NYPD Responds to Watchdog’s Broken Windows Report With Insults and Anecdotes


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