Today, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the NYPD released a new report on the department’s use of so-called “quality-of-life” arrests and summons, also known as broken windows policing. You can read the whole thing here. The key sentence comes on page 3 of 85:
OIG-NYPD’s analysis has found no empirical evidence demonstrating a clear and direct link between an increase in summons and misdemeanor arrest activity and a related drop in felony crime.
In other words: broken windows policing doesn’t seem to work.
The premise behind broken windows, a theory of law enforcement popularized by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton during his first stint atop the department in the 1990s, is that aggressively arresting people for minor crimes like drinking or urinating in public will lead to a decline in major crimes like rape and murder. The idea is that these “quality-of-life” crimes normalize lawbreaking, make it seem commonplace and not that bad, and that this normalization leads to an increase in lawbreaking of all kinds. If there are lots of broken windows in a neighborhood, vandals will continue to break windows; if the neighborhood is clean and friendly, people will be too. Under this worldview, the people who are rounded up and sent to jail for panhandling or jumping the turnstile because they can’t afford the fare are seen as necessary casualties for the cause of making the neighborhood safer.
Except it turns out that rounding up poor people and sending them to jail may not make the neighborhoods safer after all. The Office of the Inspector General—an independent police monitor that was created, it should be noted, in response to criticism over stop-and-frisk, another NYPD policy that criminalized the poor and did little to improve life for the rest of the city—found that between 2010 and 2015, the NYPD’s use of these quality-of-life arrests and summons decreased dramatically, but that there was no corresponding rise in felony crime, as broken windows adherents would expect. In most cases, felonies actually decreased along with the use of broken windows.
The good news is that the city has already started scaling back aggressive enforcement of certain quality of life laws. According to a statement published by Gothamist, the NYPD dispute’s the report’s findings, which should come as no surprise from a department that has shown itself to be historically invested in making sure broken windows is here to stay.