NYPD

NYPD Commissioner Bratton: Broken Windows "Is the Linchpin of Effective Policing"

District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.: We must stop arresting citizens for minor infractions.

|

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and NY County DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. at a Manhattan Institute panel on broken windows policing. ||| Jim Epstein
Jim Epstein

At a breakfast forum held today in Manhattan, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton vigorously defended what he called the "policing of incivility," commonly known as "broken windows," arguing that it's the "linchpin of effective policing." He credited the approach with the steep crime decline in New York and other cities that began in the mid-1990s. The event was hosted by the Manhattan Institute to mark the 20th anniversary of the broken windows approach in New York.

Bratton said that "in the vast majority of cases" the NYPD reacts to quality of life offenses only after a citizen calls in a complaint, such as "a prostitute in the doorway" or "a group of kids smoking marijuana in the hallway." He attributed the contentious debate over broken windows to "the residue of controversy" over stop and frisk, adding that "the same groups involved in that debate are fueling the debate over the policing of incivility." Bratton said the NYPD is working at "building legitimacy" in the eyes of the community in part by dealing with the small number of police officers who are bad actors.

New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., who was also on the panel, said he'd like to see many quality of life crimes downgraded from criminal to civil offenses. This would clear roughly 12,000 cases off his docket annually, Vance said, allowing his office to focus on serious crimes. Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York, said that it was clear that the "community wants quality of life enforcement," but echoed Vance's call for downgrading minor offenses, floating an idea for a system in which "community-based panels" adjudicate small infractions.

In response to a question, Vance said he supports downgrading the public display of marijuana to a violation. Thanks to the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977, carrying less than 25 grams of pot in New York State is  a civil violation that draws a maximum fine of $100. However, as Jacob Sullum has written about in Reason, a citizen caught with the same quantity of pot in public view faces up to three months in prison. Vance called the two scenarios a "distinction without a difference," and said changing the law is "sensible." According to the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, in the first four months of 2014 the NYPD arrested about 80 people daily for publicly displaying cannabis.

Advertisement

NEXT: Mayor De Blasio Looking to Ban Large Sugary Drinks Because That Went So Well the First Time

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. the NYPD reacts to quality of life offenses only after a citizen calls in a complaint, such as “a prostitute in the doorway”

    “911. What is your emergency?”

    “There’s someone dressed like a prostitute in the doorway.”

    “The Ghost of Mr. Blackwell is on the way.”

    1. “New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., who was also on the panel, said he’d like to see many quality of life crimes downgraded from criminal to civil offenses. This would clear roughly 12,000 cases off his docket annually, Vance said, allowing his office to focus on serious crimes.”

      Yes indeed, we need all of our resources so we can focus on extremely serious crimes such as overly deadpan Internet mockery. Consider the details of one prosecution the city has spend probably close to a million dollars on so far, over five years of complex litigation:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  2. Bratton said the NYPD is working at “building legitimacy” in the eyes of the community in part by dealing with the small number of police officers who are bad actors.

    I wonder what is meant by “dealing with.” Does it mean a stern talking to? Some more training? A paid vacation? Transfer to a different department? Because prosecution for their crimes is most certainly off the table.

    1. They have to sit in the room with the teachers who can’t be fired.

      1. When they have enough of each, they’re going to form a softball league.

      2. I doubt if they even have to do that and we can thank the “public” unions for both of these problems.

  3. …Vance said he supports downgrading the public display of marijuana to a violation.

    The NYPD doesn’t care what he supports.

  4. Ron Unz analyzes New York Cities crime rate:

    http://www.unz.com/article/rac…..n-america/

  5. He’s right-tolerance of small crimes tends to engender big ones. Broken Windows however only applies to *actual* crimes, not prostitution and MJ.

  6. The issue is not the value of broken windows policing. The issue is should marijuana be considered a “broken window”. I think clearly it shouldn’t. Make it legal and then more than just criminals will have it and it becomes like cigarettes or alcohol. There are still plenty of actual quality of life issues that the police can and should be enforcing like aggressive begging, fair jumping on the subway, street walking and so forth.

    1. Setting up checkpoints and demanding papers is even more effective.

      1. If you are committing a crime like harassing people demanding money or jumping the subway gates, why shouldn’t the police arrest you? We pay the dumb bastards to enforce the law don’t we?

        To give an example, the bums in New York has a racket where they run up and clean people’s windshields when they are stuck in traffic without asking and then demand payment. If people don’t pay, they harass them or threaten to vandalize their car. That is a crime and the bums who do it should be arrested. Its not a serious crime but it still matters and should be enforced.

        1. I’d prefer armed drivers shooting the fuckers in the face, but that’s just me.

          1. I would support that. The problem is most people don’t have quite the nasty disposition I do and shooting someone, even a bum, is a real pain in the ass involving a lot of paper work. Also, I doubt New York is going to go for the legal use of deadly force to defend your car, though I would support such a law. So we are stuck with expecting the police to do their fucking jobs for once.

            1. Do you think if you come out and someone is vandalizing your car you should be able to shoot them?

              1. Yes, I do, and here’s why:

                (1) They are trespassing on my property in order to commit a crime.

                (2) While committing a crime on my property, they have (something that can be used as) a weapon in their hand.

                That makes them highly eligible to be shot, in my book. Now, I wouldn’t actually shoot them if they laid down their weapon and got face down on the ground with their hands behind their head until the cops show up.

                1. I didn’t posit any weapon, I just said vandalizing. Maybe they’re breaking off the wipers.

                  Of course I think someone vandalizing my car should be a factor in determining whether someone had a reasonable apprehension of being violently attacked, but I’m talking shooting someone just for the vandalizing.

                  1. but I’m talking shooting someone just for the vandalizing.

                    I bet vandalism would cease to be much of an issue if property owners could legally use deadly force to protect their stuff.

                    1. I bet it would get even lower if you went and killed the vandalizer’s family too, but that wouldn’t make that correct.

                  2. Shooting someone dead for mere vandalism sounds excessive, but force is definitely warranted. As you imply, these situations can often have a propensity to get violent on the part of the vandal and it can be hard to tell when that might happen.

                    While I would avoid shooting, if I were on a jury it would be very difficult to get me to convict unless there’s clear evidence that the vandal was non-violent in intent (e.g., surrendering or running away w/witnesses or forensics to that effect).

                    1. How about shooting the vandal unawares in the back while he vandalizes? OK or not?

                    2. If he has a weapon and exhibits erratic and unpredictable behavior such that one has a reasonable fear of assault, then yes.

                      Otherwise, no.

                    3. I just can’t see how someone unawares with their back turned to you could possibly be the basis of an objectively reasonable fear of assault.

                      Don’t get me wrong, I think you have the right to stand your ground. If the vandalizer turns on you, or acknowledges your presence, and its reasonable to think he’s going to attack soon, sure. But back turned unawares?

                    4. I should qualify, ‘fear of imminent assault’

                    5. If the vandalizer turns on you, or acknowledges your presence, and its reasonable to think he’s going to attack soon, sure. But back turned unawares?

                      Absolutely.

                      Consider the following (which happened to me a couple of months ago leaving the GRM in Tucson):

                      A drunk is looking at your car, screaming obscenities and threats at passerbys and throwing rocks at nearby dogs. People are moving around him, and he makes his way towards your car and starts throwing rocks at it, yelling that he was “ex-military” and that he could fuck people up if they even looked at him wrong, etc. Your car is backed in an alley, meaning that you don’t have much room for a good shoot and giving advance warning means this guy has room to attack you.

                      In real life, the guy was 5’4 and I’m a bigger guy, so I felt safe yelling at him to get away and taking my chances that he’s just your average street crazy — but what if he’s the 6′ guy, and I’m a smaller guy or a girl? If you only have one chance and you don’t think you can take him, that’s a reasonable shoot in my mind and I’m letting you off the hook.

                    6. “God Created Man, Col. Colt Made Them Equal”

            2. Law enforcement is not the police’s job. Their job is to enforce compliance. As in obey. They couldn’t give a shit about the law and they certainly don’t give a shit about crime victims. And this whole broken windows thing reinforces that. They strut around, fucking with anyone who they don’t like, and fucking up anyone who doesn’t obey them. Call them about an actual crime and if you’re lucky they’ll fill out a report that will never be looked at again.

    2. This is about right. The other thing about broken window policing is that its effectiveness depends on an ability to enforce all quality of life crimes professionally. The theory goes like this:

      Most people experience “serious” crimes only rarely; therefore the small stuff is what people will base their experience and impression of the police on. People who see the police responding to those small things professionally will be more inclined to trust the police on the big stuff and report crimes, provide statements, etc. and generally have a less hostile police-community interaction.

      This is literally impossible if you criminalize just about everything, especially things that the community likes — therefore, it is better to have a pared-down list of things that actually are offensive, instead of having bullshit like not smoking a doob getting enforced by militarized thugs (which has the exact opposite effect of what broken windows policing is supposed to elicit).

      1. The whole thing depends upon the crimes being actual quality of life crimes and not being bullshit that gives the police the excuse to harass people. If it is the latter, the quality of life doesn’t improve and people just grow to hate the cops.

      2. Actually, the theory is based on the idea of reducing disorder so that law abiding people will ‘reclaim public spaces.’ If people smoking joints makes people uncomfortable enough to want to to not be around in public spaces that’s a problem for the theory. It’s a theory based on what makes middle class people feel uncomfortable or afraid.

        1. Sounds like a scam to get votes to me.

        2. If pot were legal, more than just criminals smoke it and it becomes like smoking or drinking.

          Beyond that, alcohol is legal but public consumption is not. So you could legalize pot but just make smoking it in public illegal just like drinking a beer is and solve the problem you describe.

          The problem here is that police chief is using the need to enforce “quality of life crime” as an excuse to arrest people possessing pot regardless of whether they are smoking it or not. And someone having a joint in their pocket is no more a quality of life crime than someone carrying a bottle of bourbon home from the liquor store.

          Legalization advocates are making a grave mistake is they make legalization mean open public use such that legalizing pot means people smoking it in every park and street corner. That will turn people against it quicker than anything.

          1. I actually agree with what you say here.

            1. If you have ever been to any pro legalization rally, it is easy to see why it is going to be so hard to legalize pot in this country. The advocates sadly are often just assholes who think smoking wee in public and never bathing is the highest form of human existence.

              Maybe in an ideal world people should be allowed to smoke weed in any public space. That argument is pointless because we don’t live in an ideal world. In the real world most voters are not going to agree to legalization if it means legal open use. They just won’t. So people need to take half a loaf here and be happy to see it be legal to use in shops or in their homes like alcohol is.

              1. “assholes who think smoking wee in public and never bathing”

                John, please, let’s keep your strange fetishes for another thread!

              2. The millions of professional people who quietly take a few puffs after work aren’t going to show up at the rallies because they want to keep their jobs. Make a bunch of noise about legalization and your boss may follow up on the pre-employment piss test. Then whammo you’re fired.

                1. Absolutely sarcasmic. And those people are going to be fine with public use remaining illegal. We just need to somehow make those people’s voices heard.

                  1. Catch 22. They can’t speak up unless they can do so without fear of being fired, and that risk is not going to go away until respectable pot smokers speak up.

          2. alcohol is legal but public consumption is not.

            In some cases public consumption IS legal. Generally, those cases all require the government to get its cut of a drink sale.

        3. the theory is based on the idea of reducing disorder so that law abiding people will ‘reclaim public spaces.’

          Can’t it be both? I don’t see a problem with the above statement on its face, nor does it contradict the idea that enforcing quality of life crimes improves the community-police relationship (unless you start from the premise that the community is lawless to begin with, which I would disagree with in the vast majority of cases).

          This:

          If people smoking joints makes people uncomfortable enough to want to to not be around in public spaces that’s a problem for the theory

          Is not related to your first sentence (though it is how “broken windows” has been implemented in NYC, I’ll agree). Whether *some* lawful citizens are uncomfortable with what other lawful citizens are doing is immaterial to the conversation; the critical component for broken windows policing to work is that the community and the police’s view of lawfulness match up. This doesn’t really happen if there are heaps of penny-ante laws originating from bureaucratic bodies which most people are unaware of — granted, maybe the community views on MJ lawfulness are equivalent to that of those making the rules (I doubt it), but what about the rest of those “three felonies a day”?

          Broadly speaking, I think that the libertarian conception of government, good policing, and a well-ordered public space are compatible. Not to Singapore levels of such, but still.

          1. It’s not that I don’t think it can be both, I just don’t think that’s what Wilson and Kelling mentioned as part of the theory. We recently went over the original Atlantic article in discussions of legal challenges to anti-panhandling laws.

            1. FWIW here’s that article:

              http://www.theatlantic.com/mag…..ws/304465/

              1. Thanks.

                After having read that, I’d say that my characterization of broken windows theory was false. However, it’s clear that it’s highly dependent on high police-community relations to work, and I’d say that this is still a very strong argument that (if broken windows theory is right) the laws should, at most, encompass those things which the community is aware of as local or moral harms. As John says above, there is some sense in which public disorder is distinct from the types of legalization which libertarians focus on (for example one is not generally considered to be in favor of the right to Bacchanal orgies 24/7 in Central Park merely because one is in favor of legalized prostitution).

          2. However, the comfort of onlookers includes some…interesting…preferences. Many, perhaps most, adults are uncomfortable in the presence of the crazy. The crazy may be completely peaceful, but if they are dressed oddly and/or walk and/or talk strangely, they make people around them uncomfortable. This is also true to some extent of the physically deformed. Unfortunately the afflicted are to a large degree “broken windows”.

  7. Seems like yet another good spot for this…

    **NYC Reasonoid Meet-up!!**

    When: Wednesday, 10/22/14, 6:00PM
    Where: Rattle N Hum
    14 E 33rd St
    http://www.rattlenhumbarnyc.com/home

    On the discussion list:
    Deblasio – Fiend, Fool, or Ovine Fornicater?
    Stop and Frisk – Well Sure, Just Don’t Choke Me, Bro!
    Is Obama the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Jimmy Carter?
    EbolaEbolaEbolaEbolaEbola!!!

    Suggestions Welcome

    1. Will there be 64 oz drinks?

      1. That’s about 4 pints, so yes.

  8. An iron fist in an iron glove is the only thing those ignorant proles understand.

    We must have order.

  9. He credited the approach with the steep crime decline in New York and other cities that began in the mid-1990s.

    A rooster in one city claims the credit for the sunrise nationwide.

    1. That would make him a huge cock.

    2. Yeah that decline is happening in spite of the police not because of them.

  10. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton vigorously defended what he called the “policing of incivility,”

    This is a reference to the NYPD’s well established policy of treating civilians like the shit on their shoes, right?

    1. the “policing of incivility”

      Nice band name.

    2. Well, that’s definitely part of broken windows policing.

      Under Bernie Kerik, the NYPD’s first rule was “Be nice”. Or was that Patrick Swayze? Easy to mix those two up.

      1. +1 flying roundhouse kick

  11. Amazing how community policing drastically lowered crime rates in NYC right at the same time there was a huge drop in crime rates nationwide.

    1. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. The rates dropping nationally doesn’t necessarily mean the techniques in New York didn’t work.

      The overall trend certainly had something to do with the drop in violent crime. At the same time, going after aggressive bums and general assholes who made life in the city miserable had an effect to in that it made the city more livable and thus got more law abiding and productive people to move there.

      1. “Correlation doesn’t equal causation. ”

        Priceless

        1. What is priceless about it? It is true. Just because the reduction in crime rates correlated with something, be that the change in policing techniques or the national drop in crime, doesn’t mean either caused them or that the drop in NYC crime wasn’t some combination of the two. Its just as erroneous to credit the national drop in crime as it is to credit the policing techniques based on nothing but correlation.

          1. Read the comment you were replying to and your reply.

            1. I’ll elaborate. BakedPenguin’s comment was itself a ‘correlation doesn’t mean causation’ statement. And no one is attributing the drop in NYC TO the drop in other cities at the same time, they are noting that that simultaneous drop is a good reason to think the claimed causation between the policing tactics and the drop in crime in NYC is itself spurious.

      2. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, I just also don’t believe it was responsible for the lion’s share of the crime drop.

        1. The crime didn’t drop that much in every city. It is not like the national rate perfectly coincides with every local rate.

          Further, New York was not the only city to change its policing tactics. And its drop contributed to the drop in the national rates. New York is the largest city in the country and was in the early 1990s one of the most unsafe. So some of the national drop is the result of New York getting better. The relationship goes both ways.

          The truth is that we will never know for sure and it probably a combination of the two factors. Some of it was not so much the policing but the effect of people being able to stand to live in the city again changing the demographics. If you run out law abiding people, your crime rate is going to go up no matter how you police.

          1. “was in the early 1990s one of the most unsafe”

            I don’t think that’s correct. The NYC crime rate in 1990 was less than half that of Chicago, Atlanta, Hartford, Miami, etc.

          2. I read a long time ago that cross-sectional analysis revealed that increased police/broken windows accounted for at most 25% of the crime drop seen since the late ’80s. That is nothing to sneeze at, but something else happened that was bigger. Maybe abortion, but I would put my bets on banning leaded gasoline. A libertarian ban if there ever was one.

            1. Cytoxic,

              Some of it is that society has its own self correcting mechanisms. No bad trend goes on forever. Being a criminal generally sucks and most people if they understand what being one really means will choose not to be one. So you get a big spike in crime in the 70s and 80s and things suck not just for the victims but for the criminals too. Gradually a few people realize that being a criminal is a bad idea and the rate starts to go down.

              If there is a libertarian lesson in the drop in crime, it is that society will correct bad trends if given the opportunity no matter what the nanny state lovers think.

              1. A great deal of it was mere demographics. Old people tend not to be criminals.

    2. Was it the community policing/racial profiling or the stat juking that dropped crime rates?

  12. NYPD police instructional manual, On Incivility in Effective Police Work:

    Chapter One: CIVILITY IS FOR SUCKERS, or Treating the Perp Like a Human Being is a Sign of Weakness.

  13. Bratton said that “in the vast majority of cases” the NYPD reacts to quality of life offenses only after a citizen calls in a complaint, such as “a prostitute in the doorway” or “a group of kids smoking marijuana in the hallway.”

    In other words, New York City is ruled by the capricious whims of curmudgeonly bitter elderly cat-ladies.

    1. New York City is ruled by the capricious whims of curmudgeonly bitter elderly cat-ladies.

      An excellent description of the mindset of the Mayor, his predecessor, and the City Council.

  14. Everything the NYC police commissioner says, in my opinion, can be translated to mean the following =

    “NYC has the highest ratio of police relative to crime in the entire world –

    This means we are better than anyone else, and therefore can never, ever, ever, ever, ever, cut the budget for the NYC police force

    The fact that crime is so low is simply proof that we are good at what we do and that all the endless increases in petty enforcement are justified, and TOTALLY have nothing to do with the quota system we have for citations.””

  15. “floating an idea for a system in which “community-based panels” adjudicate small infractions.”

    This is a good idea. I think we should have panels of ordinary citizens, selected at random, enough of them so that we can a variety of perspectives – say 12-member panels – and they should have to be unanimous, to preserve the presumption of innocence…

    Let’s get to work on this, people!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.