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.