Friday, December 26, 2014

The Assault on "Broken Windows" Policing

WSJ -- William Bratton and George Kelling -- The Assault on ‘Broken Windows’ Policing

Critics say that maintaining order in public spaces is discriminatory and has no effect on serious crime. The evidence says otherwise.

Critics have a variety of arguments against the policy …. None of these criticisms stands up.

  • Discrimination? … The majority of New Yorkers, including minorities, approve of police addressing disorderly illegal behavior, such as public drinking and drug use, fights, public urination and other acts considered to be minor offenses. We have attended countless meetings with citizen groups in high-crime areas, and almost without exception disorderly behavior and conditions are central concerns.
  • No effect on serious crime? … In 1993 New York’s murder rate was 26.5 per 100,000 people. Since 1994, when Broken Windows policing was put into practice citywide, crime has fallen further, faster and for longer than anywhere else in the country. Today the largest and densest city in the U.S. has a lower murder rate, at four per 100,000, than the nation’s 4.5 per 100,000. In 1993 New York accounted for about 7.9% of U.S. homicides; last year the city’s share was 2.4%.
  • Overincarceration? … Another charge against Broken Windows is that it results in too many poor and minority youths being jailed or imprisoned. In reality, felony arrests in New York are down by about 60,000 a year from 1990 levels.
  • Middle-class morality? … a survey of 13,000 residents of 40 neighborhoods in six large cities …. found a broad consensus—regardless of race, ethnicity or class—about what constituted disorderly conditions and behavior. Topping the list were drunken and loitering youth, street harassment and panhandling, street prostitution, abandoned houses, graffiti, and other behaviors and conditions such as drug dealing, excessive noise and reckless driving. People know what disorderly behavior and conditions are, and they want something done about them.

Prior to the development of “broken windows” policing, a “SoHo” (an area of London) theory of policing was common in practice. That is the idea that there would always be a criminal element and in larger cities it would be easier just to localize this and contain it by lowering standards in a zone or area of the city but enforce all of the environmental codes and laws in the rest of the city. The area of the city where the standards were lowered, however, was also usually racially identifiable. Perhaps the worst thing that can be done to a community is to lower the standards. Children pay more attention to what you do than what you say and you are lowering the expectations for them as well.