How ‘broken windows’ policing devolved into a false narrative of racism
The premise that there is a systemic racial problem in American law enforcement is simply unfounded and without merit
Will the Ferguson and New York protests shift police response from proactive to reactive? Everybody from the White House to the protestors seems to scowl at the idea that a person would be stopped and questioned by an officer unless they were actually guilty of a crime.
Proactive policing is a significant factor in fighting crime. Proactive policing of minor offenses such as panhandling, prostitution, and graffiti can reduce the fear of crime in our neighborhoods, strengthen communities, and prevent serious crime. This is the basic theory behind ‘broken windows’ policing.
The theory obtained notoriety in the early 1980’s and into recent times with its use in some major cities. The practice however, is a basic premise for every good cop working the streets.
A Brief History
Residents living in any neighborhood can become fearful of crime and criminals when they witness or are subjected to minor crimes on a regular basis such as loitering, public drinking and prostitution with the addition of blight, vacant lots and abandoned buildings. These minor crimes often motivate stable families to move out of their neighborhoods seeking safer environments — thus leaving the neighborhoods for the criminal element, which tends to lead to urban decay and a spike in crime.
Policing ‘broken windows’ refers to cops on the street having a zero tolerance of criminal behavior on the streets they work. This is accomplished through basic police work such as strict traffic enforcement, keeping neighborhoods free of minors and adults loitering, drinking, selling , and other minor criminal offenses. When the streets are free of minor offenders, there is less opportunity for vandalism, drug offenses, gang activity and basic lawlessness.
The cause and effect of this theory then suggests that less opportunity for minor crimes reduces major crimes such as homicide, gang activity, robbery and burglary. The principle is simple: officer presence in any neighborhood reduces crime.
During the 1990s, crime rates in New York City dropped dramatically, even more than in the United States as a whole. Violent crime declined by more than 56 percent in NYC, compared to about 28 percent in the rest of the nation. Property crimes dramatically fell by nearly 65 percent, but dropped only 26 percent nationally. What did the NYPD do that was in sharp contrast to other agencies?
The police force in New York City grew by 35 percent during that era and misdemeanor arrests increased by 70 percent. When arrests for misdemeanors had risen by 10 percent, indicating the increased use of the broken windows policing method, robberies and motor vehicle thefts declined significantly.
A Dangerous Narrative
The recent protests in Ferguson and in New York City have spawned a dangerous narrative. The premise that there is a systemic racial problem in American law enforcement is simply unfounded and without merit. They will have you believe that we need to implement new policies for law enforcement to curb the perceived racial divide. These new policies will surely be a soft approach of reactive policing and the outcome of their efforts will encourage crime rates to climb.
Promoting criminals as poster children for a false narrative of racism only creates a problem that doesn’t exist. Targeting honest cops and labeling them as racist after being cleared by a grand jury will only send a strong message to law enforcement.
The message will be to avoid making proactive contact with citizens to avoid being targeted as a racist cop. The neighborhoods will become lawless blocks of criminal enterprises, houses and buildings will be abandoned, and blight will fill the neighborhoods.
Good citizens will fear for their families’ safety and leave the neighborhood for a safer community.
Politicians at this nexus in law enforcement can make a real impact by recognizing that law enforcement is the bedrock of a free and safe society. They now have the opportunity to stop the rhetoric of racism and saturate our cities with cops and a zero tolerance policy. They can take this opportunity to:
1. Explain to the youth of this country that disobedience to law enforcement will only place oneself in harm’s way.
2. Reinforce that the laws of a free society provide, that racism in law enforcement won’t be tolerated. Educate Americans that unfair treatment by a law enforcement officer can be dealt with through the very laws that govern how we police.
3. Make a strong commitment to the hiring practices, pay and benefits needed to insure quality candidates are sought in law enforcement.
4. Spend the money needed to equip every cop in this country with less lethal equipment and training so that we all have the same options in dangerous encounters.
Each and every day cops across this country buckle their duty belts, attend roll call, and hit the streets willing to sacrifice their lives for the very people they serve, no matter what the color of their skin. Too many cops have died fighting for this rule of law. We all accept that this can be our reality on any given shift but we won’t accept the unfounded acquisitions of being a racist police force with no true factual evidence that this is the case.