The NYPD Office of the Inspector General issued a report yesterday confirming what many criminal justice academics, journalists, and advocates have been saying for years: the NYPD’s intrusive “Broken Windows” policy had no measurable effect on serious crime. The report concluded that not only does aggressively policing “quality of life disorders” not prevent serious crime, its “cost is paid in police time, in an increase in the number of people brought into the criminal justice system and, at times, in a fraying of the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.” Fortunately, the NYPD policy was largely put to a well-deserved end in 2010 (along with the closely related, but blatantly unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy in 2013)- but the myth is very much alive.
One place where a similar myth recently took hold is NCIA’s home of Baltimore. Some commentators claimed that because overall arrests went down in the wake of the protests over the death of Freddy Gray, and the number of murders went up over the same period, then the only possible conclusion is that more “Broken Windows” policing is necessary to prevent murders. It is reasonable to assume that NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and former NY mayor Rudy Giuliani’s decades-long propaganda campaign was in the back (or the front) of these commentator’s minds. Setting aside the fact that spikes and longer-term trends in violent crime numbers occur with no correlation to numbers of misdemeanor arrests, there was not even a facially plausible rationale explaining why an individual would feel emboldened to commit a homicide because fewer traffic stops were being made in Baltimore as a whole.
Police departments and policy makers across the country should take heed; we don’t know exactly what causes violent crime, but it’s not the lack of petty arrests.