Broken Windows–Ruining People’s Lives, Reducing Crime, Or Both?


Police departments are under pressure to rethink their most aggressive tactics, and the New York Police Department is on the defensive about its long-standing “broken windows” policing, NPR reports. Broken windows is the idea that police should aggressively crack down on low-level offenses to stop bigger crimes from happening. It’s been copied all over the U.S., but critics say broken windows needs fixing. “Our goal is a simple one: Make the system more just,” says New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Jumping a turnstile at 16 should not mark you for the rest of your life.” The critics say far too many New Yorkers — mostly poor, and mostly people of color — are arrested or ticketed for quality of life crimes. Such offenses include riding a bike on the sidewalk, drinking on the street, jumping a subway turnstile, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Defenders of broken windows policing say statistics are on their side. So is the man who’s largely responsible for making the approach famous in New York some 20 years ago, Police Commissioner William Bratton. “I can assure you that quality-of-life policing will continue, and continue very assertively in this city,” he says. “It’s what made this city safe in the first place.” Heather MacDonald of the conservative Manhattan Institute thinks broken windows is a big reason for the crime decline. “The rap against the police used to be that they ignored community requests for assistance in minority neighborhoods,” she says. “The NYPD is now focused like a laser beam both on where violent crime is happening, and where people want help.”

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