Every morning, hundreds of people line up at New York City's dingy summons courts, clutching pink tickets for such petty infractions as walking through the park after dark, bicycling on the sidewalk, drinking on the street and even spitting. The New York Daily News reports they are the human faces of the most prevalent but underscrutinized element of “broken windows” policing, a controversial crimefighting strategy implemented in the 1990s that focuses on aggressively enforcing quality-of-life offenses to deter more serious ones. These faces are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic men, a Daily News analysis of first-ever released summons statistics has found. The number of summonses issued each year has soared from 160,000 in 1993 to a peak of 648,638 in 2005. Although that number has fallen, to 431,217 last year and down an additional 17 percent so far this year, writing out violations remains the most frequent police activity, far surpassing felony and misdemeanor arrests combined.
Charges that the police department’s execution of “broken windows” policing is racially biased have intensified since Eric Garner, a black father of six children, was killed July 17 when a white police officer put him in a prohibited chokehold after he had objected to being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Roughly 81 percent of the 7.3 million people hit with violations between 2001 and 2013 were black and Hispanic, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union calculation of available race data on summons forms. Current Police Commissioner Bill Bratton first implemented the policy when he was head of the transit police in 1990, and expanded it citywide during his first tenure as police commissioner from 1994 to 1996. Raymond Kelly was the commissioner from 2002 to 2013.