Is ‘Broken Windows’ Dead–Or Have the Semantics Changed?

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Calls to reform police departments have echoed across the country with renewed energy in recent years, as cities face increasing pressure to police less aggressively while still keeping a lid on crime, reports Business Insider. “Broken Windows,” the policing strategy that emphasizes pursuing nuisance crimes as a means of preventing more serious ones, has been blamed for hyper-aggressive policing and racial profiling. It has fallen out of favor among the public and lawmakers. But although criminal justice experts remain divided on whether the theory is actually an effective crime prevention strategy, they say it’s unlikely that Broken Windows is on its way out.

In the face of renewed criticism, politicians and police departments appear to be shying away rhetorically from the theory, but it’s unclear whether reforms within the departments reflect any significant strategic shift. At a press conference after NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his impending resignation, his successor James O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio touted a strategy termed “neighborhood policing,” and called for officers to spend less time in their cruisers and more time interacting with the communities they patrol. That definition doesn’t differ much from the Broken Windows approach, according to Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former Baltimore cop. “My guess is that because [O’Neill is] a Bratton protegé, I’m assuming he basically believes what Bratton does in terms of policing,” Moskos said. “If that’s true, he is going to use ‘neighborhood policing’ as his justification to keep doing Broken Windows — by that name or a different name. To some extent those optics are important.”

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