When New York police officers temporarily reduced their “proactive policing” efforts on low-level offenses, major-crime reports in the city actually fell, according to a study based on NYPD crime statistics. The findings, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, put a crack in the “broken windows” theory of policing that has become a mainstay of many urban police departments, says the Los Angeles Times. The authors are Christopher M. Sullivan of Louisiana State University and Zachary P. O’Keeffe of the University of Michigan. “A serious concern is that proactive policing diverts finite resources and attention away from investigative units, including detectives working to track down serial offenders and break up criminal networks,” they wrote. “Proactive policing also disrupts communal life, which can drain social control of group-level violence. Citizens are arrested, unauthorized markets are disrupted, and people lose their jobs, all of which create more localized stress on individuals already living on the edge. Such strains are imposed directly through proactive policing, and thus are independent from subsequent judgments of guilt or innocence.”
“Police officers target their efforts at areas where crime is anticipated and/or where they expect enforcement will be most effective,” the authors wrote. “Simultaneously, citizens decide to comply with the law or commit crime partly on the basis of police deployment and enforcement strategies. In other words, policing and crime are endogenous to unobservable strategic interaction, which frustrates causal analysis.” The scientists based their research on data culled from FOIA requests for a large set of NYPD statistical reports from 2013 to 2016. That period included an NYPD work slowdown related to the controversial 2014 death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in an officer’s chokehold.