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The NYPD Slowdown Is Proving That ‘Broken Windows’ Is a Failure — Isn’t It Time to Drop It?

It should be harder for the New York City Police Department to go back to “business as usual” once it has resolved its issues with the mayor.

Photo by onnola.
Photo by onnola.
By Charles F. Coleman Jr.
The New York City Police Department continues its standoff with Mayor Bill de Blasio over his perceived lack of support, the conversation caused by the police slowdown is providing strong ammunition for critics of overly aggressive law-enforcement tactics within urban communities.

At this point, there has been no significant impact to public safety because of the slowdown—during which tickets and summons for minor offenses have dropped more than 90 percent—and we’ve seen anything but the doomsday crime spree that Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch seemed to hope might cause widespread fear among New Yorkers.

Lynch, who leads the NYPD’s largest and most influential union, has been very critical of de Blasio in past weeks, accusing him of expressing anti-policing sentiments in his remarks after the Staten Island grand jury’s nonindictment in the Eric Garner choke hold case.

Lynch’s inflammatory sentiments have intensified in the wake of the slaying of two NYPD officers in late December while they were on duty in Brooklyn. According to the New York Post, leaders of the five police unions have orchestrated what amounts to a work stoppage of NYPD officers (the PBA denies that the work stoppage is orchestrated). Still, the effect on the crime rate has been minimal. This strongly suggests that the NYPD’s typical over-policing—particularly within communities of color—is hardly as necessary as many have previously suggested.

In many ways, the slowdown is backfiring terribly and should force a bigger discussion about not only the need to revisit the “broken windows” approach to law enforcement in urban communities but also the age-old trend of funding America’s cities on the backs of the poor.

The broken-windows approach to law enforcement, which de Blasio endorsed during the early days of his tenure, is essentially Reaganomics’ trickle-down theory of policing. (Remember how well that worked out?) The idea is essentially that focusing on strict policing of smaller offenses will deter larger crimes from happening. However, the notion that police, by cracking down on low-level crimes like selling loose cigarettes and open containers, are going to deter hardened criminals is a dubious theory at best. This is, in part, because economics drives most real crime more than any other factor.  

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