An 88-page report released today by the city’s independent watchdog that oversees the NYPD found that the department’s controversial “Broken Windows” policing strategy not only is racially discriminatory, but also has no impact on serious crime.
The conclusions of the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD undermine the cornerstone of Commissioner Bill Bratton’s approach to crime reduction — a strategy that has held sway in the city and far beyond since the early 1990s — and directly contradict a similar study released by the department itself in 2015.
“This is the first ever independent, data-driven investigation into the relationship, over time, of quality-of-life enforcement and felony crime,” Mark Peters, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation, said in a press release. (The Office of the Inspector General is within the DOI.) “The results of our investigation call into question some long-held assumptions about the systemic impact of certain tactics and therefore provide a starting point for the NYPD to more fully employ statistical analysis to evaluate these tactics.”
The thinking behind Broken Windows policing has always rested on an assumption that strict enforcement of low-level crimes like public drinking and urination would help drive down more serious crimes like robbery and murder.
But the OIG’s report found that serious felony complaints have declined or remained steady across the city in the past five years, hovering at about 4 violent complaints per 10,000 residents, even as enforcement of low-level offenses has plummeted, from 386,094 summonses in 2010 to 258,008 in 2015.
Beyond the apparent ineffectiveness of the NYPD’s strategy, the report also found wide disparities in where and how “quality of life” enforcement is carried out; summonses for low-level offenses are concentrated in precincts with a relatively high proportion of black and Hispanic residents, public housing residents, and young men ages fifteen to twenty years old.
While the findings clearly undermine the NYPD’s claims about its methods, the report also makes a baffling distinction between what it calls “quality of life enforcement” as compared to “quality of life policing” (emphasis added). The OIG says its report is focused on the former and doesn’t attempt to offer any findings about the latter, nor about the Broken Windows approach writ large.
“This Report did not make findings regarding quality-of-life policing or the much broader concept of the ‘Broken Windows’ policing strategy,” the report says.
The OIG’s conclusions will come as no surprise to police reform advocates, who have made similar arguments for years.
In a statement, Monifa Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, said the report “makes Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton’s continued championing of policing policy based on this conservative, race and bias-based ideology that harms Black, Latino, homeless, low-income, immigrant, and LGBTQ New Yorkers all the more disgraceful and perplexing.”
Mayor de Blasio has long supported Commissioner Bratton’s reliance on Broken Windows.
“I’ve said very clearly that I believe in the Broken Windows theory of policing,” the mayor told a group of reporters in 2014. One reporter asked him whether the tactic “targets people of color…. You don’t see it that way?”
“No, I don’t,” the mayor replied.
You can read the entire report below. Here are some key findings as detailed by the OIG: