NYPD Responds to Watchdog’s Broken Windows Report With Insults and Anecdotes


Before leaving the NYPD this month, commissioner Bill Bratton seems hell-bent on setting the record straight when it comes to his signature policing strategy. In a response to the diss track of a report that the NYPD’s own Inspector General dropped earlier this summer, which excoriated Bratton’s “Broken Windows” policing as being completely ineffective in combating serious crime, and extremely effective in harassing minorities, Bratton’s NYPD has released its own report, aptly titled “Broken Windows Is Not Broken.”

The NYPD’s report counters the IG’s tempered tone with angry defiance, and labels the IG’s analysis as “without merit” and betraying “a complete ignorance” of how policing is done. The NYPD’s report also focuses on how the media responded to the IG’s report, claiming that the IG helped give credence to the widespread belief that the NYPD is “racially discriminatory” (something that federal courts have also, repeatedly, found to be true).

The NYPD’s report lacks any statistical evidence whatsoever to show a correlation between quality-of-life policing and serious crime, instead relying on public support polls to show that Broken Windows policing is popular among New York City communities.

In one telling passage of the 23-page report, titled “The Link Between Lesser Crime and Felony Crime is not Anecdotal,” the NYPD fails to provide any hard statistical evidence showing how low-level arrests prevent felonies, instead immediately launching into a string of anecdotes about how quality-of-life policing helps break up “rowdy groups on streets and in parks,” allows police officers to bring in individuals so they can become informants, and that many quality-of-life arrests stem from calls to the police from within the neighborhood.

The NYPD claims that the IG’s report focused too narrowly on quality-of-life summonses and arrests, and not larger policing trends and argues that by only taking into consideration the last five years of policing, the IG diminished the importance of Broken Windows policing on crime rates over the past 16 years, a time when the NYPD believes that the policy led to the largest decrease in crime in the city’s history.

“The report’s comparison of gross numbers of enforcement actions to crime rates is simplistic,” the NYPD report states. “It betrays a complete ignorance of how this kind of policing is applied in communities, as well as of the wide range of police discretion that does not show up in arrest and summons statistics.”

CUNY law professor Babe Howell, who has studied in-depth the NYPD’s use of Broken Windows policing for years, isn’t buying it.

“The crime drop began in New York before the advent of aggressive quality-of-life policing and has not reemerged with a reduction in this type of policing,” Howell wrote in an email to the Voice. “Moreover the drop in crime is one that has been experienced around the world and in cities that have not relied on aggressive quality-of-life policing. If the crime drop has its causes in factors other than policing (decline in the use of crack, reduction in lead emissions, availability of in-home entertainment on phones and videogames, and gentrification), then the policing of minor offenses among particularly vulnerable populations may be needlessly burdening these communities with fines and criminal records.”

Unlike other recent scathing reports on police malfeasance, such as the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department, the Inspector General has no enforcement power to make the NYPD adjust its policies. In fact, after countless hours and tax dollars spent on the report, the NYPD concludes its response by dismissing the IG’s findings completely and pledging to not reform its quality-of-life policing in the slightest.

In a statement, the Department of Investigation, which houses the NYPD’s Inspector General, gave no ground, saying that it “stood by its report.”

“That Report produced objective statistical evidence that certain specific NYPD strategies do not have a measurable link to a reduction in violent crime,” the statement reads. “The NYPD, in its response, provides no similar data or analysis to refute this finding. This is no small point.”

The DOI then goes on to cite one of the NYPD’s own chosen experts who vetted the report, who praised the IG’s use of relevant data to assess the connection between Broken Windows policing and crime reduction. The expert, David Weisburd, a professor of criminology at George Mason University, says that the DOI’s “recommendation that the NYPD should rely on a ‘more data-driven approach to determine the relative impact of quality of life summonses and misdemeanor arrests on the reduction of crime’ is certainly a very good one.”

Bronx councilman Ritchie Torres, who sits on the city council’s Committee on Public Safety, believes that the NYPD’s response ignores responsible policing and community safety and instead has been written to burnish the ego and fill the wallet of a single man.

“Bratton’s response was hardly shocking, given who he is,” Torres told the Voice. “He’s deeply disdainful and dismissive of his detractors, but his criticism of the report runs even deeper than that. Bratton is personally and professionally invested in a grandiose conception of himself as a great savior of the ungovernable city of New York. At the heart of his persona is Broken Windows policing. So any criticism of Broken Windows isn’t a criticism of a policy, but of the man himself.”

While Bratton himself is leaving the NYPD at some point this month, Torres places responsibility on reforming the NYPD squarely on the slouched shoulders of Mayor de Blasio, who has relentlessly defended broken windows policing, even as his own city government blasts it.

“It’s up to the mayor to force a re-thinking of policy at the NYPD,” Torres said. “No bureaucracy, especially one as entrenched as the police department is going to reform itself out of its own volition — the pressure needs to come from City Hall.”

The Mayor’s Office has yet to return a request for comment.