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Why We Need Broken Windows Policing

January 1, 2015

By William Bratton

Recent tragic incidents involving the New York City Police Department (NYPD)—including the summer 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was being arrested on Staten Island, and the autumn 2014 death of Akai Gurley, shot accidentally by a young police officer in a housing project in Brooklyn—have reinvigorated police critics, especially in the context of a broader national discussion about crime and race prompted by events in Ferguson, Missouri. The horrific murders of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in December, by a man claiming to avenge Garner’s death, have added a deeply tragic counterpoint to this maelstrom of anti-police sentiment. Even as the department mourns its loss, it remains under fire for its adherence to some of the most fundamental principles of American policing.

The NYPD’s critics object, in particular, to the department’s long-standing practice of maintaining order in public spaces. This practice, widely referred to as Broken Windows or quality-of-life or order-maintenance policing, asserts that, in communities contending with high levels of disruption, maintaining order not only improves the quality of life for residents; it also reduces opportunities for more serious crime. Indeed, the Broken Windows metaphor is one of deterioration: a building where a broken window goes unrepaired will soon be subject to far more extensive vandalism—because it sends a message that the building owners (and, by extension, the police) cannot or will not control minor crimes, and thus will be unable to deter more serious ones. A neighborhood where minor offenses go unchallenged soon becomes a breeding ground for more serious criminal activity and, ultimately, for violence.

We are strongly associated with the Broken Windows approach to policing. Together with the late political scientist James Q. Wilson, George Kelling wrote the seminal 1982 article on Broken Windows, published in the Atlantic, and has served widely as an advisor to police departments, transit authorities, and other urban entities. William Bratton—as chief of the New York City Transit Police, commissioner of the Boston Police, commissioner of the NYPD, chief of the LAPD, and now again commissioner in New York—has been a leading practitioner of the Broken Windows approach in the nation’s largest mass-transit system and its two largest cities…

Read the full article at City Journal: Why We Need Broken Windows Policing

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