Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Broken Windows and Quality of Life Crime

"Broken Windows" is really enjoying a renaissance, isn't it? I mean, I'm no criminologist, but it's fascinating to see how a grand theory about fighting crime has held such an iron-clad grip on the hearts and minds of leaders for two decades, even as the level and severity of crime has dropped in jaw dropping fashion.

Even Bill DeBlasio, an unrepentant liberal mayor the likes of which New York hasn't seen since the days of dial up modems and flannel shirts, has embraced the notion that you can stop major crimes before they happen by unleashing the wrath of the state on anyone who jumps a turnstyle, drinks in public or tags a building.

He showed his support for it by hiring Bill Bratton to be his police commissioner, and he's stood by it even in the aftermath of Eric Garner's death in Staten Island. Garner was confronted by the police for selling "loosie" cigarettes, the exact kind of "quality of life" crime that falls under the Broken Windows purview. Hizzoner has made notable exceptions when it comes to marijuana and "Stop & Frisk," but otherwise, the message has remained the same: Order = Prosperity, therefore Order must be upheld.
When Yoshi starts showing up around town,
you know all hell is breaking loose.

Except, maybe sometimes not? As has been documented voluminously, members of the NYPD have followed the lead of their reprehensible union leaders and all but rebelled against the city, first with disrespectful displays directed at the mayor, and then in a brief slowdown. One astute commenter noted at the time, this latter action could result in two possibilities:

1) There is a corresponding spike in crime, in which case the NYPD has purposefully put us all at risk to make a stupid political point.

2) There is no corresponding spike in crime, which means "Broken Windows" is a failed strategy and the NYPD's aggressiveness was never necessary.

Now, I have zero tolerance for grown men who spout cartoonish gibberish like "The mayor literally has blood on his hands," and even this guy, who starts out reasonably well, loses me when he slags "anti-police protesters." Um, Steve? They're anti-bad police protesters, not anti all police, ok?

Delores Jones-Brown, a criminologist at John Jay, nailed it recently when she said, somewhat inarticulately, “There is a way in which whether to say anything against the existing policing regime, it gets interpreted as anti-police.”

And eye for an eye, and we'll all go blind.
But while Steve Osborne and his ilk may be blinded by their seething hatred of Al Sharpton, I wholeheartedly support this latter thought, which I feel obliged to print in full:

Most cops I know feel tired of being pushed to do more and more, and then even more. More police productivity has meant far less crime, but at a certain point New York began to feel like, yes, a police state, and the police don’t like it any more than you do. Tremendous successes were achieved in battling crime and making this city a much better place to live and work in and visit. But the time has probably come for the Police Department to ease up on the low-level “broken-windows” stuff while re-evaluating the impact it may or may not have on real, serious crime. No one will welcome this more than the average cop on the beat, who has been pressed to find crime where so much less of it exists.

Makes sense, right? If I were a cop, I'd be annoyed as fuck that I had to spend my time harassing people for minor offenses while simultaneously blamed for inflaming tensions. especially when the city just recorded yet another record low of homicides (328! compared to 2,245 in 1990). People smarter than me have been questioning its effectiveness since 2001 (side note: Dreadful day to have published this op-ed, amiright?) Clearly, something has to change.
The hellhole that is Williamsburg
 The city's never ending war on graffiti is one head in the Broken Windows hydra, so if there is any serious reckoning with the policy, I hope it's would be part of any review. This isn't to say I'm in favor of letting vandals trash residential houses, render signage unusable, and wreck public parks. I'm thinking something more along the lines of asking, why is it that Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Bushwick, arguably the three most graffiti-filled neighborhoods in Brooklyn, are also at the heart of the "Manhattanization of Brooklyn?"

If graffiti is such a gateway to crime, what the hell are all these rich people doing there? Might some of that vandal squad energy be better served somewhere else?

Speaking of which, "Graffiti Murals: Examining the Impact of Street Art" will hit the streets in August. Be sure to reserve your advance copy here.

Happy New Years y'all!