Police critics on Bratton’s Broken Windows push

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George Kelling. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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Critics of the Bloomberg administration's police policies say they're concerned about the direction of the department under Bill de Blasio after learning that NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton planned to hire an author of the Broken Windows theory.

The theory emphasizes strict enforcement of quality-of-life crimes as a way to deter more serious and violent crime.

Bratton's pursuit of a deal with George Kelling, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a professor at Rutgers, was first reported by Capital and confirmed by Kelling in an interview.

Last month, Bratton met privately with NYPD critics who gave him a 10-page document of changes they’d like to see implemented within the first 100 days. Among them was a call to curb the number of arrests for low-level crimes like trespassing and disorderly conduct, the kinds of offenses targeted under Broken Windows, which Bratton put to use when he led the NYPD from 1994 to 1996.

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"The key to repairing the relationship between communities and the police is not just to change communication and collaboration, but to end discriminatory policing, in policy and practice," said Priscilla Gonzalez, director of organizing for Communities United for Police Reform, the umbrella group that gave Bratton the list of changes. "Targeting only low-income communities or communities of color for low-level offenses - like unlawful arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana - is not only discriminatory but has devastating consequences for the socio-economic conditions within those communities, which are counterproductive to reducing crime. We are deeply concerned about an adoption of broken windows policing theory that fails to acknowledge the evidence over the last decade of what low-level marijuana arrests - and other discriminatory practices - have cost our city in financial, human and social capital.”

De Blasio helped turn the mayor’s race into a debate about the widespread use of stop-and-frisk (which a federal judge ruled violated the constitutional rights of the city’s blacks and Hispanic residents, a ruling which is being reviewed by a judicial panel).

Days before the September primary, de Blasio told reporters, “I am someone who does believe in the core notions of the ‘broken windows’ theory.”

Donna Lieberman, the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “The question we have is if this move is an effort to dial back failed strategies of the past that have a devastating impact on New York’s communities of color, or if this is a public relations move.” 

The executive director for Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit group that works with poor and minority residents in that borough, warned against strict enforcement of what they consider minor offenses. “’Broken windows’ can be fixed in many ways,” said the group’s executive director, Robin Steinberg. “The NYPD version of arresting and locking up thousands of low income New Yorkers for minor offenses that cause devastating consequences outside the criminal court - like eviction, job loss and even deportation - is causing more harm than good for individuals, families and communities.”

Alyssa Aguilera, the political director for VOCAL-NY, an advocacy group that focuses on helping people affected by AIDS, drug use and “mass incarceration,” said,“The tenuous logic linking crime prevention and broken windows policing tactics, more accurately described as zero-tolerance policing, is both misaligned with the reality in New York City today and incredibly biased against low-income communities of color,” said Aguilera, in a statement. “Criminalizing poverty is not the policing reform we need to close the gap between a Tale of Two Cities and make every community safe and just.”