Don’t bring back broken-windows policing

There is scant, if any, evidence that broken windows policing, arresting and prosecuting minor offenders in order to prevent major crimes, reduces violent crime. In fact, a 2016 city Department of Investigation report, which reviewed six years of arrest data, showed broken windows policing yielded no reduction in violent crime. Nor does empirical evidence support the idea that actual low-level “disorder” in a community creates a sense of lawlessness that emboldens criminal actors.

The lasting damage millions of stop-and-frisk encounters inflicted upon our Black community, however, is very real. A return to broken windows policing — whatever they may look like today — risks further deteriorating relationships between law enforcement and our communities of color who are reeling from this summer’s increased violence and are suffering the pandemic’s most deleterious health and economic effects.

In recent years, as our city’s annual murder totals reached an all-time low, my office challenged broken windows orthodoxy by declining to prosecute low-level offenses such as marijuana possession, fare evasion and unlicensed vending that exacerbated the multi-generational harm caused by mass incarceration while serving little to no public safety purpose.