Report finds no link between Broken Windows policing, reduction in felonies

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CeFaan Kim has details on a new report involving so-called 'Broken Windows' policing. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)

The NYPD's Office of the Inspector General released a report Wednesday that refutes the claim that enforcement of quality-of-life crimes reduces felonies.

The report on so-called Broken Windows policing comes as New York City has taken steps to reduce punishments for low-level offenses such as littering and public urination, an overhaul intended to help unclog the courts and jails of the nation's largest city.

According to the report, there was a dramatic decline in quality-of-life enforcement between 2010 and 2015 with no increase in felony crime. In fact, felony crime, with a few exceptions, declined along with quality-of-life enforcement, meaning the inspector general found no evidence to suggest that crime control can be directly attributed to issuing quality-of-life summonses and making misdemeanor arrests.

The report also confirmed that police enforcement of quality-of-life crimes disproportionately affected communities of color.

In 2015, the distribution of quality-of-life enforcement activity in New York City was concentrated in precincts with high proportions of black and Hispanic residents, public housing residents, and males aged 15 to 20. Conversely, precincts with higher proportions of white residents had lower rates of quality-of-life enforcement.

In many, but not all, instances, the rates of enforcement remained high even after adjusting for crime rates.

The report does not challenge the proper use of summonses and misdemeanor arrests, nor does it make findings regarding quality-of-life policing overall or the much broader concept of the Broken Windows policing strategy. Rather, the investigation found that given the costs of summons and misdemeanor arrest activity -- including an increased use of police resources, a greater number of individuals brought into the criminal justice system, and the impact on police-community relations -- the NYPD should use its data to more carefully evaluate how quality-of-life summonses and misdemeanor arrests fit into its overall strategy for disorder reduction and crime control.

The report also includes seven recommendations aimed at improving the NYPD's use of data in decision-making and encouraging the NYPD to continue to increase data transparency following the NYPD's release of CompStat 2.0, a new interactive data portal.

Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College who has been an outspoken critic of broken windows policing, said the report was a "major blow" to the theory.

"Repeated efforts have been made to find a causal link between intensive quality of life enforcement and serious crime reduction, and this report, as has been the case with others, shows no such connection," he said.

The NYPD pushed back strongly, issuing a statement that called the report's assumptions and methodology "deeply flawed."

The department said that looking at five years of data wasn't enough and that the comparison should have gone back to 1990, before broken windows was implemented. The NYPD said it would be releasing a more detailed response within 90 days.

The full report -- An Analysis of Quality-of-Life Summonses, Quality-of-Life Misdemeanor Arrests, and Felony Crime in New York City, 2010-2015 -- can be found on the Office of the Inspector General website.
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