20 October 2005

Does broken window policing work?


Windypundit said...

I just read The Crime Fighter : Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business by Jack Maple, about his part in turning around the New York crime rates. He was one of the guys who implemented Broken Windows under commissioner Bratton.

Despite that, he's not a big believer in the principle theory behind Broken Windows policing---that fighting pervasive minor crimes like turnstile-jumping and graffiti improves the perception of order in the community which reduces the prevalence of major crime. It turns out that busting turnstile-jumpers and graffiti taggers is really just a special case of NYPD's increased focus on getting troublemakers off the street.

It works like this: When cops grab a turnstile jumper, they pull his record. If he's out on parole for something else, he gets violated and goes back to jail. If he's not on parole, but he has a serious record, he gets arrested and goes back into the system. The record gets him more jail time, and whatever time he spends there is time he can't spend on his life of crime. If the guy standing next to him is on parole, he gets violated for associating with criminals and goes back to jail. And so on.

The real theory here is that the kind of people who commit major crimes are also likely to commit minor crimes, and it's a heck of a lot easier to catch them at the minor crimes. The minor crimes serve to filter the general population and identify the troublemakers, who are then busted hard.

A similar theory (plus federal money) underlies the popularity of drunk driving checkpoints among police departments. If you set up your drunk-driving checkpoint in the middle of a known drug market, you get to pull over a lot of interesting people. And you get to throw some of them in jail.

So if I'm reading Maple right, New York's so-called "Broken Windows policing" really comes down to pretext stops and---as Blonde Justice might say---jail, jail, and more jail.

Anonymous said...

Windy is absolutely correct.

"Broken window" policing is just a theory to hang around pretext stops, at least here in NYC.

Just a datapoint, but a local homeless guy I see around a lot is a fine example. He's not such a bad guy. Strong family, no education, black, partially handicapped, no real skills. Of course he deals - what else is he going to do? Panhandling won't get him off the street. He was just joking the other day about how he hasn't been busted in a couple of months, so it is about time.

So from a policy perspective, what do you do with a guy like that? I'd prefer a diversion program that would teach him to do something useful. NYC, crass jerks that we are, would rather spend money locking him up repeatedly.

markm said...

Anon: Does this guy actually want to do anything useful? If he doesn't, diversion programs will fail.