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The meaning of community policing varies greatly across police departments. The degree of implementation and impact “There are so many interpretations of of community it and no efficient method to get out oriented policing training throughout all 18,000 police is uneven across America. In some departments in America.” jurisdictions, it is giving street level officers wide discretion to “clean up” the communities they patrol by whatever means seem expedient. The policy leads police to abuse their authority. They may come to mean “quality of life” policing, under which the police adopt a zero-tolerance approach to minor violations of law. This ends-justify-the-means approach targets black and Hispanic populations. But too often, community policing is just a label, a slogan to attract federal grants and

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favorable headlines. Thus, community policing may come to mean “quality of life” policing, under which the police adopt a zero-tolerance approach to minor violations of law. Such an ends-justify-the-means approach invariably works to the detriment of, and is disproportionately targeted, at black and Hispanic populations. Professor David Cole has pointed out that such an enforcement strategy “relies heavily on inherently discretionary police judgments about which communities to target, which individuals to stop, and whether to use heavy-handed or light-handed treatment for routine infractions.” According to Professor Angela Davis, “the practical effect of this deference [to law enforcement discretion] is the assimilation of police officers’ subjective beliefs, biases, hunches, and prejudices into law,” and the evidence suggests that such discretion is exercised to the detriment of America’s minorities. Harvard Law School Professor and African-American Charles Ogletree has observed, “If I’m dressed in a knit cap and hooded jacket, I’m probable cause.” So many interpretations of it and no efficient method to get out training throughout 18,000 police departments.

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William J. Bratton, was appointed as the 42nd police commissioner of the City of New York, established an international reputation for re-engineering police departments and fighting crime back in the 1990s.

THE BROKEN WINDOW THEORY The broken window model of policing was first described in 1982 in a seminal article by Wilson and Kelling. Briefly, the model focuses on the importance of disorder (e.g. broken windows) in generating and sustaining more serious crime. Disorder is not directly linked to serious crime; instead, disorder leads to increased fear and withdrawal from residents, which then allows more serious crime to move in because of decreased levels of informal social control. The police can play a key role in disrupting this process. If they focus in on disorder and less serious crime in neighborhoods that have not yet been overtaken by serious crime, they can help reduce fear and resident withdrawal. Promoting higher levels of informal social control will help residents themselves take control of their neighborhood and prevent serious crime from infiltrating.

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Why is it Broken? It has been shown to criminalize the poor and homeless. This is because the physical signs that characterize a certain neighborhood with the “disorder” that broken windows policing targets a high population of people of color. It is often act “as a cover for racist behavior”. Many of the acts that are considered legal, but “disorderly” are often targeted in public settings and are not targeted when conducted in private. The broken windows theory in policing as a war against the poor as opposed to a war against more serious crimes.

When “Broken Windows” was published, in 1982, tax revenues in New York were shrinking at an alarming rate and the city’s ability to maintain itself was in doubt. In 1980, the population had fallen to 7,071,639, a drop of about 800,000 from ten years earlier and around where the city’s population had been in 1930. Crime by blacks—not the collapse of local manufacturing or the flight of middle-class families to the suburbs—was popularly perceived to be the primary cause.

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Race Relations This racial perception is no less prevalent today. The most comprehensive study to date on the roots of crime found that the central factor in how people perceive the safety of a neighborhood is not disorder or even the presence of boarded-up stores and abandoned buildings, but the number of African-Americans (and to a lesser extent Hispanics) who live there. This perception was true for blacks and whites alike. The link is ingrained in the

“The theory has been shown to criminalize the poor and homeless. This is because the physical signs that characterize a neighborhood with the “disorder” that broken windows policing targets a high population of minorities”. American psyche. When we criticize the police for racial prejudice, we are decrying a condition that is bigger than the police, a prejudice that we may share ourselves. The debate about the broken windows method of policing unavoidably turns around the question of racial injustice. By an overwhelming majority, New Yorkers who are arrested for low-level infractions, “rule-breaking” may be a better term, are young black and Hispanic men in poor neighborhoods. Often these arrests have been for possessing

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tiny amounts of marijuana, pushing these men into the criminal justice pipeline for a drug that is sold legally for recreational use in two states and for medical use in twenty-one others. Currently, in New York, possession of less than twenty-five grams is not a crime unless you are caught lighting up in public or, in the language of the law, the drug is “open to public view.” A beat cop on foot patrol, instructed to enact the policy, may approach a person he deems to be suspicious. He orders the suspect to empty the contents of his pockets, which may contain a couple of grams.

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“It is aggressive and is slowly dehumanizing communities”

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Manhattan 1 - Wall Street, Tribeca

24 - Upper West Side to 110 St

5 - Chinatown, Little Italy

25 - East Harlem (North)

6 - Greenwich Village, Soho

26 - Morningside Heights

7 - Lower East Side

28 - Central Harlem (South of 125 St)

9 - East Village

30 - Manhattanville - West Harlem

10 - Chelsea

32 - Harlem North

13 - Gramercy, Stuyvesant Town

33 - Washington Heights

14 - Midtown South, Garment Dist

34 - Inwood, Washington Heights

17 - Kipps Bay, Murray Hill, Turtle Bay 18 - Midtown North, Theatre District 19 - Upper East Side 20 - Upper West Side to 86 St 23 - East Harlem (South)

Brooklyn 60 - Coney Island, Brighton Beach,

77 - Crown Heights North, Prospect Heights

61 - Sheepshead Bay

78 - Park Slope

62 - Bensonhurst

79 - Bedford-Stuyvesant

63 - Mill Basin, Flatlands

81 - Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant

66 - Borough Park

83 - Bushwick

67 - East Flatbush

84 - Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill,

68 - Bay Ridge

88 - Fort Greene, Clinton Hill

69 - Canarsie

90 - Williamsburg

70 - Kensington

94 - Greenpoint

71 - Flatbush, Midwood, 72 - Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace 73 - Ocean Hill-Brownsville 75 - East New York, Starret City 76 - Red Hook

Bronx 40 - Mott Haven/ Melrose

50 - Riverdale, Fieldston,

41 - Hunts Point

52 - Bedford Park, Fordham, Norwood

42 - Morrisania, Crotona Park East 43 - Soundview, Parkchester 44 - Morris Heights 45 - Throgs Neck, Co-op City, Pelham Bay 46 - University Heights, Fordham, Mt. Hope 47 - Eastchester, Wakefield, Williamsbridge 48 - East Tremont, Belmont, 49 - Pelham Parkway, Morris Park

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New York City Police Precints by Race




Majority Blacks and Latinos


Majority Whites and Others




30 32 26 40 28 25 24 23 25 22 20 19 114 18 14 17




114 109 115


112 102


113 75




70 63



61 120 122

60 100


Queens 100 - Rockaway

110 - Elmhurst, South Corona

101 - Far Rockaway

111 - Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck

102 - Richmond Hill, Woodhaven

113 - St. Albans, Hollis, Springfield Gardens

103 - Jamaica, Hollis

114 - Astoria, Long Island City

104 - Ridgewood, Middle Village, Glendale

115 - Jackson Heights

105 - Queens Village, Rosedale 106 - Ozone Park, Howard Beac 107 - Fresh Meadows, Briarwood 108 - Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside 109 - Flushing

Staten Island 120 - St. George 112 - Forest Hills 122 - New Dorp 123 - Tottenville



83 77



67 66




90 88 79


45 43


5 7 84

48 42


13 9




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STATISTICS As New Yorkers lived through an era of widespread stops-and-frisks under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, we are now living in a time of rampant arrests for offenses ranging from riding a bike on the sidewalk to selling loosies. The latest figures show about 400,000 arrests annually, over 80% of them for misdemeanors or violations. Bear in mind that these cases do not end at the moment of arrest. They end up in court with all the associated taxpayer costs of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, court reporters, court officers and more, not to mention the toll going through the court system takes on someone’s ability to get to work, school or handle any other daily responsibilities. What makes this worse is that the broken-windows arrest blitz is not spread evenly across the city. Data show that a relative few zip codes

Who Receives the Charges

Roughly 81% of the 7.3 million people hit with violations due to the broken window theory between 2001 and 2013 were black and Hispanic,

Hispanic: 33%

Other: 5%

White: 15%

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1,551, 453

in majority black and Latino neighborhoods are home to more than half of the arrestees in NYC. Summonses for petty infractions are an element of ‘broken windows’ policing. Charges that the NYPD’s execution of the policy is racially biased have intensified again since Eric Garner was killed July 17 during an attempted arrest for selling loose cigarettes. The number of summonses issued each year has soared since “broken windows” was implemented in the early 1990s — from 160,000 in 1993 to a peak of 648,638 in 2005. Although that number has fallen in recent years, to 431,217 last year and down an additional 17% so far this yea, writing out violations still remains the most frequent activity of the New York City Police Department, far surpassing felony and misdemeanor arrests combined.


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Black: 46%

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Top 5 Charged Offenses from 2001 to 2013

2,000K 1,551,453








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The NY Daily News also collected demographic information from 169 people waiting in line at three summon courts, and found a nearly identical race breakdown.



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VICTIMS OF BROKEN POLICY Even as Wilson and Kelling’s original article ages, the debate it sparked still continues. Several new studies examining the broken windows theory are just out this month, in fact. Criminologists Joshua C. Hinkle and Sue-Ming Yang present a sort of meta-argument in the Journal of Criminal Justice, against the methodology of any scientific attempts to test the broken windows theory out in the field. Many researchers, many more than the ones mentioned here, have tried to measure “disorder” and its resulting effects on neighborhood residents’ feelings of fear, and on crime, but Hinkle and Yang describe how subjective and imprecise these experiments necessarily are in these neighborhoods. Who decides how much litter on the street is acceptable, or what is normal, or transgressive behavior, in a given neighborhood? In every study Hinkle and Yang looked at, the residents’ perceptions of social and physical disorder differed from the researchers’ perceptions. “That is, people with different demographic backgrounds and life experiences might react to the same environment in very different ways,” the authors write, and conclude, “social disorder is a social construct, rather than a concrete phenomenon.”

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September 15, 1970 – July 17, 2014

His offense, by all accounts, was that of selling loose cigarettes in a park near the ferry on Staten Island, and then verbally protesting policemen’s attempts to arrest him. Three hundred and fifty pounds, asthmatic, forty-three years old, and black, Garner was put into a chokehold and died, according to the New York medical examiner, “of compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” Garner was a frequent presence in the park and there is no doubt that the arresting officers from the 120th Precinct knew that he wasn’t a violent threat. The medical examiner has ruled his death a homicide and a grand jury has begun hearing evidence to decide whether criminal charges should be brought against the policeman who employed the chokehold, which is banned by the NYPD but continues to be used by some officers when subduing suspects during patrol.

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AMADOU DIALLO September 2,1976 – February 5, 1999

A police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that a neighbor reported after the shooting that he had noticed a man, who the police believe was Mr. Diallo, loitering in the vestibule. The man described him as ‘’acting suspicious,’’ said the official, who did not elaborate. The officers did not communicate over their radios before they approached Mr. Diallo, the police said, so investigators said they did not know what prompted their initial interest in him. Nor is it known why the officers began firing. A second police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, ‘’We don’t know what happened, because we haven’t spoken to them, but it looks like one guy may have panicked and the rest followed suit.’’ After the shooting the officers called in on their radios, the police said, and neighbors telephoned 911. Soon other officers arrived on the scene, followed by detectives and the ranking officers who are required to respond to all police shootings. An investigation began, and no weapon was found on Mr. Diallo, Inspector Collins said. A pager and a wallet were found lying next to the body, a police official said, adding that it was unclear whether the officers could have mistaken the pager for a weapon.

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SHORT 33 CENTS A neatly dressed seventeen-year-old boy had staked out a spot on the floor, where he sat with his head between his knees in what appeared to be a state of silent despair. The single overflowing toilet that served the thirty or forty men in the cell seemed to bring him close to tears. The boy had made the mistake of asking a rider who was exiting a subway station to swipe him through with her MetroCard. “I was thirty-three cents short for a single fare,” he told me. He neither jumped the turnstile nor harassed the woman, who obligingly swiped him through. A policeman witnessed the exchange, arrested the boy, and let the woman off with a stern warning, though what law she had broken is unclear. The policeman now had cause to search the kid and found the remnants of a joint in his pocket, crumbs of pot. Though he had no prior arrests, he was now facing two charges: marijuana possession and theft of services, a class ‘A’ misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. He wouldn’t do time beyond his current incarceration, but he feared, with good reason, that the financial aid a college in Pennsylvania had granted him for his freshman year would be rescinded.

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AKAI GURLEY c. 1986 – November 20, 2014

The victim, Akai Gurley, 28, had spent the evening at his girlfriend’s apartment inside the Louis Pink housing projects, Bratton told reporters at a press conference. The couple left the seventh floor apartment around 11:15 p.m. and tried to take an elevator down to the bottom floor. When the elevator wouldn’t work, they entered the stairwell. Two officers, meanwhile, were conducting a vertical patrol, also known as a top to bottom patrol (a method of Broken Window policing) inside the building. Upon entering the “dark” stairwell on the eighth floor, Bratton said, Officer Peter Liang drew his gun and flashlight as a safety precaution. That’s when Gurley and his girlfriend identified by the New York Daily News as Melissa Butler, also entered the stairwell. At that moment, Liang fired one round from the eighth floor landing. Gurley, who was on the seventh floor landing, was struck in the chest. Gurley and Butler then ran down the stairs before Gurley collapsed on the fifth floor. Under instructions from a 911 operator, Butler then tried to administer first aid. Gurley was transported to Brookdale Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Gurley “was not engaged in any criminal activity of any type,” Bratton said. “He didn’t do nothing wrong,” Butler said of Gurley, per the New York Daily News. “He was just standing there and they shot him. He was an innocent man.”

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ANTHONY RAMON BAEZ c. 1965 – December 22, 1994

The Police Department and the Bronx District Attorney’s office are also investigating the death of the man, Anthony Ramon Baez, a security guard and night student. He died at Union Hospital about an hour after he was arrested during a violent argument with several police officers after the football hit the patrol car. Both the Baez family and the police agree on what led to the arrest of Mr. Baez Dec. 22 at 1:43 A.M. Mr. Baez was throwing a football with two brothers when two throws within minutes of each other hit two separate parked police patrol cars near the corner of Cameron Place and Jerome Avenue in the University Heights section of the Bronx. Neither the Police Department nor the family has suggested that the ball was thrown at the cars intentionally. The Baez family says two officers grabbed Mr. Baez around the neck and handcuffed him for no good reason. The police say the three men were disrupting the neighborhood when people were trying to sleep. “Anthony said during the struggle that he was a security guard from Florida and that he knew his rights,” Officer Bloch said, “and during the struggle he started encountering difficulty in breathing. He died in the hospital.” But Ms. Karten, the lawyer for the Baez family, disputed the police version of events, and said, “He died as a result of trauma to the head and asphyxiation.”

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TAKE A STAND The broken windows theory was never meant to be the arrest machine that it became in practice. The objective wasn’t law enforcement, but order enforcement. What Kelling and Wilson did not want was for police to be “governed by rules developed to control relations with suspected criminals,” because the police actions they advocated “probably would not withstand a legal challenge”, apparently they were referring to unwarranted searches and roughing up those who resisted. In other words, show them whom the streets belong to and let the niceties of constitutionally protected civil liberties fall by the wayside, and do it on the street itself. But don’t haul them in, if you don’t have to. “I’ve never been long on arrests as an outcome,” Kelling recently told The New York Times. This may not be an especially humane style of policing, but it’s very different from incarceration as a first resort. Critics say the practice has resulted in the over-policing of minority communities and mass incarceration of young men of color for relatively minor offenses. For minister Kirsten John Foy, north-east regional director for the civil rights organization the National Action Network, the policy is the culmination of decades of misguided criminal justice and public safety policy to address essentially what is an economic issue: poverty.

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SOURCES Content: The Guardian, NY Times, and NY Daily News Images: Flicker and Google Images

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New York is Broken  

New York is Broken is part of a series of books that delves into the broken window theory and how it is being misused in the police field, e...

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