End Broken Windows Policing
A decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities – a practice called Broken Windows policing – has led to the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations. In 2014, police killed at least 287people who were involved in minor offenses and harmless activities like sleeping in parks, possessing drugs, looking “suspicious” or having a mental health crisis. These activities are often symptoms of underlying issues of drug addiction, homelessness, and mental illness which should be treated by healthcare professionals and social workers rather than the police.
Having studied the effects of uneven policing myself, especially how it pertains to the data byproduct of “police events,” I could not agree more.
There was a recent New York Times article that got people’s attention. It claimed that there was no bias in police shootings of blacks over whites. What it didn’t talk about – crucially – was the chance that a given person would end up in an interaction with the police in the first place.
It’s much more likely for blacks, especially young black men, to end up in an interaction with cops. And that’s due in large part to the broken theory of Broken Windows policing.
New York City’s version of Broken Windows policing – Stop, Question, and Frisk – was particularly vile, and was eventually declared unconstitutional due to its disparate impact on minorities. The ACLU put some facts together when Stop and Frisk was at its height, including the following unbelievable statistics from 2011:
- The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406).
- In 70 out of 76 precincts, blacks and Latinos accounted for more than 50 percent of stops, and in 33 precincts they accounted for more than 90 percent of stops. In the 10 precincts with black and Latino populations of 14 percent or less (such as the 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village), black and Latino New Yorkers accounted for more than 70 percent of stops in six of those precincts.
What happens when this kind of uneven policing goes on? Lots of stupid arrests for petty crimes, for “resisting arrest,” and generally for being poor or having untreated mental health problems. About 1 in 1000 such stops are directly linked to a violent crime.
And again, since those stopped are overwhelmingly minority, it means that when City Hall decides to use predictive policing based on this data, they end up over policing the same neighborhoods, creating even more uneven and biased data. That continuing stream of data even ends up in sentencing and paroling algorithms, making it more likely for those same over-policed populations to stay in jail longer.
It’s high time we get rid of the root cause, the theory of Broken Windows, which was never proven in the first place, which optimizes on the wrong definition of success, and which further undermines community trust in the police.