Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Once we fix the broken windows, then what?"

Policing New York with Broken Windows

How does democratic policing differ from military regimes and police states? That question was best asked in the now classic Policing a Free Society by Herman Goldstein, the leading police scholar of the past 25 years.

Nowhere do those differences surface more sharply than when social unrest arises or public confidence falters. How do democratic cops respond? Adhering to democratic principles, Goldstein suggests, is the key.


In truth, democratic policing shows up when leaders step up, admit fault, and set sail upon the turbulent sea of reform.

Such sailing shows up in the recent statements and actions of two police leaders - NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay (now retired).

In New York police have made a major shift in enforcement strategies.

The article "Why Manhattan isn't going to arrest people for littering and public drinking", describes the end of the quality-of-life enforcement model of the Broken Window theory instituted in the early 1990s under Commission Bill Bratton.


Quality-of-life enforcement and Broken Windows was controversial from the start. Research has not been kind to it - crime declines occurred in places without it. The unintended consequence of Broken Windows was alienation of law-abiding minority communities who saw racism in every arrest.

In New York again, twenty years later, Commissioner Bratton is modifying policing strategies. That is one meaning of democratic policing - changing to meet the times, the data, and public sentiment.

And 90 miles south, in his brilliant Ted Talk, Commissioner Ramsay asks; "Once we fix the broken windows, then what?" Once we fix the broken windows, then what? The critical missing question!

Today it is answered pragmatically in SafeGrowth and academically in Robert Sampson’s book Great American City.

As Bratton and Ramsay demonstrate, great democratic policing is not when cops enforce the law, as important as that occasionally might be. It is when cops embrace the power of cohesive communities (and the dignity of human rights within them), adopt strategies that build them, partner with organizations that master them, and then guard them with every fiber.

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