The Faux “Civility” of “Broken Windows”

By William K. Black
Bloomington, MN: December 21, 2014

On December 18, 2014, William Bratton and George Kelling published an op ed in the Wall Street Journal decrying “The Assault on ‘Broken Windows’ Policing.” I’ll be writing a broader response to their piece noting their failure to implement “broken windows” enforcement against the elite white-collar criminals who have made Wall Street one of the world’s most destructive criminal “hot spots.” In this column I point out the implications of their attempt to label criticisms of a NYPD policy they developed and favor as an “assault.” They chose the word to be inflammatory and to try to label their critics as inherently illegitimate and pro-crime.

Here, in light of the tragedy of the murder of two NYPD officers and the reactions to that murder I want to point out what Bratton and Kelling asserted explained broken windows policing was effective. “[T]housands of police interventions on the street … restored order and civility across the five boroughs.” Except, of course, for Wall Street, where crime has skyrocketed and rudeness and disorder are defining elements of the corrupt culture. But that’s my next piece.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, upon his election, recruited Bratton to again take the position of NYPD Commissioner. The Mayor, of course, was well aware of Bratton’s intense support for (blue-collar only) broken windows policing. Broken windows policing, therefore, far from being under “assault,” is actively being promoted by the NYPD Commissioner and the Mayor. What Bratton and Kelling are so upset about is, first, after the latest police killings of black males, there were continuing protests in many cities. Second, many criminologists and police commissioners criticize broken windows policing (against blue collar criminals only).

The Mayor did not criticize Bratton’s blue collar only broken windows policing strategy even after these police killings. The Mayor has, however, made public the advice he and his wife gave to their son in dealings he may have with police.

“The mayor, who is white, appeared on ABC’s ‘This Week’ and talked about what he and wife Chirlane McCray, who is black, have told their 17-year-old biracial son Dante about interacting with the police, which included not reaching for a cellphone because it ‘might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color,’ by police. The comments came after a grand jury decided not indict a white cop in the choking death of Eric Garner, who is black, in Staten Island.”

The Mayor’s comments enraged the NYPD police unions.

“Mayor de Blasio made ‘moronic’ comments Sunday that prove he ‘doesn’t belong’ in New York, a key police union chief said, further inflaming the war of words between Hizzoner and the NYPD.

The comments from Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association….”

If the Mayor “doesn’t belong” in NYC because he gave his son that advice, then no black parent with a son “belong[s]” in NYC because some close variant of what the Mayor and his wife advised his son is absolutely normal advice. The fact that parents with minority sons feel that giving such advice is essential does reveal that the black and white experience in America is still distinct in some important ways. While Bratton and Kelling ignored the point, minorities are substantially more likely to be subjected to humiliating “stop and frisk” demands by NYPD police – and the great majority of such demands lead to no criminal case, so there is no reason to assume that the police are successfully targeting criminals in these encounters. I provided the data on these points in a prior article.

The first proverbial bottom line is that the Mayor did not criticize the police, reinforced rather than “assault[ed]” blue collar broken windows policing, and gave advice to his biracial son that is not only normal advice that parents give to minority males but also excellent advice that helps the police and minority males when they interact. The second takeaway is that the police unions don’t care – they’re feeling abused by the protests. The Mayor did not support the charges of the protestors, all he said is that that peaceful protestors had a constitutionally protected right to do so. In sum, he upheld the rule of law. One of the criticisms of these humiliating stop and frisk encounters that are so disproportionately used against black and Latino males by the NYPD is that they inherently create substantial hostility between the minority community and the police officers. The Mayor was elected in part based on his criticism of the aggressive stop and frisk strategy targeted primarily at black males and Latinos.

This is the context in which the tragic murder of the two police officers by a man with a history of violent crimes and apparent severe psychological problems (including an attempted suicide) occurred. He began by shooting his former girlfriend in Maryland and then bragged on social media that he planned to murder police officers. Unfortunately, he succeeded in killing two NYPD officers who he had never met and who he killed in a fashion that made it impossible for them to put up any defense.

I understand that police officers are dealing with grief and their own fears of being the subject of such murderous assaults and that they cannot be at their best in such circumstances. I understand that many of the protestors are not in the least civil. These factors are both reasons that leaders exist. How did those police leaders demonstrate their commitment to “civility?”

“In a stunning show of disapproval and disrespect, police officers, led by union officials, turned their backs to him on Saturday night when the mayor went to the hospital to talk about the two officers who were killed.”

Worse, union leaders have resorted to blood libels against the Mayor.

“Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, laid the blame for the deaths of the officers squarely at the feet of the mayor.

‘That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor,’ he said.”

These statements indicate a crisis in the NYPD. The comments are outrageous, particularly coming from leaders of a group that is quasi-military in its discipline and organization. The Mayor has nothing to do with the murders of the policemen.

It is fine for Bratton to brag in the WSJ about the restoration of civility (again, ignoring Wall Street) by the police, but he is the leader of the NYPD. He needs to restore civility among his officers and then repair the rift that his officers’ statements and actions have widened with the community through their vicious comments and “stunning … disrespect.” All of us join the NYPD in mourning the murder of the two officers, and the loved ones of the woman who was the criminal’s first victim in hoping for her full recovery from her grievous wounds.

2 responses to “The Faux “Civility” of “Broken Windows”

  1. Susan Anderson

    Excellent post. Regulatory agencies ARE the ‘cops’ who patrol Wall St., and it was the complete LACK of law enforcement that threw us into the recession.

    FWIW, this murderer wanted to get his 15 minutes of fame by inserting himself into a news story. I don’t think foR one second that he cared two cents for Garner.

  2. Outstanding. Yes…broken windows does not apply to Wall Street. In fact, as you have pointed out, nothing in law enforcement applies to Wall Street.

    One note:
    Use of the term “blood libel” is not appropriate. Blood libel refers to specific attacks on Jews for using Christian blood to make matzoh.

    This blood libel led to mass murder of Jews again and again.
    This is not a generic term. To use it as such cheapens the word.

    Good article.