Bill Bratton's Broken Reputation

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Outgoing New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Bill Bratton is complaining because a recent government report came to the conclusion many of us already know: the racially applied “Broken Windows” policing policy does nothing to reduce serious crime—a claim proponents of “Broken Windows” make.

The reality is: policies like “Broken Windows,” championed by Commissioner Bratton, have nothing to do with crime reduction—but have everything to do with continuing the economic, and, racial policing oppression of Black America, which, ironically, increases crime.

Does Mr. Bratton’s objection to this report constitute anything less than a transparent attempt to salvage his policing legacy which was centered on criminalizing and economically punishing mostly poor Black New York City residents and Latinos?

Last week, Commissioner Bratton lashed out at the recent findings of the “Broken Windows” report, done by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which found no link between this prejudicially-used policing policy and reducing serious crime. Mr. Bratton claimed the report was a “flawed” work, and questioned the methodology used by the authors of the study. He claims the report was done by “amateurs.”

"I’m not sure of the quality of the researchers at the OIG. I think we made it quite clear that if you want to delve into these types of areas, you’re going to need experts, not amateurs," Bratton said.

“Otherwise, you’re going to get the rebuttal that you’re seeing here this morning where we have a lot of experts within the NYPD [and] access to experts who are objective reviewers of the issue [that] the IG just, apparently, does not have, based on the poor quality of this report. It is not an expert study. It is a deeply flawed. It is of no value at all and inappropriately represents the value of this department.”

Despite the objections of Commissioner Bratton, OIG stood by the findings of the report and released its rebuttal statement: "Last year, the NYPD expressly stated that quality of life summonses could be used as a tactic to directly reduce violent crime. The fact that it now acknowledges for the first time, after the issuance of our report, that such a relationship is more complex, is an important first step in improving the use of this tactic and its impact on the communities we all serve."

The debunking of “Broken Windows” will surely call into question the legacy of Mr. Bratton—as well as that of sociologist Dr. George Kelling, who originated this questionable policing practice. That this theory was ever really taken seriously for what it claims it could do in reducing crime is troubling. However, we must question the premise that the institution of “Broken Windows” in poor Black communities ever had anything to do with reducing crime.

Is this policing practice anything more than another means of socially controlling Black Americans?

There is no "science" behind it. It was a wide net meant to ensnare as many people as possible from low-income Black communities; profiling.

Dr. George Kelling introduced the “Broken Windows” policing "theory" in a 1982 article—which was co-written with James Q. Wilson. They argued that larger crimes can be discouraged by cracking down hard on small crimes. Interestingly, those pushing this policing posture decided Black neighborhoods would be where they would institute these practices.

Why didn’t they use White communities for their pioneering policing experiments?

By at least 1990, Dr. Kelling would then meet Mr. Bratton who was then the head of the New York City Transit Authority—where Dr. Kelling had been hired as a consultant. It would be during this time that Mr. Bratton became an avid advocate of Dr. Kelling’s and his “Broken Windows” policing practice, calling Kelling his “intellectual mentor.”

Mr. Bratton started using the practice in the subway system and claimed it was the real reason for crime reduction. The focus of the crackdowns were on so-called “quality-of-life” issues such as: public drinking, public urination and of course the dreaded squeegee men, trying to make a buck by washing windshields.

Somehow those who lecture on how they are supposedly trying to foster societal cohesion, never want to deal with the impact economic inequality has on reducing small “crimes.”

Because of the decline of crime trends in New York in the 1990’s, Mr. Bratton and Dr. Kelling have claimed this was a result of the use of “Broken Windows.” Yet, as numerous other studies have found, crime dropped across the board in America during this time—including in many places where “Broken Windows” was not being used.

Over the years, several academics and social scientists have done studies showing there’s little, if any, correlation between social disorder “crimes,” like the ones Mr. Bratton and Dr. Kelling criminalize, and very serious felonies. How does ticketing a pregnant woman—and putting her in a chokehold, for cooking food on a sidewalk outside her home, as was done to Rosan Miller in Brooklyn, stop serious crime?

Isn't this aggressive over-policing that led officer Daniel Pantaleo to kill Eric Garner with a chokehold allegedly for selling loose cigarettes?

Unfortunately for Commissioner Bratton and Dr. Kelling the lie that “Broken Windows” is an effective tool in policing is now being fully exposed.

“Broken Windows” assisted police and politicians in criminalizing the Black community—especially, by inflating bogus “crime” statistics. Whenever, we hear some police apologists using the rationale that more crime in the Black community necessitates over-policing we should understand this is just another big lie being used to concoct measures designed to keep Black America as a permanent underclass.

“Broken Windows,” and similar policing measures like Stop-and-Frisk, are modern social control methods used to keep Black people in their place—like, the Black Codes and Vagrancy Laws were used after Slavery to impede the progress of African-Americans.

Commissioner Bratton, and Dr. Kelling, have boosted their careers on a policing policy that has targeted trivial offenses—some of which are not indicative of lawlessness at all—into “crimes,” which mushroom statistics that paint a thoroughly distorted view of crime in Black America.

Isn’t this the real motive of “Broken Windows,” and all of these other police policies these pretentious people come up with?

“Broken Windows,” in fact, further aids in breaking the backs of Black communities. Similar to Ferguson, there is an economic component, whereby, Black people are being taxed through olice summonses and tickets. In Ferguson it became a critical method of balancing the city's budget.

In New York City, the NYPD’s “Collars for Dollars” scheme creates the incentive for cop corruption since it is based on promoting police officers who write the most summonses and tickets. From this, you get idiotic things like ticketing homeless people for sleeping on park benches.

Why is it that these holier-than-thou folk, who say they care about “quality-of-life” issues in society, never want to talk about the deleterious impact economic isolation has where Black people live? Any person claiming they care about crime reduction in Black communities cannot be taken seriously if the economics of what is taking in those neighborhoods is ignored or marginalized as an insignificant issue.

Where’s the discussions about job creation in Black America?

The truth is: the small “crimes” morphing into big crimes theory of Dr. Kelling, and championed by Commissioner Bratton, doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny when analyzed deeply.

In fact, the most salient way to stop small crimes from turning into big ones is to fix the broken economics of Black communities.

Politicians—and the economic elite they work for—who fail to fix the economic inequality and lack of job employment opportunities make the current situation inevitable.

Bankrupt theories like “Broken Windows” have made things worse—not better in Black America.

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