NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton: "Broken windows" critics "just don't get it"

The former and current head of NYC's police says his zero-tolerance philosophy is what saved the city

Published September 11, 2014 4:56PM (EDT)


Speaking at the Crain's Business Breakfast Forum inside New York City's luxurious Roosevelt Hotel on Wednesday, New York Policy Department Commissioner Bill Bratton delivered a forceful defense of the "broken windows" theory of policing, the zero-tolerance philosophy embraced by the NYPD that has faced mounting criticism from civil rights advocates in the wake of Staten Islander Eric Garner's cop-induced killing.

"In the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, we as a country, and a police profession, drifted away from the emphasis on prevention and focused most of our time on trying to respond to the growing crime and disorder problems," Bratton told the crowd, who'd forked over more than $1,000-per-table to attend the event, according to the Huffington Post. “I remember what this city looked like in 1990 versus what this city looks like today,” Bratton, who previously served as NYPD commissioner from 1995 to 1996 continued. “It’s something we all need to celebrate rather than demonize or tear down."

But while the neoconservative "broken windows" theory of policing has Bratton among its most vocal champions, it has more than a few detractors, too. Civil rights groups as well as criminologists have questioned its efficacy, noting that a major drop in crime was seen in cities that did not embrace broken windows, and indeed was experienced not just in America but throughout the Western world. Perhaps more important, broken windows critics have charged the approach with violating core civil rights and engendering a hostile and counterproductive relationship between residents and police.

At the Roosevelt, Bratton dismissed these and other concerns, implying they're a byproduct of out-of-touch intellectuals and elites not understanding what real police work is all about. "There are certain criminologists, academics who I focus my attention and support on, versus the vast majority who I do not, because they just don’t get it, to be quite frank with you," Bratton said. He went on to argue that those who conflate broken windows and the NYPD's controversial "stop-and-frisk" policies are mistaken, because "unlike stop-and-frisk, where officers acted on suspicion that a person was about to commit a crime," Bratton said, officers following broken windows theory believe their arrestees have already acted criminally.

More from HuffPo:

Bratton also insisted that NYPD arrests a disproportionate number of minorities because there’s more crime happening in minority neighborhoods. Broken windows, he argued, is "unlike stop and frisk, where officers acted on suspicion that a person was about to commit a crime." With broken windows, Bratton said, the officer believes that the person has already committed the crime.

The NYPD, Bratton said, has been conducting a study of its enforcement of low-level crimes, and mapping where 911 and 311 calls they receive are coming from.“It’s like a doctor looking at an X-ray,” Bratton said, explaining how a majority of those calls came from poorer, minority neighborhoods. (A New York Daily News analysis published Tuesday showed that minorities are still more likely to get ticketed by police in low-crime, primarily white neighborhoods.)

“So the idea is, from a policing standpoint, to put police resources into those areas to try and bring to them at least a level of security to raise their families. And by making it more secure, do what we’ve done in the rest of the city -- where you’ll come in and invest, where you will commit to areas of the city that years ago people thought you would’ve been crazy,” Bratton told the crowd.

“Who’d thought Williamsburg would be a place where people would go to?” Bratton added. “My wife and I had dinner there the other night, and we doubled the average age.”

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Bill Bratton Broken Windows Eric Garner New York Police Department Nypd