Ending The Benefits Of Broken Windows Policing

Years ago, I was writing about Blacks and Democrats and looked at the impact Rudy Giuliani made in New York City. Over the course of his tenure from 1994-2002, there were 3,440 fewer Black murder victims in the city than there might have been had New York simply experienced the average nationwide crime decline during that same period. “That’s 3,440 families that did not lose a son, a father, a breadwinner, or a role model. 3,440 Black men still alive to take care of and support their families…”

Saving 3,400 Black lives and keeping 3,400 families intact didn’t happen in a vacuum. Those lives were saved by better policing or, more accurately, actual policing, via a program  known as “Broken Windows.” The Broken Windows policing approach was developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982. “Broken windows theory states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.”

And in the early ’90s, the visible signs of crime in New York City were everywhere. Subways were covered with graffiti; Times Square was nothing but peep shows, liquor stores, and vacant storefronts. But New York wasn’t just experiencing signs of crime; there was actual crime, and a lot of it, with violent crime and murder rampant.

In 1993, there were 2,420 murders in NYC, for a rate of 13.3 per 100,000, almost 50% above the national average of 9.51. With the advent of Broken Windows, the city started cleaning up graffiti, arresting the squeegee thugs who intimidated drivers stopped at red lights, and targeting petty criminals.

Image made using Broken windows by Tomas Castelazo (CC BY-SA 3.0) and “End broken windows policing” by Alec Perkins (CC BY 2.0).

Giuliani knew what he was doing. Before his election, he said that “he cared about statistics, but the real measure would be whether people actually felt safer. That, he said, was the ultimate test of policing and political leadership.” By the time he left office in 2002 he had delivered both the statistics and a feeling of safety—at 960, the murder rate had plummeted by 64% or 4.75 per 100,000, 15% below the national average.

As the crime rate plummeted, the city and its citizens thrived. Times Square transformed from a seedy denizen of hookers, pickpockets, and drug dealers into a shining tourist Mecca filled with glistening theaters, hotels, and restaurants. SoHo, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village transformed into vibrant, inviting places. New Yorkers and tourists alike felt like New York was once again a place they could enjoy without feeling as if they were in a war zone.

The point of all of this is small things matter. Subways covered in graffiti, people urinating in the streets, homeless camping out on sidewalks, and kids stealing beers and Nyquil from CVS…none of these things by themselves send society into the abyss. But when they’re tolerated, they tell the perpetrators that laws don’t matter and, soon, shoplifting turns to burglary turns to robbery which turns to assault and, sometimes, murder. And as criminals and crime proliferate and violence becomes more common, those law-abiding citizens who can flee for safer pastures, and all that remain in cities are criminals and their next victims, the ones who don’t have the resources to escape or who can afford their own personal protection militia. That’s when dystopia goes from being the fiction of Hollywood blockbusters to reality.

None of this is particularly insightful stuff that requires an above-average IQ to understand. But just because something is common sense doesn’t mean it’s common.

The idiocy of the anti-Broken Windows theory, if one might call it that, was demonstrated by the clearly low-IQ mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in 2015 after Freddy Gray’s death in police custody. The mayor stated that “while we try to make sure that they (protestors) were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

So, the chief law enforcement officer of a major American city decided to give “protesters” space to destroy said city. The right of private property owners to retain their property, the desires of citizens to be safe in their communities, and the expectations of taxpayers that their leaders would enforce the law were not important. What mattered were the wishes of those intent on destruction.

Small things lead to big things, and the results were predictable (although protesters destroying property are not exactly small things). In 2014, there were 211 murders in Baltimore for a rate of 33.84 per 100,000 citizens. Already high compared to the national average of 4.44, things got a lot worse afterward the Freddie Gray riots. In every year since 2015, the city has had over 300 murders with 2021 coming in at 337 and a murder rate of 58.27 per 100,000.

The thing about murder is that it is the most extreme crime, at the top of the crime pyramid. For example, out of a given set of criminals, 80% might be willing to commit robbery, 40% assault and, perhaps, 2% murder. We therefore can assume that, if the tip of that crime pyramid is getting bigger, the lower part is growing in tandem. Fact supports this hypothetical.

Additionally, murder is relatively easy to measure, as you usually have a body to count. With most other crimes, it’s harder to know a crime has been committed as, typically, someone must report it and, increasingly, people are simply not bothering. They know that, when it literally takes hours just to get a response from a 911 call, reporting a crime is a waste of time.

Although George Soros’s DAs are a big part of the problem, on the streets, the problem is clearly less policing, both in terms of actual police numbers and what laws are being enforced. As such, the solution would seem obvious: More police and more enforcement.

But there’s the rub: As woke cities and states used equity to reduce enforcing and penalizing crimes, they simultaneously eviscerated their police forces. Not only are cops retiring and “quitting in droves” but, across the country, cities are finding it increasingly challenging to recruit new officers to fill the vacancies. They now find themselves in a situation where they have more crime and fewer officers to enforce the law.

That’s a vicious societal death spiral that’s extraordinarily difficult to escape. The increase in crime chases more taxpayers and tax-generating employers out of the cities and states just when those bodies must spend more trying to recruit new officers. Eventually, other services suffer, and more people decide to leave, further eroding the tax base and the community. We see that taking place in real-time as citizens escape crime-ridden cesspools in droves.

A vicious cycle doesn’t start out that way. It starts with words like “empathy,” “tolerance,” and “equity” being used to turn a blind eye to those aforementioned small things. While empathy and tolerance might be laudable as personal characteristics, they, along with the fiction of “equity,” are cancers as governing characteristics. Democrats leverage voters’ sympathies to push for policies that sound humane but, in reality, create needle and crime-ridden homeless encampments, eviscerate the criminal justice system, and make life worse for virtually every citizen in the country.

Can America pull out of this societal death spiral? That’s a good question. It will take voters deciding that reality trumps emotion and that an imperfect Republican Party trumps a soulless Democrat Party. We’ll see on November 9 whether Americans 0f 2022 have the courage New Yorkers exhibited in 1993.

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