‘Broken windows’ creates broken trust


Matthew Tessler, Contributing Columnist

The broken windows policy put in place by the New York Police Department aims to crack down on minor offenses in order to stop people from committing more serious crimes. In theory, by repairing the “broken windows” — small crimes that create the appearance of disorder and lawlessness — larger crimes can be avoided. This means that  minor crimes, such as jumping subway turnstiles, loitering, panhandling, public intoxication, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk or selling loose cigarettes, can lead to excessive fines and arrests. For residents of New York City that either are or appear to be black or Latino, this creates an especially big problem.

According to a study  published by the New York Daily News, roughly 81 percent of the 7.3 million people hit with citations between 2001 and 2013 were black or Latino, yet these groups only make up about 50 percent of New York City’s population. By charging minorities with more crimes, the NYPD is reinforcing racial inequality.

According to Slate magazine, black and Latino males, when compared to their Caucasian counterparts, “receive harsher sentences, serve greater prison time and are more likely to be convicted.” The effect this mistreatment has on minority communities is astonishing, especially in regard to the relationship between the public and the police force that should be protecting them.

The NYPD’s implementation of the broken windows practice is undoubtedly horrible. But, it seems it has been effective enough to justify over a decade of use. The unfair killing of an innocent citizen, however, seemed to turn the tables on the policy. The death was avoidable and very public. When Eric Garner was choked to death on July 17, in what was later ruled a homicide, real damage occurred. A man was killed for selling untaxed cigarettes. And trust in the police — a force that helps the community every day — was lost.

Though the outcomes are not usually fatal, confrontations like Garner’s happen every day. Most often they lead to undue harassment. New Yorkers should not be stopped on the street while walking to work because of supposed suspicion.

The broken windows policy has serious consequences. By enforcing a theory based on groundless statistics, the NYPD is abusing its power to maintain peace and neglecting its responsibility to protect the city’s people. The sooner we recognize this and acknowledge it, the sooner we can stop the madness and move toward using a positive force for positive effects. The NYPD must change the broken windows policy in order to regain lost trust.