NYC Policing

The Return of Broken Windows Policing

By Cade Terada on March, 25 2024

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New York City is seeing a return of broken windows-style policing, which former mayor Rudy Giuliani popularized in the 1990’s. It is based on the theory that visible signs of disorder, such as a broken window, encourages a decline in respect towards the law, people’s rights, and especially property. Ultimately, the fear is that crime will become contagious and endemic in the urban environment. Under Giuliani, the NYPD identified neighborhoods in which to crack down on minor crimes. Not only did broken windows policing fail to reduce crime, but it also provided cover for a deliberate targeting of Black and brown communities. Even today, plainclothes and anti-gun police units, which were deemed unconstitutional and disbanded in 2020, have made a return to Harlem. A recent report has shown that at least one in four stops are unconstitutional and that 97 percent of those stopped are Black and/or Latine despite making up less than of half of New York City’s population. 

The latest crackdown on protestors and New York City residents has included harassing migrants in Times Square. Officers alleged that migrants had attacked NYPD officers. Footage from an officer’s body cam proved these claims false; the officers were the ones who initiated contact, antagonized the migrants, and assaulted them, which led to the brawl. After the incident, Mayor Adams called for the perpetrators to be deported and blamed the NYC’s status as a sanctuary city.  

Officers and top brass alike have flocked to social media to brag about the latest arrests. Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry even went as far as to post video footage of a protestor, emphasizing their arrest and relishing the idea “legal consequences” before a judgment had even been made. The post sparked bipartisan outrage at the department's lopsided priorities. 

NYPD messaging has blamed rising crime on a lack of respect, ignoring context such as citywide protests and shifting blame from officers trumping up charges for minor infractions. Organizations such as Within Our Lifetime have documented a significant increase in police violence and arrests. Now, current mayor Eric Adams has made clear his intent to further empower the carceral state. On January 27, 2024, the New York City Council voted to override Adams’s vetoes of a bill banning solitary confinement and the How Many Stops Act, which requires public reporting of investigative stops on civilians.   

 Despite civilian efforts to combat misconduct through policy and oversight, complaints in 2023 jumped 51% to their highest level since 2012. A large portion of these complaints come from the NYPD Strategic Response Group (SRG), nicknamed the “goon squad” for their aggressive conduct. Once such instance, according to a report by the Department of Investigation accused the NYPD and the SRG of abusing its power and misusing force on demonstrators by using their bicycles as weapons. Misuse of conduct is not an out of the ordinary case for the SRG, the extensive use of force can be directly attributed to the heads of the NYPD and Mayor Adams, citing the Strategic Response Groups’ own training manual responsible for the violations of demonstrators' rights. 

Mayor Adams’s return to broken windows policing also serves as a scare tactic for him to justify an even larger police budget. He cannot claim safety and protection as motives while his policies continue to create the opposite. At least 28 people incarcerated at Rikers Island have died in the barely two years since Adams became mayor. The actual number is unknown since the Department of Corrections has stopped reporting deaths to the public. Despite the City Council’s vote to close Rikers, Mayor Adams has refused to decrease the population enough to close the decades-old facility. The majority of those held at Rikers Island have not even been convicted of a crime.  

People are no longer fooled by Adams’s fearmongering. His approval rating hovers at a meager 28%, the lowest of any New York City mayor since 1996. Broken windows policing is a desperate attempt to sacrifice black and brown communities to create the illusion of a crime-ridden city whose citizens are expected to believe he is the answer.  

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