Monday, February 2, 2009

Broken Windows?

The Broken Windows theory states that focusing on ‘low-level’ crime (disorderly behavior) can directly impact more serious and violent crime. Take the below example:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Intervening early in the cycle can prevent more serious crimes. While some dispute Broken Windows, many, such as Chief Bratton (Los Angeles) and Commissioner Kelly (New York), remain strong proponents. Their policing strategies reflect this. In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to Commissioner Kelly’s recent editorial in the New York Post:
Crime in New York began to fall under Mayor David Dinkins and continued to drop under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani - to the point that in 2002 many thought it had nowhere to go but up. Instead, under Mayor Bloomberg, new record lows were posted, year after year: Crime fell nearly 30 percent from 2001 to 2008, while quality of life improved (…)

How did it happen? The NYPD focused on low-level crime as never before. It deployed officers in large, concentrated numbers in precisely-defined zones where spikes in violent crime occurred.
Like any strategy, Broken Windows isn’t a stand-alone panacea. It’s meant to be used in coordination with other proven and effective strategies, such as CompStat, Community Policing and effective social service delivery (i.e. the CJC, modeled after New York's Red Hook Community Justice Center).

But it can be successful. We need look no further than our own Tenderloin. Just last week, in the Examiner, Captain Gary Jimenez explained how, along with community policing, increased policing presence and quality-of-life enforcement has been critical to reducing violence in the Tenderloin:
Murders dropped from nine in 2007 to four last year. Robbery dropped 9 percent, and aggravated assault plummeted nearly 14 percent (…)

Jimenez also attributed some of the success to the citywide “zone” strategy, where the police presence is concentrated in San Francisco’s most violent neighborhood. Tenderloin officers have also cracked down on quality-of-life offenses, increasing their narcotics arrests by 22 percent from 2007 to 2008 and disorderly conduct arrests by nearly 184 percent.

I, for one, believe that Broken Windows can be an effective strategy. But what's better than fixing broken windows is working together to prevent them from being broken in the first place. Indeed, not having to fix them should be the measure of success to which we aspire.