While Crime Continues to Drop in NYC, Critics Charge NYPD Still Targeting Blacks and Hispanics for Minor Offenses

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New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton

Serious crime in New York City continues to drop in virtually every category, including murder, robberies and felony assaults, according to the latest figures through Dec. 14 of this year.

But the city’s “broken windows” theory of policing, focusing on aggressively pursuing the minor crimes that police believe improve the city’s quality of life, has meant that low-level arrests continue unabated—frustrating critics of the strategy. Many believe it was this “broken windows” focus that led to the death of Eric Garner, who was choked by police office Daniel Pantaleo after being harassed for illegally selling loose cigarettes.

Through last week, the serious crime rate has declined by 4.7 percent and the murder rate dropped by 5.3 percent. Reported robberies declined by 14 percent and felony assaults dropped nearly one percent.

Critics of the “broken windows” strategy say it disproportionately targets Blacks and Hispanics.

“The low level of offenses for which people are being arrested has outsized consequences that harm and undermine the ability of young people to thrive and become responsible citizens,” Donna Lieberman, executive of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the New York Daily News. “Instead of giving people another chance, instead of focusing on wrongdoing that presents a danger to society… the crackdown targets communities of color. It doesn’t target the Upper East Side and it doesn’t target white people.”

Between 2001 and 2013, about 81 percent of the 7.3 million people given citations for violations were Blacks and Hispanics, according to an NYCLU analysis. The News found that summonses for spitting, disorderly conduct, loitering, open container and failure to have a dog license were predominantly issued in predominantly Black and Hispanic precincts.

In an article written by Bratton in the Wall Street Journal, he dismisses the notion that the “broken windows” strategy specifically targets people of color.

“Broken Windows policing is focused on areas where citizens most want, and need, it,” Bratton wrote.

He credits the “thousands of police interventions on the street, which restored order and civility across the five boroughs,” with making New York City a better place to live and work.

But Lieberman says that the NYPD needs to change and the “broken windows” strategy remains a worrisome issue.

“We’re mindful that the Police Department is a massive ocean liner difficult to turn around, and that change does not happen overnight,” she told The News. “But Commissioner Bratton’s relentless advocacy of broken windows has been an ongoing source of concern.”

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