Broken Windows, Broken Policy

In the investigative piece "Beyond Broken", the Daily News examined NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton's "Broken Windows" policing policy in the aftermath of the choking death of black father-of-six Eric Garner during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island.

Bratton first brought "Broken Windows", credited to scholar James Q. Wilson, to New York in 1990 as head of the city's Transit Police force, expanding the policy during his tenure as NYPD Commissioner from 1994-96. Eric Garner's death has now brought the policy debate over Broken Windows back to center stage, re-energizing the police reform movement in New York City.

Bratton argues that Broken Windows makes police more responsive to community complaints by enforcing criminal violations that, if unchecked, can have widespread qualify-of-life impact.

But according to the American Civil Liberties Union, taking a new look at its landmark stop-and-frisk lawsuit and re-framing the debate around summonses, Broken Windows is less about community policing than racial profiling: roughly 81% of the 7.3 million people charged with criminal violations in New York City between 2001 and 2013 were black or Hispanic.

The Daily News found that summonses for the quality-of-life violations "spitting", "disorderly conduct', "loitering", "public consumption of alcohol", and "unlicensed dog" are predominantly dropped on blacks or Hispanics. In some precincts, 1-in-10 black and Hispanic residents were summonsed to court on criminal violations last year, with one Bronx resident comparing the situation to "martial law."

Getting a summons means ending up in one of the city's five Summons Courts, in one of which the Daily News found that 80% of respondents were male and 89% non-white.

People who fail to appear in Summons Court end up subject to arrest warrants. According to the state court system, there are 1.1 million outstanding warrants for people who have failed to appear after being summonsed for a violation.

Those who do appear in response to a summons and are not offered an ACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) are asked to enter a plea before they can see the ticketing officer's version of the facts. Don't expect the city to complain about the lack of due process, because summonses are a cash cow that brought in $8.7 million in revenue last year -- the criminal court systems's second-largest revenue stream.

As a result of the Summons Courts, hundreds of thousands of people found "guilty" or ACDd now have criminal records that can seriously impact any future attempt they may make to plea bargain or obtain U.S. citizenship.

The Daily News article.

A scholarly discussion of Broken Windows.

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