New York City police are returning to a proactive policing strategy that some advocates are comparing to the “broken-windows” policing popular in the 90s.
The NYPD and Mayor Eric Adams recently announced their new strategy to tackle the rise in crime by expanding officers’ duties beyond 9-1-1 calls to also crack down on “quality-of-life offenses” that can precede violent crimes, such as public drinking, gambling, urination and the open-air sale of marijuana and narcotics.
The initiative, known as the Crime and Quality-of-Life Enforcement Initiative, is a response to the increase in shootings and thefts in the city. Under the new strategy, police are expected to take a proactive role in curbing activities that “contribute to crime and disorder.”
In addition to the aforementioned offenses, other activities such as loud parties and driving with suspended or revoked licenses will be targeted.
According to an NYPD press release, officers will be deployed throughout the city to engage with the community and take proactive steps to prevent crime.
“They will work in tandem to rapidly identify and respond to crime trends and to address the conditions that fuel them,” the release states. “They will be performing best practice for reducing violence crime: proactive engagement with offenders who commit violations that lead up to an act of violence — whether on the streets, in the transit system or in our public housing developments.”
The city hopes that the new initiative will combat the worrying rise in crime.
NYPD data has shown consistent year-over-year increases in murders, robberies, shootings and felony assaults.
From March 14 to 20 last year, the city recorded nine murders and a whopping 43 shooting injuries — a 95% increase compared to the same time period the previous year.
In 2022 so far, total index crime (crime from seven major categories) is up 45% during the same period.
Mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy said that Adams’ priority is to improve public safety.
“New Yorkers are looking for action to stop the everyday crimes they are reporting,” Levy said. “Through precision policing, the NYPD can be trusted to enforce our laws and protect New Yorkers.”
However, advocacy groups like the Legal Aid Society (LAS) criticized the initiative, calling it a return to an antiquated and ineffective broken-windows policing style.
“Broken-windows policing has long been discredited for furthering mistrust between the police and the communities we serve, and this rebranded version will yield those same results, with the same disparate enforcement,” said Jennvine Wong with the organization Cop Accountability Project.
Wong argued that Adams was taking a regressive approach and said that addressing the root cause of crime — such as poverty — would be a more effective strategy.
Advocates argue that broken-windows policing, where lower-level crimes and public offenses are addressed to prevent them from escalating to violent crimes, disproportionately affects communities of color.
Professor Felipe Rodriguez of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice defended the new policy, arguing that it is not as systematic and statistics-based as the broken-windows era.
“All the enforcement for broken windows was included in CompStat, so precinct commanders were held accountable when officers weren’t bringing in enough numbers,” Rodriguez explained.
While Rodriguez was skeptical that New York attorneys would prosecute lower-level crimes, he supported the strategy in theory.
“Right now, there are so many minor violations that are leading up to more violent criminal acts. We’re at the point of anarchy,” he said. “This is worse than the 80s … There is now a total lack of respect between the community and officers because we’re not enforcing anything.”
Former NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir, who was in charge during the broken-windows period of policing, said the new strategy is different.
“No, this is a return to effective policing. If done right, [it] will prevent us going back to where we are now, like the bad old days, where 29 people are getting shot on the weekend,” he said.
This new strategy is not unique to New York. Cities like Detroit and Miami have also rolled out similar initiatives to target minor offenses like traffic violations and noise complaints, as well as monitoring vacant parking lots and buildings in an effort to decriminalize the environment.
“We are not going back to the policing that I fought to change,” said Adams, who assured that officer behavior will be monitored by video technology. “We won’t go back to abusive policing.”