The Impact Of 'Broken Windows' Policing On Black Communities In New York City

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“He came up on the bike, dropped the bike, took out a gun and shot him in the head,” Josmar Trujillo, president of the Coalition to End Broken Windows, said, pointing toward the narrow walkway over FDR Drive.

He continued,

Cops that weren't even on duty came out. There were at least 20 cop cars over there alone [because] when a cop gets shot, the whole world stops.

After the murder of police officer Randolph Holder, 33, in East Harlem, New York, the world did stop, not just for those mourning the loss of an innocent man, but also for the police reform movement.

Trujillo said,

This was, like, the last straw for the de Blasio administration. After that, a whole bunch of stuff around bail reform and court reform kinda hit a 180.
EAST HARLEM, NY - Josmar Trujillo, Coalition to End Broken Windows

Bob Gangi, a fellow activist and founder of the Police Reform Organizing Project, agreed,

The political narrative that came out of that... rolled back, in effect, the momentum of our movement.

In an effort to switch the focus back to police accountability, Gangi needed to find a way to shift the public eye back to eliminating harmful police practices, namely "broken windows" policing and quotas, or quota-based policing.

Due to the attacks on New York City Police Department officers, PROP -- and other reform groups like it -- could no longer depend on large turnouts for city-wide protests and demonstrations.

Gangi would have to work with a fraction of the volunteers he had following the Eric Garner ruling, but still generate a large response from the public.

Park Slope Action

The solution came in the form of a public demonstration, what Gangi called the “Park Slope Action.”

Picture activists approaching white residents in Park Slope, a gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, with fake summonses.

PROP volunteers cited primarily jaywalking, an infraction regularly enforced in low-income communities in New York. The event managed to gather an increasingly large amount of press coverage and notoriety.

Gangi, eager to repeat the success, moved to build on the momentum with another similar demonstration.

However, the problems of where and how to repeat it were stymied by the approaching cold weather. In the meanwhile, PROP kept moving.

Gangi explained,

One of my approaches to political action is that you keep moving. You keep active. You do petition days, reports, public forums, targeted actions -- those are the kind of activities that PROP has engaged in since its first year.

The Quota Panel

CENTRAL HARLEM, NY - Adhyle Polanco, NYPD

Retired NYPD Detective Carlton Berkley bellowed into the mic,

Some of you might say quotas don't exist, let me tell you something... Quotas DO exist. They've existed before me, they exist now, they'll continue to exist.

Enter PROP's NYPD quotas panel. Berkley became one of the many voices that came to be heard during the panel and Q&A. It was Gangi's hope the panel consisting of a current police officer, two attorneys, a police officer's wife and Trujillo would help inform and empower the local community.

There was a purpose for holding the event in the Abyssinian Baptist Church, nestled deep within Harlem's 32nd Precinct.

This neighborhood of 70,942 reportedly accounted for 6,900 summonses in 2013, averaging 9.73 summonses per 100 residents, one of the highest rates in Manhattan.

Across the river in the Bronx's Mott Haven and Melrose, over 15,000 summonses were issued, with an average of 16.48 per 100, among the area's more than 91,000 residents.

Compare those numbers to the 24th Precinct's 2,482 summonses issued in the Upper West Side, averaging 2.33 per 100 for a population of 106,460 residents.

NYPD officer Adhyl Polanco stated,

If I were to stand on the corner in an area with a high amount of crime, and the crime rate goes down in that spot, I won't get rewarded for that. I can't come into the precinct with that. That's not gonna cut it, it has to be arrests or [summonses].

Polanco described what has long been a criticism of NYPD policing: The NYPD only measures police activity through arrests, summonses and tickets. Berkley confirmed the criticism, saying,

If you wanna take some time off, take another shift, so that you can go see the birth of your daughter? Too bad. They'll use that against you, and say, 'You want that shift? You better go out there and get those numbers.'

The effect of forcing officers to meet quotas and make a certain number of arrests and summonses pushes many cops to make false arrests, or issue questionable summonses when they're unable to find enough legitimate offenders.

Quotas are also illegal in the state of New York.

So, how are NYPD precincts getting away with quotas?

Officer Polanco said,

They call them Performance Goals / Activity Reports.

Officers with low Activity Reports are sanctioned, and so begins the cycle of “making your numbers” in order to stay afloat in the force.

Gangi, Trujillo and other activists like them believe the existence of this de facto quota system is primarily what drives broken windows policies.

Broken Windows

LOWER EAST SIDE, NY - PROP Intern & NYPD Officer

So, where are the stats for both sides? Well, they're one and the same.

Broken windows supporters often cite the overall drop in felonies from the early 1990s to the late 2000s along with the rise in low-level arrests and summonses.

However, opponents of the policy like Gangi and Trujillo consistently point to specific years in that period where misdemeanor arrests would drop, but crime would continue to fall.

Gangi quipped,

You could even say the Yankees rise in championships could have an effect by that reasoning.

Indeed, sociologists and statisticians alike are finding it difficult to show direct correlation between broken windows policies and the slow, steady decline of major crime in New York.

Instead, the fall in children with lead poisoning and other cultural factors show closer relationships with the decline in major crime than an uptick with misdemeanor arrests does.

Even NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton conceded,

You're not going to find the scientific study that can support broken windows one way or the other.

However, in the same interview, Bratton added,

The evidence I rely on is what my eyes show me.

This reasoning doesn't satisfy police reform activists like Gangi and Trujillo.

Gangi said,

It's deeply immoral. It's blatantly racist as it's applied in New York. It targets people of color.

This is why demonstrations like the Park Slope Action were effective, in Gangi's opinion.

They offer white New Yorkers a brief look into the lives many black and brown New Yorkers often face under broken windows policies.

It's also why PROP decided to turn its attention to SantaCon, a holiday pub crawl undertaken by predominantly white residents that has relatively low reports of arrests/summonses.

SantaCon

An officer told an anonymous PROP intern,

That's not illegal in New York.

The intern replied,

Oh, OK, it's not? You can just be wasted on the street and...

“Yeah,” the officer confirmed.

The intern pressed,

What about like paper bags, open containers?

“That's not illegal in New York,” the officer repeated.

Ironically enough, the small band of PROP volunteers at SantaCon found several instances where party goers were arrested and issued summonses, but none of them was white.

Throughout the event, volunteers chose to bring up the issue of broken windows policing to SantaCon goers, urging them to consider what it would be like if NYPD officers chose to focus on more serious crimes rather than harshly penalize misdemeanors and civil violations.

However, to Gangi, the demonstration wasn't anything close to the success he had hoped for. It received virtually no coverage. He would have to aim for a bigger audience: the 2017 mayoral race.

Citations: Emotional funeral for slain NYPD cop Randolph Holder held in native Guyana (New York Daily News), Randolph Holder, NYPD officer, dies after being shot during chase in East Harlem (The Washington Times), Chris Christie: Black Lives Matter Movement Not "Justified" (Gothamist), Despite Laws And Lawsuits, Quota-Based Policing Lingers (NPR), After Cop Murders, Police Reform Movement Ponders Next Steps (Observer), Wave of Protests After Grand Jury Doesn't Indict Officer in Eric Garner Chokehold Case (The New York Times), Block by Block: Park Slope (Video Series) (The New York Times), THE NYPD ENFORCES JAYWALKING WHEN IT DAMN WELL FEELS LIKE IT (The Village Voice), Broken-Windows Comes to Park Slope (The New Yorker), Fake summonses expose real broken-window policing problems, activist says (FOX News), Daily News analysis finds racial disparities in summonses for minor violations in 'broken windows' policing (New York Daily News), NYPD set arrest quotas for minority cops in their own communities: suit (New York Post), Police Union Sues NYPD Over New Performance Evaluations (Law360), We fabricated drug charges against innocent people to meet arrest quotas, former detective testifies (New York Daily News), Lawsuit claims NYPD wrongly issued 850,000 summonses to meet quotas (Metro), Police Quotas Are Terrible, And The NYPD Still Seems To Be Using Them (Huffington Post), At 'Stop-And-Frisk' Trial, Cops Describe Quota-Driven NYPD (NPR), William J. Bratton (Governing), Broken Windows: New Evidence from New York City and a Five-City Social Experiment (University of Chicago), How much credit does Giuliani deserve for fighting crime? (PolitiFact), The Study That Could Upend Everything We Thought We Knew About Declining Urban Crime (CityLab), Fixing Broken Windows (The New Yorker), Potential rivals lining up to challenge Mayor de Blasio in 2017 (New York Daily News)