Brooklyn Congresswomen Urge NYC Mayor to End ‘Broken Windows’ Policing

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, left, flanked by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Will Bredderman/Observer

Brooklyn Congresswomen Yvette Clarke and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez have penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking that he reconsider the use of the controversial “broken windows” policing method and  review current summons practices.

In the missive, dated May 31, Clarke and Velázquez argued that academic research indicates that broken windows “rarely yields positive outcomes and is not an optimal use of law enforcement resources.” Data on the strategy, which involves cracking down on minor “quality-of-life” offenses to prevent more serious crimes, is in fact mixed.

Last June, a report from NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure found no empirical evidence indicating a direct link between an increase in summons and misdemeanor arrest activity and a related drop in felony crime during the period between 2010 and 2015.

“Moving forward, we would like to work with your administration to find more appropriate approaches to law enforcement in our communities of color and to help provide federal oversight or technical assistance as necessary to avoid unnecessary arrests,” the congresswomen wrote. “Police resources should be devoted to pursuing dangerous crimes that threaten our collective security, not for trivial infractions that could be resolved outside of court or with a summons forgiveness program.”

Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton famously implemented the policy during his first stint atop the department under then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani—and was credited with achieving remarkable reductions in the crime rate. He continued to defend it during his second tenure as top cop under de Blasio, even in the aftermath of Eure’s report.

On Bratton’s last day in September 2016, de Blasio said that while broken windows policing needs to be revised and updated, it’s “still the right approach.” And at a recent City Council hearing, new Commissioner James O’Neill asserted that quality-of-life policing is “part and parcel of what we do” but that it should only be “directed at the people involved in the crime and violence.”

Last year, the mayor signed the city’s Criminal Justice Reform Act, eight bills that sought to address disproportionate penalties and sentencing for people with low-level and nonviolent offenses. Clarke and Velázquez noted that prior to the act, summonses could lead to a permanent criminal record—and that missing a court date could result in an arrest.

They said the act partially addressed the issue of over-incarceration and crowding in corrections facilities, but said additional reforms are necessary, including a comprehensive review of current summons practices.

And they recalled that in January, the city agreed to pay up to $75 million in a federal lawsuit settlement due to nearly 1 million criminal summonses issued between 2007 and 2015 “that were given out despite there being no legal basis for the summonses.” They said that moving forward, policies should take young people “who may currently find themselves in the same situation” into account to evade disproportionate use of summonses in the future.

The congresswomen also pointed to an argument by activists and advocates for immigrants that undocumented immigrants arrested and charged with low-level offenses are now subject to deportation under President Donald Trump’s policies—despite the mayor and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s insistence that New York City is a “sanctuary city” for all immigrants.

“These sanctuaries are not truly safe for undocumented communities if ‘broken windows’ policies exacerbate unnecessary interactions between police and city residents—in fact, such policies threaten the protection and amnesty that New York city is promoting right now,” they said.

Still, the pair praised O’Neill’s “neighborhood policing” model, which pairs officers with neighborhood leaders in the precincts they patrol.

“The recent expansion of the neighborhood policing program to foster collaboration between police and community members is a step in the right direction, but there is more work that needs to be done to fully ensure that police officers are in touch with the realities of the communities and people they serve,” they said.

The Coalition to End Broken Windows, which asserts that the policy unfairly targets communities of color, circulated the letter to the press.

Austin Finan, a spokesman for de Blasio, pointed the Observer to the mayor’s comments at his crime statistics update press conference in March.

At the time, the mayor said quality of life policing is one of the reasons the city has “gotten safer for a quarter century.”

“I understand some of the concerns that have been raised, but I think they’re putting the cart before the horse,” de Blasio said. “Job-one is to keep people safe. And quality of life policing is part of keeping people safe. It’s also demanded by neighborhoods all over the city.”

He said that even under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, undocumented immigrants knew that officers would not ask about their documentation status.

He also said that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will sometimes do what it wants to do whether the city agrees or not, but reiterated that the city “made clear under our law when and how the city of New York will cooperate.”

This story has been updated to include a comment from the mayor’s office.