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Prof. Zeidman on the downsides of ‘broken windows’ policing

August 4, 2014

Professor Steve Zeidman wrote an editorial piece “Is ‘Broken Windows’ Broken? Yes” that ran in the Sunday edition of the New York Daily News. He argues that this theory subjects minority and poor New Yorkers to harassment for no good reason.

He traces the origin of this policing tactic to a 1982 article in The Atlantic. “Broken windows” policing is coming up because Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is a strong advocate of it. He now prefers to call it quality of life policing but it still translates to massive arrests for minor crimes.

Professor Zeidman reminds us that no causal link has been proven between this kind of policing and lower crime rates. He says that even though “serious crime has decreased dramatically in New York City in the two decades that broken windows policing has been in force”, there is still an open question of “how significant a role the arrests, as opposed to other factors like changing demographics and the relative decline of crack cocaine, played in the reduction of crime.”

Furthermore, he points out that just like stop-and-frisk, “the broken-windows arrest blitz is not spread evenly across the city.” Instead, “data show that a relative few zip codes in majority black and Latino neighborhoods are home to more than half of the arrestees in NYC.”

In another parallel to police tactics of the previous mayoral administration, Professor Zeidman says that just like “former Commissioner Ray Kelly’s unflinching support for stop-and-frisk in the midst of growing opposition, Bratton displayed little interest in introspection regarding concerns about the collateral damage that flows, particularly to men of color, from any arrest.”

Read the full “Is ‘Broken Windows’ Broken? Yes” op-ed

Professor Zeidman

Professor Zeidman

Steve Zeidman is a professor and director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at CUNY Law. He advocates on behalf of indigent defendants in many venues, including as a member of the Indigent Defense Organization Oversight Committee. He presently serves on the Board of Directors of Prisoners’ Legal Services and has also served on several statewide commissions, including the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services and the Jury Project


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