The Journal is at it again, with an editorial co-authored William Bratton, former New York City police commissioner and vigorous enforcer of another sadly racist policy, the so-called “broken windows” method of policing. The theory behind this policy is that disorder, as represented by broken windows, leads to a breakdown of societal norms and increased criminality. What is ignored in this exercise in sloppy thinking is the implementation of BW-policing is itself inherently a breakdown in social norms. When police are an arbitrary occupying force, and are empowered to commit lawful homicide for the most trivial of reasons, then social order has been harmed far more than by the presence of a mere broken window.
Never mind the critics, Mr. Bratton says, crime is down, proving BW policing is a success. There’s only one problem: crime is down everywhere. Data from the US Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Reports shows that in California, our nation’s most populous state, the rate of violent crime declined by a breathtaking 63% from 1991 to 2011. This was no anomaly. In Florida, the fourth most populous state, violent crime plunged 61%. Illinois, the fifth most populous state, crime is down by 60%. In Alabama, the reduction in violent crime is 56%. Michigan, the heart of the Rust Belt, down by 45%. Connecticut, a densely populated state, down by 49%. Massachusetts, another densely populated state, down by 50%. Virginia down by 49%. Washington, a state renowned for its liberalism – no BW policing here, thank you - down 45%. Neighboring Oregon, even more mellow, down 55%. And so on and so on, across the nation.
Mr. Bratton writes, “Current low crime levels don’t stay down because of some vaguely defined demographic or economic factor. “ This statement could not possibly be more wrong, or worse, more tragic for people of color in major US cities. Here’s what Mr. Bratton should be saying: “Wow, crime dropped across the country over the last two decades. Crime dropped in red states and blue states, in rural and urban states, in states with large African-American populations and states without many blacks, in states that embraced broken windows police tactics and states that didn’t. If there is any single thing a reasonably intelligent person could conclude, it is that broken windows had absolutely nothing to do with New York City’s decline in crime, and for all we know may have even made things worse. Which makes the police homicide death of Mr. Eric Garner even more tragic, and for that I deeply apologize.”
He should say those words, but I advise not holding your breath.