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Fact Check Team: What is 'broken windows' policing?

FILE - In this Dec. 31, 2015, file photo, a New York City police officer sits in a cruiser at a checkpoint surrounding Times Square during New Year's Eve celebrations in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 31, 2015, file photo, a New York City police officer sits in a cruiser at a checkpoint surrounding Times Square during New Year's Eve celebrations in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
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WASHINGTON (TND) — A Gallup poll released Thursday shows Americans’ concern about crime is the highest its been since 2016. Of those surveyed, 53% say they personally worry a "great deal" about crime.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, in 2020 there were over one million incidents of violent crime.

With those numbers and heightened concern across the country, some law enforcement agencies are looking to “broken windows” policing to keep folks safe.

The National Desk’s Fact Check Team is taking a look at the “broken windows” theory and if it could make your communities safer.

The “broken windows” theory was developed by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling back in the 1980s.

According to Britannica, the theory asserts that disorder or small crime within a community could lead to instances of serious crime.

Before this theory, police tended to focus on serious crimes like rape, robbery, and murder. The “broken windows” approach sees serious crime as the final result of a chain of events, so less disorder, or small crime, leads to less serious crime.

There are two types of disorder that the police focus on.

The first is physical, which includes things like broken windows, vacant buildings, graffiti and abandoned cars. The second type is social disorder like aggressive panhandlers and noisy neighbors.

The theory was made famous by the New York City Police Department in the 1990’s.

Then-Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani first directed the NYPD to focus on cleaning up the subway by looking out for riders who didn’t pay their fare.,

The New York Times reported the police caught at least 170,000 fare evaders everyday, which accounted for more than 5% of riders.

From there, the NYPD moved from the subway to the streets and ramped up misdemeanor arrests by 70% for petty crimes like smoking marijuana, loitering and selling loose cigarettes.

During this time, violent crime declined by more than 56% in the city, something supporters of the theory point to. Homicides, burglary, and assault all dropped by at least 40%, so it would seem like the theory worked.

However, critics are not convinced the theory alone is responsible for NYC’S lower crime numbers because during the 1990’s serious crime dropped by 26% nationwide.

A 2018 study from Northeastern University also found no direct correlation between the theory reduced crime and even recent research from the George Mason Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy says there’s no proof that it did or didn’t work.

There is also concern that the theory creates racial and class bias and results in over-policing minorities and burdening impoverished people with fines for minor offenses.

Some believe New York City is getting back to "broken windows" policing again. Media outlets are calling the NYPD’s Crime and Quality-of-Life Enforcement Initiative a return to it.

Mayor Eric Adams has put more officers in communities with the highest levels of crime.

According to the NYPD, the initiative includes “a proven best practice for reducing violent crime: proactive engagement with offenders who commit violations that lead up to an act of violence.”

The violations include selling drugs out in the open, public drinking, public urination and dice games.

Similar to “broken windows” the idea is that by targeting disorder in a community before it will stop something serious from happening.

They just announced the initiative last month so it’s hard to tell if it’s working.

In March, the city experienced a 15.8% drop in homicides but overall crime increased by 36.5% because of a jump in grand larcenies and robberies and shooting incidents increased by 16.2%.

Politico reports that the mayor rejects the comparisons to “broken windows" but also says the city can not return to high levels of crime and his police commissioner emphasized the initiative is not a return to past controversial policies like "stop-and-frisk."

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