NEW YORK (AP) — A data analysis found no link between enforcement of low-level quality-of-life crimes and the felony crime rate, the office charged with overseeing New York City’s police department said Wednesday.
The report took pains to make clear it was not commenting on the New York Police Department’s overall “broken windows” policing approach, but critics of the policy said the findings were proof that going after low-level crimes as a way of deterring larger ones doesn’t work. The NYPD called the report flawed.
The inspector general for the police, which is part of the city’s Department of Investigation and independent of the NYPD, looked at data for offenses like public urination and public drinking from 2010 to 2015, as well as felony arrest data. In that period, the number of summonses and misdemeanor arrests issued for those acts decreased, but there was no increase in felony crime.
DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said the report wasn’t questioning whether or not quality-of-life crimes should be addressed by police, but was looking specifically at whether going after them made a difference in felonies.
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“What we found is, it’s not a very efficient way to deal with felony crime,” he said.
The report also found that low-level crime enforcement was concentrated in precincts that had high proportions of blacks and Hispanics, public housing residents and males between the ages of 15 and 20.
Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College who has been an outspoken critic of broken windows policing, said the report was a “major blow” to the theory.
“Repeated efforts have been made to find a causal link between intensive quality of life enforcement and serious crime reduction, and this report, as has been the case with others, shows no such connection,” he said.
The NYPD pushed back strongly, issuing a statement that called the report’s assumptions and methodology “deeply flawed.”
The department said that looking at five years of data wasn’t enough and that the comparison should have gone back to 1990, before broken windows was implemented. The NYPD said it would be releasing a more detailed response within 90 days.
Peters said the point was to look at the impact of these types of summonses and misdemeanors in the most recent data.
“Is it possible that criminal quality of life summonses had a different impact 20 years ago? Maybe, but we’re not living 20 years ago,” he said.
The report comes out almost a month after the City Council passed a law that lowers penalties for some of the quality-of-life offenses, an overhaul meant to reduce court backlogs, steer people to the civil rather than criminal system and keep people from being saddled with criminal records for a nonviolent, low-level offense.