De Blasio: Broken Windows Policing "Got A Bad Name," But It Had The Right Underlying Principle

In a new interview with activist DeRay Mckesson, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio advocated for "a version" of broken windows policing. "Address little things that come from big things. You respond to quality of life concerns that come from the community," he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has advocated for "a version" of broken windows policing, saying the term got a bad rap under previous administrations but that it is right in principle.

He argued that the principle is to "address little things that come from big things. You respond to quality of life concerns that come from the community."

The broken windows theory, popularized in the 1980s, argues that by focusing on issues like vandalism and more minor crimes, police can reduce more serious crime. Activists have long argued that the implementation of broken windows policing ultimately contributed to unnecessary and sometimes violent conflict between police and citizens. De Blasio was a guest for Tuesday's episode of the podcast Pod Save the People with activist DeRay Mckesson.

De Blasio said: "I wanted to get away from the policing that existed previously. I wanted to get away from the broken policy of stop and frisk and I wanted to change the relationship between the police and the community. I believe quality of life policing — which I think is the better phrase than broken windows because broken windows has some very understandably troubling associations in people's minds — quality of life policing is necessary and I've been in favor of that all along."

Mckesson then asked de Blasio what he felt the difference was between broken windows policing and "quality of life policing."

"It is similar vain but different associations is what bluntly what I'd say," said de Blasio.

He continued, "I think broken windows policing got a bad name in part because it was associated with the Giuliani administration and there are a lot of reasons to be highly critical of the Giuliani administration. But I think the underlying principle was the right principle, which is you address little things that come from big things. You respond to quality of life concerns that come from the community."

De Blasio said communities in years passed were "under-policed." He gave an example to support his view.

"If you're someone who lives in an apartment building and you say, 'Hey, there's a bunch of teenagers outside my window making a lot of noise and it's 2 a.m.' — you should get a response," he said. "That response should be a smart one and one that is respectful of everyone involved. But you have a right to your quality of life as a resident of New York City."

"So that is a version of broken windows policing, but I think the reason I like the phrase 'quality of life' better is broken windows came with some philosophical questions" and an association with Rudy Giuliani, de Blasio said.

Mckesson's group, Campaign Zero, has called for an end to the practice of policing offenses such as open alcohol containers, trespassing, jaywalking, and loitering.

"A decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities — a practice called Broken Windows policing — has led to the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations," the group's position on the issue says. "In 2014, police killed at least 287 people who were involved in minor offenses and harmless activities like sleeping in parks, possessing drugs, looking 'suspicious' or having a mental health crisis. These activities are often symptoms of underlying issues of drug addiction, homelessness, and mental illness which should be treated by healthcare professionals and social workers rather than the police."

De Blasio said he has worked with police commissioners under his watch to retrain the police force — emphasizing discretion and de-escalation, and giving officers the ability to give warnings. He said the city also established policies like eliminating arrests for low-level marijuana possession, saying that arrests in many cases are a last resort.


Rudy Giuliani's name was misspelled in a previous version of this post.

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