Street Stops and Broken Windows Revisited: The Demography and Logic of Proactive Policing in a Safe and Changing City
RACE, ETHNICITY, AND POLICING: NEW AND ESSENTIAL READINGS, Stephen K. Rice and Michael D. White, eds., New York University Press, 2009
58 Pages Posted: 7 May 2009 Last revised: 27 Jun 2021
Date Written: June 6, 2009
The contributions of order-maintenance policing and broken windows theory to New York City’s remarkable crime decline have been the subject of contentious debate. The dominant policing tactic in New York since the 1990s has been aggressive interdiction of citizens through street encounters in the search for weapons or drugs. Research showed that minority citizens in the 1990s were disproportionately stopped, frisked and searched at rates significantly higher than would be predicted by their race-specific crime rates, and that this excess enforcement was explained by the social structure of predominantly minority neighborhoods than by either their disorder or their crime rates. In the decade since the first study on OMP, stop rates have increased by 500 percent while crime rates have remained low and stable. In this article, we update and extend research on order maintenance policing in New York City to explain temporal and spatial patterns of police stops of citizens from 1999, 2003 and 2006. We estimate stop rates by neighborhood as a function of local crime rates, neighborhood demography and social structure, and physical disorder, including direct measures of broken windows. We report that the sharp increase in stop activity since 1999 is concentrated in predominantly poor and minority neighborhoods, and that these stops continue to be more closely tied to demographic and socioeconomic conditions than to disorder or crime. Moreover, we show that the efficiency of stops in producing arrests has declined over a decade as stops have increased, and that the decline is greatest in predominantly minority neighborhoods where stop activity is highest. We then compare the probabilities of police stops for young adults by race and ethnicity, to show the extraordinary concentration of stops of minorities. Absent reliable evidence that these tactics are either efficient or effective crime reduction measures, we attribute the excess stops to institutional management concerns, such as productivity and supervision or intelligence gathering, at the expense of the City’s minority citizens. The racial-spatial concentration of excess stop activity threatens to undermine police legitimacy and diminish the social good of policing, while doing little to reduce crime or disorder.
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