NYPD Slowdown Not Likely to Tell Us Much About Broken Windows

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As long as we’re talking about crime today, the New York Times reports that the NYPD’s slowdown in citing people for minor violations doesn’t appear to be doing any harm:

In the week since two Brooklyn officers were killed by a man who singled them out for their police uniforms, the number of summonses for minor criminal offenses, as well as those for parking and traffic violations, has decreased by more than 90 percent versus the same week a year earlier, and felony arrests were nearly 40 percent lower, according to Police Department statistics.

….Yet reports of major crimes citywide continued their downward trajectory, falling to 1,813 from 2,127 for the week, a nearly 15 percent drop, according to Police Department statistics.

Mike the Mad Biologist thinks this might be a useful natural experiment:

Here’s the thing: this might not be like the sanitation workers strike. Then, it was obvious what the consequences were—mounds of rotting garbage. But what happens if, after a couple weeks of slowdown, there’s no uptick in violent or property (i.e., breaking and entry) crime? That would undermine the current policing philosophy of the NYPD (and many other cities)….If violent crime doesn’t increase, then arresting people for minor violations doesn’t seem like a good strategy.

Helluva experiment. Let’s see what the outcome will be.

Unfortunately, I doubt that this will tell us anything at all. The timeframe is too short and there are too many other things going on at the same time. Crime statistics have a ton of noise in them, and it’s hard to draw any conclusions even from a full year of change. You need years of data, preferably in lots of different places. A few weeks of data in one place is basically just a null.

So….yes, it’s potentially an interesting experiment. In real life, though, it’s not. It’s just a howl of protest from the police that will tell us little about anything other than the state of relations between City Hall and the NYPD.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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