Broken Windows Policing

Broken windows policing broadly describes a focus on policing minor crimes and activities, especially in black and brown neighborhoods. More than 80% of arrests made each year are for non-serious, non-violent charges (Vera)

Minor Offenses

By criminalizing actions like spitting, loitering, jaywalking, police officers have more reason to engage with residents, especially those of color--Michael Brown was initially pulled over for jaywalking. Those arrested without physical altercation often leave the encounter with a criminal record because of the pressure within the criminal misdemeanor system to push for quick and easy guilty verdicts (NPR).

Objective Justification for Stops

Police today use subjective (not objective) justifications like furtive movements, suspicious activity, or matching a generalized description to stop people. In Terry vs Ohio (1968), the Supreme Court ruled that police officers only needed “reasonable suspicion” (not probable cause) to briefly stop a citizen, question them, and frisk them to ascertain whether they possess a weapon that could endanger the officer. Reliance on this standard allows police officers to rely on a more subjective and often racially linked understanding of ‘danger.’

Reporting Stop Details

Currently, 29 states lack laws requiring comprehensive reporting for police traffic or pedestrian stops. Without data detailing the arrestee's location, race, gender, use of force, and presence of a firearm, law enforcement agencies departments and citizens cannot identify and address biased patterns in these stops. Given that nationally, police officers stop an average of 50,000 motorists per day, departments and residents need more comprehensive stop data to understand potential biases and ascertain the connection between stops and crime levels

Success Stories

Between Oct. 1, 2016, and Feb. 28, 2017, the Nashville police department conducted 105,616 traffic stops. Between Oct. 1, 2018, and Feb. 28, 2019, they only conducted 39,073 stops. This drop was catalyzed largely in part by a report released in Nov. 2018 from the Policing Project (a non-profit organization out of NYU School of Law). Their findings clearly showed that Nashville PD’s traffic stop strategy was not reducing crime. Though the researchers “did not find statistically significant evidence that predominantly white and predominantly black zones are differentially policed after adjusting for reported crime”, Nashville PD Chief recognized the opportunity for change. In response to the report, Chief Anderson commented “we can and will refocus and re-educate ourselves to strengthening community partnerships and engaging neighborhood residents in public safety initiatives that do not make vehicle stops a priority.” Within a month and a half of the report release, Nashville police instituted community policing requirements, including those in some counties requiring officers to spend at least 30 minutes per shift engaging with community members.

Hopes for the Future

Without over policing, communities and law enforcement can reestablish the bonds of trust necessary for safety. In particular, data can be used to address biased practices and, ideally, reduce the likelihood of officers criminalizing minor offenses.