Zero Tolerance: Policing a Free Society, "Crime is Down in New York City: Blame the Police"
Research 1961–1993

William Bratton’s chapter from Norman Dennis’s anthology on zero tolerance policing reflects the former New York City Police Department commissioner’s commitment to Broken Windows theory in reengineering the organization under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Compiled toward the end of the decade, Norman Dennis’s anthology Zero Tolerance: Policing a Free Society featured police officers describing strategies used throughout the 1990s to curb rising crime rates in New York and London. Crime is Down in New York City: Blame the Police, the first of six chapters, is written by US law enforcement officer and businessman William Bratton. In New York City, Bratton served as Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) under Mayor Rudy Giuliani from 1994 to 1996, where he implemented policies based upon the Broken Windows theory, zero tolerance, and community policing models. The anthology was published by the Health and Welfare unit of the Institute of Economic Affairs, later renamed Civitas, a think tank based in London.

Bratton’s remarks on the reengineering of the NYPD under Giuliani reflect his commitment to the Broken Windows theory as the backbone of his policing strategy. Like the authors of “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety” Kelling and Wilson, Bratton cites his new model of policing as a departure from the “Professional Era” of American policing that emerged during the 1960s and 1970s. In response to demonstrations against the Vietnam War, race riots, and civil rights demonstrations, as well as new police technologies like the 9-1-1 system, police had been taken off the streets and put into cars so that they could rapidly respond to and investigate serious crime. The community policing mode placed officers back on foot and on the streets to maintain order, police minor infractions, and serve a preventative function against crime. Under Bratton, the NYPD expanded with 7,000 new hires. The department was decentralized by dissolving models of hierarchical responsibility and accountability, and adopted expanded officer access to new computer policing systems. Bratton’s loaded language reveals biases against aspects of the city and its inhabitants, which were reflected in his policing strategies. He refers to graffiti as “what some inappropriately described as an urban art form,” calls squeegee men on the city streets “the Squeegee pest,” and describes New York City in the early 1990s as a city that “had stopped caring about itself.”

Entry Author
Buell Center (sz2950)