Recently, Stanton Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted by a grand jury for the Eric Garner death which could be a product of Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Window Theory. Since then there have been demonstrations across the U.S. and a call for revisions in policies regarding police using force and positively interacting with the community. In the original incident, Eric Garner was selling “loosies” (cigarettes), which are considered a minor infraction which leads me to believe that the New York City Police were implementing Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Window Theory in an effort to reduce crime.
Crime is very prevalent in New York City. According to the New York Post, New York City is on track to become one of the safest cities in the U.S. Homicides are down 23% from the previous year. A significant statistic is that murders of the youngest victims between the ages of 13 and 21, have dropped by 50 percent due to a NYPD program named Operation Crew Cut which disarms small neighborhood gangs. Comparing with other cities, most murders were committed in Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis. Baltimore, Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles, and then followed by New York.
However, even with these astonishing results most crimes in NYC are the equivalent of misdemeanors. The three most common crimes in NYC are disobeying a park sign, public urination, and possessing an open container which effectively fall within the realm of the Broken Window Theory.
The Broken Window Theory is a criminological theory of the norm-setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book – The Tipping Point – he provides an example of how the broken window theorem reduced crime in New York City. However, Rachel Nuwer, in her article, Drop in Crime Not Due to Broken Window Theory, claims that the drop in NYC crime had little to do with the Broken Window Theory or any other police strategies.
I have seen implications of the Broken Window Theory working. For example, as an assistant principal who was assigned to meet and greet students at the front door, they became accustomed to me flagging them for everything. If they came in with a hat, on I flagged them. If they were not in uniform, I flagged them. If they smelt like drugs or alcohol, I flagged them. I believe that letting them know that I was very aggressive about the little things sent the message that the big things would have heavier consequences.
I have even witnessed a glimpse of a Bronx New York City principal using the same process. The article stated that the principal walks the halls and if he sees little pieces of paper on the floor he picks it up. This is placing an emphasis on the little things with a hope that the big things will not happen. One student at the school stated that all of the student fighting had stopped at the school. this could be a result of the Broken Window Theory.
During the encounter that led to the Eric Garner death, Garner was supposedly illegally selling cigarettes on the corner. The most the Eric Garner could have been charged with was loitering. Loitering carries a very small fine. I just wonder if the Eric Garner death was the result of Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Window Theory applied by the Stanton Island police.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012
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