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Poll: New Yorkers support police focus on quality-of-life offenses

NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton is shown in

NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton is shown in this undated photo. Credit: Charles Eckert

An opinion poll released Wednesday found that more New York City voters than not -- white, black and Latino -- want the police to combat quality-of-life offenses with arrests or summonses for behavior like public drinking, small-time marijuana dealing and nighttime noisemaking.

Such enforcement is a long-standing cornerstone of "broken-windows" policing: targeting petty offenses to forestall major disorder.

Support to target quality-of-life offenses is 57 percent to 38 percent across all races, the Quinnipiac University poll found -- and 50 percent to 46 percent among blacks while 56 percent to 39 percent among Hispanics, the two groups whose neighborhoods are a focus of much of the enforcement. Whites support it 62 percent to 33 percent.

"People by and large, white and black alike, think that broken windows is a pretty good strategy," said pollster Maurice Carroll.

Although the pollsters' questions did not use the term "broken windows," the questions generally describe how police go about it.

The policing theory embraced by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton holds that petty offenses, left unaddressed, breed serious crime.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been a staunch backer, although some activists on his left have called on the NYPD to end its use, claiming it unfairly targets minorities and aggravates tensions with the police.

Priscilla Gonzalez, whose group Communities United for Police Reform opposes broken windows, said, "All New Yorkers want a high quality of life, but they don't want low-level infractions enforced differently based on their race or where they live."

Bratton had a 55 percent approval rating in the poll, almost unchanged from January. It hit a low, 44 percent, in December as the city was roiled with protests over what critics viewed as unpunished police misconduct. Now 65 percent of whites, 51 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Hispanics approve of Bratton's job.

The Quinnipiac poll was conducted May 6-12 and surveyed 969 registered voters via cell and landline phones. Its margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.2 percentage points.

A separate poll, released last week by The Wall Street Journal-NBC 4 New York-Marist, showed support for a push by the City Council to recategorize certain petty crimes to civil matters from arrestable offenses. A lighter penalty for drinking in public was favored by 55 percent, while 66 percent said bicycling on the sidewalk should be a civil offense. Bratton opposes the changes but appears willing to compromise. De Blasio hasn't taken a position.

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