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Why 'broken windows' works

An NYPD car.

An NYPD car. Credit: Diana Colapietro

A new New York City Department of Investigation report questions whether “broken windows” arrests for minor offenses such as public urination and open-container alcohol violations prevent more serious crimes [“Study: No felony link to ‘broken windows,’ ” News, June 23]. That may have some merit, but the report goes much too far for other offenses.

For a police officer to maintain order, he or she has to be able to arrest violators for disorderly conduct and fare-beating. Probably the two most important insights that New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and the late Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple brought to the department from their work with the city Transit Police in the late 1980s were:

1. That a relatively few career criminals were committing the vast majority of serious felonies — so focusing on them and not on the public at large would greatly reduce crime.

2. Arresting fare-beaters, obtaining their true identities, checking for outstanding warrants and checking whether they were suspects in other crimes netted criminals who otherwise would not be apprehended. What the fare-beating arrests uncovered was that criminals of all stripes seemingly cannot resist trying to avoid paying a transit fare.

I think Bratton should take the study seriously, but it would be a big mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Michael J. Gorman, Whitestone

Editor’s note: The writer is a retired NYPD lieutenant.