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Excerpted From: Tom Tyler and Tracey Meares, Revisiting Broken Windows: The Role of the Community and the Police in Promoting Community Engagement, 76 New York University Annual Survey of American Law 637 (2021) (37 Footnotes) (Full Document)


TylerandMearesIn American Policing at a Crossroads, Schulhofer, Tyler and Huq highlight the opportunity to fundamentally alter the policies of American policing during the current era of low crime. This article argues that this change should be made through a pivot toward procedurally just policing. This argument is supported by the results of our empirical study, which explores the relationship between New York City residents' judgments about the police and their beliefs about, and activities within, their communities.

Our study uses this survey to test the viability of the procedurally just policing model as a strategy for helping to build vibrant communities. Our study supports the procedurally just policing model by showing that when people in the community view the police as fair and just actors, their faith in the police is promoted. That perception of efficacy both promotes community cohesion and leads to higher levels of economic, political, and social engagement by community members. In addition, the results support, in part, the idea set forth by the broken windows theory, as they indicate that reducing disorder builds cohesion and promotes desirable community behavior. However, as a whole, between the procedurally just policing model and the broken windows theory, the former has a stronger impact.

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Currently, police practices focus on concentrating power and control within individual police departments. Police then create and implement policies that they believe will lower crime within local communities. Guided by the broken windows model, the police believe that by lowering crime rates they are promoting the development of those communities, or at least lessening community disintegration. This policing approach has led to problems, including public distrust and a lack of cooperation with the police. And, as will be detailed later, evidence is unclear about whether it has actually promoted community development, an outcome predicted by broken windows models.

A shift in the policies and practices of the police through procedurally just policing is needed to open up opportunities for greater police cooperation with the community, which in turn may lead to lower crime levels. By treating members of the community fairly, the police build their legitimacy and receive higher levels of help from people in the community. This leads to lower levels of crime because people who believe the police are legitimate commit fewer crimes, and it also leads to a higher rate of solving crimes because people who believe the police are legitimate are more willing to report crimes, identify criminals, testify in trials, and act as jurors. Procedurally just policing also promotes co-policing with community members attending community meetings and otherwise playing a role in policing their communities.

Although procedurally just policing is an important change in police practices, as it emphasizes how the police are evaluated by the public, this approach continues to embrace the traditional role of police as limited to their role in crime control. In the last several decades, the police have viewed their primary task as harm reduction through tactics designed to lower the number and severity of the crimes that occur in their communities. This does not mean that the police have ignored issues of community development. The broken windows model of policing argues that suppressing disorder is an important prerequisite to building strong communities. As a consequence, the police have believed that by focusing on harm reduction through crime control they are addressing the issues that must underlie meaningful community development.

In this article we argue for a further shift in policing that puts community well-being at the center of the discussion. This new perspective asks how communities can move forward in their social, economic, and political growth, and it considers the role of both community disorder and police procedural justice/legitimacy in facilitating this process. This effort recognizes that while traditional police policies may have been enacted in good faith, with the belief that managing crime was a key community development strategy, research has not supported that view. In their efforts, the police have lowered crime, but they have not built trust with the community at the same time. This is primarily a consequence of community members' viewing the police as agents who use force to compel adherence to rules, rather than as champions of community development. In order to facilitate proactive community development, it is first necessary to rethink how the police behave within the community.

[. . .]

The key to any long-term solution to crime is community growth. What factors advance and inhibit the possibilities for growth? Our central argument is that the police can facilitate community growth, but they have not optimized their ability to do so because they have adopted an incorrect “broken windows” model for the relationship between policing and the community. The dominant model suggested by the broken windows perspective is that disorder in the community influences perceptions of police effectiveness in maintaining social order. These views about whether the police can shape social order then shape resident's views of the community, which in turn influences the ways in which the community can grow and flourish.

We suggest that while the broken windows model is correct, the use of this model to develop policing strategies has led the police to think of the relationship between the police and the community in a limited way. The model is correct in emphasizing the importance of police in reassuring people in the community that crime is under control and they are safe. This stops community decline.

However, the broken windows model stops short. For communities to develop sustainably, there is a further need for people to be willing to be involved in economic activities, such as working, shopping, eating, and going to entertainment events within the community. They also need social cohesion, i.e., they need to feel that they can work with and trust their neighbors. Furthermore, people need to be engaged politically--they need to vote and otherwise involve themselves in local politics to help determine how the community should be managed. We argue that procedurally just policing models can facilitate this growth, directed at building communities beyond the impact of lowering the crime rate.

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