We have to be proactive in addressing any and all inklings of ineffective or biased policing
By Barry John Johnson / Somos Independents
As I look at the turmoil taking place in Baltimore, crowds enraged, cars being smashed and windows broken, my mind goes to a sense of irony related to an old academic policing concept, The Broken Windows Theory. Developed by James Q. Wilson, it has sometimes been cited as a justification for proactive or aggressive policing policies like “Stop and Frisk” as a matter of nipping in the bud any potential for unlawful behavior.
The theory in essence says, once you allow one broken window on the block to go unrepaired, it sets a new standard as to what is acceptable, and further broken windows will in turn go unrepaired. The neighborhood, and therefore society, will then deteriorate into greater lawlessness and less responsible citizenry.
The Broken Window Theory actually works… for broken windows. As a former City Manager, I saw the theory applied, practically and effectively in the context of code enforcement directed at poor property management and physical deterioration of property in general.
It alleviates poor housing conditions. It gets old rotting couches off of the lawn. A neighborhood can look better, cleaner and brighter. The theory might then espouse that people in that neighborhood will behave better as well, as a new standard of personal responsibly and lawfulness is created.
At some point, somewhere along the way, this theory may have been distorted as it has been applied more directly at human behavior with the range of what might be considered proactive application creeping wider and wider.
The Broken Window may have become a kid in a hoodie. The Broken Window may have become a teen listening to loud music. With racial profiling, in effect, implementing this academic theory, the Broken Window may have become an entire class of people.
An old academic theory, distorted, has become a tool of societal suppression in the name of effective policing. Why wouldn’t one, be mad, upset and maybe even riot, if determined to be a Broken Window?
Now, in the spirit of irony, it appears that the Broken Window is us, or the society that allows its wholesale application in a distorted fashion.
Now the Broken Window might be:
- A lack of truly sincere community policing policies
- An overt over-militarization of local police agencies
- Pro-police bias in excessive force review and prosecution
- An inability in the policing profession to be introspective
- A default “bunker mentality” of police union organizations
- Rampant overt and subtle racism in society in general
- Lack of economic opportunity for disenfranchised groups
How do we deal with all of these Broken Windows? Ironically again, we nip them in the bud. We take corrective action. We have to be proactive in addressing any and all inklings of ineffective or biased policing. We revamp community policing strategies to be real and sincere. We talk about whether there is a pro-police prosecutorial bias and how it might be addressed. We take swift and aggressive action against regarding any indication of bias or excessive force on the part of individual officers.
We, in effect, turn the Broken Window Theory inside out.
Barry John Johnson is a former City Manager, now licensed as a counselor in California.
I was about to comment about poorly associated analogies (in essence analogies are too often used by those whose argument on the issue fails) but I see you already realize this by saying the broken windows theory works fine….. with broken windows.
It should not be used to justify goose stepping militarized police thuggery by officers who seem to have watched way too many UFC/MMA fights on TV. (really I wonder if they try to mimic that when in training the way they t take down and subdue a suspect)
Maybe that merely reflects society as a whole since there seems to be UFC fitness centers all over now- “get in the best shape of your life so you can go to bars in PB and Gaslamp and break someones neck at closing time… or get yours broken because you arent as good as you thought”.
Anyway police have a difficult job and there are two sides to this. Most victims of brutality did do things you and I would never do- if you take a swing at a cop or tell him to go **** himself when he asks you a question, did you really think he would laugh it off and things would not go badly for you? Did you ever play Grand Theft Auto and when your mayhem spree ended the screen didnt go black and when you got back to the game you hadnt lost your weapons, and walked out of the hospital a day later? Thats the way I remember it. Maybe this new generation is as adept at extreme misbehavior as they are at extreme sports. (12:year olds sticking tricks across a 65 foot gap on the mega ramp in Burnquists back yard in Carlsbad? At that age in my day if you could hang on 65 feet down a steep hill you were a hero! I think I saw a 5 yo do an ollie and a kickflip the other day…)
Look at the state of any sport with grear personal risk. Freestyle olympic skiing? Mens aerials at 3 flips and 4-5 twists… next year blindfolded?
My point- my point? Oh yeah. Everything evolves and humans constantly push limits past what the norm is today. We wouldnt think of mouthing off to parents or teachers when we were kids (Im 53) now its not only commonplace but the parent who tries to take control usually sees CPS at the door the next day.
This harsh policing we are seeing… is it just the cops are changing or is their evolution the hand in glove of the populace whose criminal element is not content to go along quietly?
I dont think anyone could deny that the world is a much crazier place. We would be in denial to assume police tactics stood still using the policies of the 1950s.