What is Broken Windows?

A Police State Unchecked

The Theory

The Broken Windows theory is the controversial, zero-tolerance policing philosophy introduced by Bill Bratton to the NYPD in the 1990's. The theory purports to prevent serious crimes by aggressively going after minor, petty violations (like a broken window) as a way to deter more serious crimes. However, criminologists and researchers have not been able to prove a real causal link between the theory and declines in crime.

In practice, Broken Windows encourages police to harass, racially profile, entrap, and produce mass police interactions, primarily but not exclusively, in low-income Black and Latino communities. This is often fueled by the NYPD's well-known quota system and results in mass arrests, mass summonses, lost work days, jail time, barriers to housing, loss of child custody and even deportations.

Who's Affected?

  • Blacks, Latinos and Other People of Color
  • Homeless People & The Working Poor
  • Undocumented and Documented Immigrants  
  • Subway Performers, Artists & Street Vendors 
  • LGBT Communities

What Are "Broken Windows" Offenses?

Offenses which "Broken Windows" policing targets includes, but is not limited to:  

  • Littering or Loitering
  • Fare evasion
  • Riding a bike on a Sidewalk
  • Performing in the Subway
  • Sleeping or taking up two seats in the Subway
  • Jaywalking
  • Begging
  • Loud music
  • Open container
  • Disorderly conduct 
  • Trespass (which can include being in a building without identification) 
  • Failure to comply with park signs (i.e. Being in a park after hours)
  • Low-level Marijuana possession 
  • Selling 'Loosie' Cigarettes
  • Food Vending
  • Failure to have licence for a dog
  • Spitting in public


Coalition to End Broken Windows Brochure