Denver Considers "Broken Windows" Policing

February 2006

"Broken Windows" policing, made famous by former New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, may come to Denver. The pros and cons were aired yesterday at a hearing of the Denver Civilian Oversight Board which is responsible for oversight of the city's independent police monitor. The "broken windows" theory was created by criminologist George Kelling. It holds that by busting people for the little crimes like breaking windows and getting them off the street, the city becomes safer and a better place to live. Major crime did go down in New York during Bratton's tenure, as the squeegee window washers, subway turnstile jumpers and other minor miscreants were hauled off the street and taken to jail. But what about civil liberties? One of the witnesses at yesterday's hearing was Marge Taniwaki who as a child spent years in a Japanese interment camp in California. She warned the Board that "broken windows" policing "could result in 'Draconian' police enforcement."

Taniwaki, however, said San Francisco had similar crime reductions by emphasizing social programs and not broken-windows policing.

This was the first of four annual hearings of the board and was sparsely attended. It has hired Mr. Kelling as a consultant. My view: Denver is not New York or Los Angeles. At a time when our county jail is overflowing and proposals are being considered to put many of them on home detention rather than in jail to relieve the overcrowding, arresting more minor offenders does not seem to be the answer.

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