Public safety, Trenton

Broken Windows

Written by Rolando Ramos, Trenton Police Department, Lieutenant, Retired.

I recently read an article by LA Parker where he asked can the police department help identify problems for other city departments.

In other words, can Officers, while on patrol in their areas contact the different city departments when they observe quality of life issues such as garbage dumping and unsecured abandoned buildings. As I was reading the article, I was quite surprised by the response.

One of the mainstays of New York City Police Director William Branton’s community policing strategy during the 1990’s was the Broken Windows theory. Prior to becoming police director, New York City was one of the most violent and crime ridden cities in the country. The crack and heroin epidemic and gang culture provided the backdrop for a tough on crime mayor, Rudy Guliani and Police Director William Bratton, to take office. Through their efforts, and by incorporating the “broken windows theory”, they were able to drive down crime and set the stage for the revival of New York City as one of the major metropolis’ of the world.

Broken windows theory is centered around the belief that if police officers pay attention to quality of life situations such as “broken windows” and work to resolve those issues, then bigger problems such as drug dealers, gangs and the issues associated with them moving in to those unsecured locations to conduct their business, will be mitigated. Simply put, if officers pay attention and enforce the smaller quality of life problems, then the bigger problems are less likely to take hold.

This type of policing helps in all facets of city government. Identifying illegal dumping sites and having the city clean them up can deter further illegal dumping or help in identifying illegal dumpers. Securing open abandoned buildings keeps out all sorts of illegal activity from narcotic use, to prostitution, and eliminates locations to conceal drugs and guns. Enforcing violations of city ordinances can deter would be criminals from committing illegal acts.

As a member of Pro-Active during the 1990’s, this was a tactic we utilized to let hardened criminals know we knew who they were and that we were paying attention.

We enforced violations of city ordinances in an effort to keep them off the streets and to demonstrate that we were not going to allow them to do their business without accountability. We targeted the high crime areas and looked to eliminate those individuals that made life difficult for the law abiding citizens by utilizing any tool at our disposal, including violations of city ordinances. But sadly, poor decision making and policy change eliminated this unit and their effectiveness.

Engaged patrol officers to this day still utilize these methods in an effort to control crime. But for it to work properly, it has to become a part of the toolbox that every officer is expected to utilize and to enforce. With the police working with other city agencies as a team to eliminate these problems Mr. Parker discussed in his article, would go a long way in improving the appearance of Trenton and the quality of life for all Trentonians.

Sadly, the expectation of this type of mindset has diminished over the years especially after the layoffs of 2011. As the department transitioned into a reactive department, many of these tactics and norms were set aside. Poor leadership, lack of a true plan of action and the lowering of expectations and responsibilities have brought the department to this point.

Is it possible to return to that mindset and activity? Absolutely, with the right leader and public safety plan.