TOUGH ON CRIME Policies of New York City

TOUGH ON CRIME Policies of New York City

New York City : NY : USA | May 03, 2010 at 4:55 PM PDT
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Working Against the Odds: Welfare Reform in New York City

New York City, throughout the 1990s, is not only a great example of “tough on crime” policies in effect but may be the inspiration for “zero tolerance” policies. Less than a year after the Twin Towers experienced an attack, in 1993 Rudolph Giuliani, a former Reagan Justice Department official, was elected the mayor of New York City. Running as the “tough on crime” candidate, Giuliani implemented policies that he coined “Quality of Life” policies. Though “tough on crime” laws were already in effect prior to Giuliani’s election and crime rates were already dropping, the timing of Giuliani’s policies were perfect to take credit for the reduction in violent crimes. The trend was taking place across the nation as well; crime decreased whether a particular region applied “tough on crime” policies like “zero tolerance” or not.

The mayor decided the major problems in the city were crimes that affected the quality of life; crimes such as smoking marijuana, being homeless or a “squeegee” person , graffiti, public drunkenness and urinating, and posters; the “Broken Windows Theory” orientated “Quality of Life” policies were not aimed at more serious crimes like murder.

The Broken Window Theory believes in the “trickle up” effect of crime fighting. Imagine an abandoned building with a broken window; if not fixed immediately, soon there may be another broken window and followed by squatting. If the window was to be fixed early and immediately, it would send a message to criminals that someone is watching and acting, thereby decreasing the more serious crime of squatting.

An excerpt from a New York Times article, “Study Suggests It Is Easy To Banish Squeegee Men” from February 7, 1994 about a study entitled “Managing ‘Squeegeeing’: A Problem-Solving Exercise” conducted by Michael Julian and George L. Kelling:

Senior police officials say their program for cracking down on the squeegee men offers a model they will now follow in dealing with problems like public urination and alcohol consumption, as well as aggressive panhandling.

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has promised to make a forceful effort to reduce such offenses, on the theory that tolerance can breed more serious crime, an idea that is also advanced in the study of the squeegee men.

"For many predatory persons, disorder left untended is a sign that nobody cares and encourages their predatory behavior," says the squeegee report, which was prepared by Deputy Chief Michael Julian and George L. Kelling, a criminal justice researcher at Harvard University and adviser to Mr. Bratton.

The “Broken Window Theory” has been heavily criticized and is based on a misunderstanding between “correlation” and “causation”. It also concludes that the person that broke the first and second window is the same person, and so is the person that eventually ends up squatting.

The “Quality of Life” policies were aimed at the poverty stricken individuals and neighborhoods of New York City, working with a “gateway drug” sort of mentality. It viewed every petty crime as a “gateway crime” to a larger more serious crime like murder; but the similarities between the War on Drugs and the “Quality of Life” policies don’t end with the “gateway” mentality; both rely on criminalizing non-crimes, exploitation and discrimination, as well as abuse of authority and ephebiphobia.

The homeless and the poor are restricted access to public places due to “Quality of Life” policies. The homeless are forced to locate to ill-equipped and underfunded shelters; if they deny shelter, they are either incarcerated or sent to a mental institution.

The “Managing ‘Squeegeeing’” study was used to criminalize cleaning other people’s windshield for money; the study also stated that the criminalization could lead to the “squeegee men” committing more serious crime, but New York City went ahead with the plan to crackdown on them by focusing on their previous criminal records.

Excerpt from “Study Suggests It Is Easy To Banish Squeegee Men”, The New York Times:

The study, which surveyed 41 squeegee men, found that most of them had previously been convicted of crimes like selling and possessing drugs, assault, robbery and illegally possessing guns. Richard J. Schwartz, a senior adviser to the Mayor on crime issues, acknowledged concerns that the men might commit more serious crimes. But he added that they hurt the city's economy, particularly in tourism, and said more money might be available for treatment programs to help prevent other crimes if fewer windshield washers were on the streets

Excerpt from “Zero -Tolerance Policies and Youth: Protection or Profiling?” from The National Journal for Publishing and Mentoring, 2006:

Specifically, zero tolerance was then viewed as an anti-crime measure for local

conditions and embodied a highly localized language of order and disorder in public

space (Smith, 2001). Interesting enough, research associated with the initial use of zero

tolerance and policing has led to an increase in police brutality and abuse, with a rash of

police murders, shootings, beatings, sexual assaults, wrongful arrests, and various forms

of corruption, suggesting a police force out of control. In the wake of one such incident,

the killing of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets fired by four New

York police officers in the notorious "Street Crimes Unit" demonstrates this

phenomenon. Even the police union has complained that zero-tolerance tactics have

become a "blueprint for a police state and tyranny" (Cooper, 1999).

In addition, according to research conducted by Smith (2001) the Street Crimes

Unit of the New York police, a centerpiece of zero tolerance policing, made 45,000 street

searches of disproportionately minority youths and made 10,000 arrests. Subsequently,

zero tolerance policing has encouraged race and class profiling that places a premium on

street arrests of suspects while minimizing concerns about evidence. With the Street

Crimes Unit, apprehension and arrest were used as a disciplinary measure against poor

and minority youths, many of whom were never charged nor had the minimal charges

dropped for want of evidence (Smith, 2001).

A news report by a local New York City channel revealed the “stop and frisk” practices of the New York City Police Department; in another report they reveal the “quota” system.

The reports showed police officers randomly stopping children, without suspicion, on their way home from school in hopes of catching them with drugs or weapons. Many times the children are given summons even though they committed no crime. A NYPD whistleblower explained that this was due to quotas for tickets and arrests.

The New York City police officers engage the students in a discussion, in hopes of getting them to do something suspicious, and then searching them for anything they may find--whether the students did anything suspicious or not.

New York City’s attempt at “tough on crime” legislation treated socio-economic problems as security problems. As in New York, communities across the country became receptive to the “tough on crime” initiatives, giving police more reasons to question and frisk people; which lead to more opportunities to find drugs; and as drug laws tightened, this gave the American justice system all the support it needed to put more people away for longer periods of time.

The reports of police brutality and racial profiling escalated throughout the 90s. It became very common for police to break up and arrest those hanging out on street corners. Just being in a group of people walking down a street was enough for police to question and search someone. Many times these interactions ended with arrest.

Same was true if you were driving with a group of friends.

Though the state of New York decriminalized marijuana in 1977, New York City police would arrest those with even the smallest amount of marijuana or paraphernalia related to marijuana.

The reports of police’s overzealous and illegal behavior were reported continuously in the news media, but the “tough on crime” fever had taken over and many times reports of lower crime rates—unrelated to “tough on crime” policies—excused the extreme behavior of police departments across the nation.

Just as crime was linked to social welfare programs by national leaders during the Civil Rights movement, Giuliani too did the same thing by developing a welfare-to-work program. Echoing sentiment made by those who opposed the civil rights movement, Giuliani demonized those in conditions of poverty and equated dependence on government assistance to criminals by characterizing many of those on welfare programs as people who, in reality, do not need the assistance and were leeching off the system—stealing from the American taxpayer.

“One of the greatest things I have done in New York City, and one of the things I will be remember for years from now, is workfare –putting people back to work! It is probably one of the best things I have done. When students read history books… twenty years from now they are going to see that I took a city of dependency and made it into a city of workers!” -Mayor Giuliani, 1998 Town Hall Meeting

When Giuliani mentions the success of getting people off of welfare, he infers that the once demonized dependents of government assistance were put to work; but there have been no studies conducted to locate the people who have left the welfare rolls of New York City.

The Association of the Bar of the City of New York noted that while public assistance rolls dropped by almost half since 1995 to 2001, “rising requests for emergency food and growing numbers of homeless people in city shelters point to worsening conditions for the poor.” (Webb)

The Work Experience Program, the cornerstone of the “workfare” program, was designed to help lazy unemployed individuals learn a “work ethic” they lacked. Most of the jobs the WEP workers fill were once fully paid, living waged city jobs which were cut due to budget constraints. The WEP program forces people to do those jobs while paying them the little money they would have received from their welfare checks. While those still eligible for welfare are liable to extreme sanctions for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, a missed appointment and failing to follow strict instructions. Many end up being kicked off the benefits, resulting in weeks and months without benefits as they await reinstatement of assistance. (Cole)

The “tough on crime” policies did not only infiltrate the public welfare system; public school systems across the nation have also been victimized by the extreme policies.

Thanks for reading...this has been part two of the "Tough on Crime" series.

You can find part one here:

Part three is available here:

amalgam80 is based in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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