Broken windows and the left’s crime policies

Broken windows and the left’s crime policies. By Steve Sailer.

America let most of its big cities fall apart after WWII, first due to hugely widespread car ownership making suburban life more feasible, then due to liberals in the 1960s and 1970s letting urban crime run amok.

Some cities, such as Detroit and Gary, have never recovered. But over time, some more privileged places, most notably New York City, began to see law and order get the upper hand again.

Broken windows:

The urban revival was due in part to conservative social scientists winning a war of ideas and data over the long-dominant liberal academics. In a famous 1982 Atlantic article, the political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George Kelling noted:

Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one un-repaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.

Wilson and Kelling likewise argued that the sight of people getting away with minor crimes with impunity — such as turnstile jumping, vandalism, vagrancy, lewd catcalling, suspicious loitering, and the like — encourages major crimes like robbery, rape, and murder.


This theory of broken windows was Wilson’s second big conceptual contribution to reducing crime. The first — incapacitation — has been forgotten because it’s embarrassing to remember just how inane liberal elites had gotten in their thinking about crime during the 1960s.

Because researchers couldn’t prove that prison reformed or deterred criminals, the conventional wisdom back then became: What was the point of sentencing crooks to prison at all? So, during the 1960s the number of people in prison declined even as crime grew.

But, as Wilson pointed out in the 1970s, somebody can’t be committing more street crimes if he’s in prison rather than out on the streets. At minimum, prison incapacitates criminals.

Granted, Wilson’s first big idea — that if Central Park muggers are in prison, then they can’t mug people in Central Park — doesn’t seem like a genius insight today. But it was, apparently, a blinding revelation in 1975.

Wilson concluded his book Thinking About Crime:

Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. And many people, neither wicked nor innocent, but watchful, dissembling, and calculating of their opportunities, ponder our reaction to wickedness as a cue to what they might profitably do. We have trifled with the wicked, made sport of the innocent, and encouraged the calculators. Justice suffers, and so do we all.

Broken-windows policing targeted the watchful and calculating by showing them that this isn’t the kind of place that tolerates any of your criminal nonsense.

Most murderers are male minorities, 16 to 25:

And we shouldn’t overlook some examples of political courage among urban leaders around the turn of the century. For example, when billionaire Michael Bloomberg took over as mayor of New York in 2002, murders were already way down from their peak during the crack wars a dozen years before. …

Bloomberg was utterly without illusion about who commits murders, telling elites in Aspen:

Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York. That’s true in virtually every city. And that’s where the real crime is. …

Lefties are back in charge and crime is surging in American cities:

The decline of cities in this decade is partly due to Covid making public transportation unpopular, and partly to work-from-home proving not as infeasible as was long assumed. Reporter Sam Quinones points to fentanyl and, perhaps, a different type of meth arriving in the big cities around 2015, leading many to go homeless in order to save on rent and spend more on drugs.

But a big reason is that elites decided that law and order was racist, which has led to more crime.

Murray’s new paper assembles arrest data for three leading cities from 2013 to 2022: New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. … Murray finds that in these three important cities, arrest rates for broken-windows policing collapsed as long ago as 2014, the year of Ferguson:

The sudden spike in Washington, D.C., in 2019 was due to a local decision to arrest the swarms of prostitutes surrounding hotels. …

NYC stop-and-frisks numbered 685,000 in 2011 but fell to 11,000 in 2017, which was still an excellent year for law-abidingness, with the fewest murders since Joe DiMaggio played for the New York Yankees in the early 1950s.

What appears to me is that the NYPD changed the culture of lowlifes toward leaving their guns at home for fear of being stopped and shaken down by the cops looking for an illegal pistol. This was successful point-of-use gun control. But then this fear by criminals was exploded during the Floyd Effect, with disastrous consequences.

In Chicago, in contrast, the guns came out immediately during the racial reckoning. The sixth day after George Floyd’s death, Sunday, May 31, 2020, was the most murderous in Chicago’s storied history of murder, with eighteen homicides. New York City crooks, on the other hand, took a few more weeks to dare believe that the fearsome NYPD had been neutered, so the shootings didn’t take off until mid-June. …

My guess is that the Establishment’s insane post–George Floyd meltdown encouraged murders.

Leftist crime policy is a triumph of ideology over experience.

Perhaps not coincidentally, criminals and those who’ve been to jail overwhelmingly vote left.