New Jersey police departments are arresting fewer offenders for minor offenses. The declining arrests are the result of a budget crisis that swapped local municipalities resulting in mass police layoffs.
The fewer "quality of life" arrests strategy is in direct contradiction to the Professor John Q. Wilson's Broken Window Theory brought to prominence in New York City. The Broken Window Theory of crime control practiced by then-Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Guilaini emphasized that vigorous pursuit of the subway fare jumpers, the squeegee men, graffiti and other minor offenses that effect the quality of neighborhoods.
If you let one broken window occur without consequences then there will be a second, third and the neighborhood will begin to deteriorate and more serious crime will follow. A crackdown on minor infractions, the idea goes, creates more community pride and puts behind bars more people who might otherwise be committing serious crimes. New York City has enjoyed a unprecedented decline in violent crime and homicide in part because of the work of Commissioner Bratton and his courageous decision to fight crime from the bottom up.
New Jersey seems to be going in the opposite direction. Some experts believe the New Jersey strategy will have dire consequences. Newark, Trenton, Paterson, Atlantic City and Camden, all densely populated cities with significant crime problems — all faced with precarious tax revenue and declining aid from a state government that is also cash-strapped — have all made deep cuts in their police departments since the start of 2010.
An Associated Press analysis of municipal court data shows that when police are laid off, department priorities shift: Arrests and summonses of all kinds drop, with enforcement for minor crimes and traffic violations suffering the most as police focus their remaining resources on more serious offenses.
The strategy may make sense, but experts say it leaves a troubling gap in law enforcement.
"People are committing crimes and they're not suffering the consequences for it," Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk told the AP. "I think it has emboldened those who are committing the crimes. They do not get arrested, and consequently, they continue committing these crimes."
In Camden, monthly reports of traffic summonses for infractions like speeding and running stop lights plunged from 3,820 to 1,850 post-layoffs.
In Paterson, arrests for charges like shoplifting and possession of small amount of drugs went from just over 700 a month before the April layoffs to an average 545 in the five months afterward.
The drop-off in arrests might not be immediately noticeable on the streets, but police experts are worried about the long-term impact.
Since the 1980s, police departments across the country have paid more attention to so-called quality-of-life crimes. A crackdown on minor infractions, the idea goes, creates more community pride and puts behind bars more people who might otherwise be committing serious crimes.
The new data show that layoffs are undermining that approach, said Wayne Fisher, director of the Police Institute at Rutgers University's Newark campus. "We begin the downward spiral," Fisher told the AP. "We may go back to the kind of crime level we were all used to in the 70s and into the 80s."
To read more: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/11/analysis_nj_police_layoffs_lea.html