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‘Defund the Police’ Breaks Windows in Baltimore

The city is in the midst of a crime wave as it routs money away from law enforcement and eases prosecutions.

Over at City Journal, Stephen J.K. Walters has a fascinating piece about the ongoing crime wave in Baltimore. As he notes, “Since 2011, nearly 3,000 Baltimoreans have been murdered—one of every 200 city residents over that period” (emphasis added).

At least one reason for that astonishing statistic is the failure to properly implement what’s often regarded as a conservative idea: broken-windows policing. Walters writes:

Chief William J. Bratton implemented the Broken Windows theory-inspired community-policing methods pioneered by social scientists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, who understood how small manifestations of disorder could grow to larger ones. Minor offenses that made residents feel unsafe or hinted at acceptance of violence were addressed in order to improve quality of life, strengthen communities, and prevent serious crime.

In Baltimore, however, Broken Windows was misunderstood and misapplied. It mutated into a malignant variant, “zero tolerance” policing—and BPD conduct became not just intolerant but unfocused and excessive. As David Simon, a veteran Baltimore crime reporter and creator of HBO’s The Wire, summed things up, [former mayor Martin] O’Malley “tossed the Fourth Amendment out a window and began using the police department to sweep the corners and rowhouse stoops and [per Norris] ‘lock up damn near everyone.’” That sometimes even included Wire crew members on their way home from a long day of filming.

After broken-windows had mutated into something too authoritarian, Baltimore then swung hard in the other direction, defunding their police and decreasing prosecutions of non-violent infractions. The result, or at least the backdrop, has been a torrential explosion of crime in a city already ravaged by poverty and violence. (For further reading on this, check out the excellent New York Times Magazine piece “The Tragedy of Baltimore.”)

It’s a shame because reasonable broken-windows reform, leavened by community engagement, deescalation training, and the circumvention of police unions, really can work, as the city of Camden proved. Yet Baltimore is going in the opposite direction. This comes under the leadership of Marilyn Mosby, the city’s state attorney, who last year said she wanted to “reimagine” policing. Not that she’s allergic to a little state brutality, of course:

The office of Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Marilyn Mosby has filed a formal FCC complaint against local news station WBFF, requesting an investigation into the Fox News-affiliated network’s broadcasting and media practices.

The office’s communications director Zy Richardson wrote the complaint letter to the FCC, stating that WBFF has committed “heinous” acts in the name of journalism.

The letter acknowledges FCC rules that “[b]roadcasters may not intentionally distort the news” and “rigging or slanting the news is [deemed] a most heinous act against the public interest.”

Spare a thought for Baltimore. It’s a great American city and it’s being run by thin-skinned ideologues.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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