In the United States, Democratic politicians renew their commitments to 1990s-era criminal policies. Eric Adams, New York City Mayor instructing the NYPD. increase misdemeanor arrests,To the Detroit police cracking down on noise and “urban blight,” to Los Angeles’s City Council intensifying the criminalization of homeless people,The hallmarks of broken windows policingthey are being hailed as the solution to the supposedly unprecedented surge in national crime. At the national level, President Biden’s “Safer America Plan” promises to increase federal funding for local law enforcement and put 100,000 more cops on the streets in community policing programs — a direct repeat of President Bill Clinton’s notorious C.O.P.S program, which distributed millions in federal funds to law enforcement escalating policing and arrests nationwide.
While proponents pretend that such practices do not constitute broken windows policing tactics but “quality of life” or “community policing,” in fact, there has never been a division between these policing practices, logics or outcomes. While technocratic criminal justice practitioners advocate for these policies as simply following “evidence-based practices,” this is simply not the case. We are witnessing a liberal backlash to antiracist activism against police. Through scapegoating abolitionist movements to defund the policeAnd more moderate criminal justice reformsDemocrats are returning back to the same playbooks that prompted mass incarceration because they see themselves as the source for violent crime.
New Orleans is one place where we can clearly see this dynamic taking place. After years of grassroots efforts to push city leaders to implement criminal justice reforms, New Orleans’ mayor and council have implemented tough-on-crime policies for 2022. The policies are based on the false assertionMayor LaToya Catrell has championed the recognition that New Orleans’ murder rate has risen to levels not seen since 1990s. relaunch of a gang unit, the repeal of the city’s ban on facial recognition surveillanceAnd the attempt to end the federal consent decree over the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). These moves are common for incarcerated persons protesting inhumane conditions at the jail under New Orleans’s new “progressive” sheriff,Jason Williams, District Attorney going backHis campaign promises not to treat juveniles as adults.
Mayor Cantrell, continuing this pattern, announced in August 2022 that the city is hiring a team of New York City policing consultants — including John Linder, who served as a consultant for the NOPD in the 1990s. While Linder has long been credited by city leaders and mainstream media in helping root out police corruption and reduce crime, the actual history of the NOPD’s 1990s initiatives tells a different story. Instead of stemming a crime wave, Linder’s recommendations aided in producing New Orleans as an epicenter of mass criminalization.
The previous hiring of John Linder — then part of the Linder Maple Group — occurred during a period of high-profile reforms to the NOPD. Marc Morial, then-Mayor of New Orleans, appointed Richard Pennington as the NOPD’s Superintendent to modernize law enforcement. This was to restore public confidence in police work and to reduce crime. Local news, which portrayed New Orleans as extremely violent, sensationalized concerns about rising crime at the time.
Pennington enacted a series of reforms he termed the “Pennington Plan”: the creation of a Public Integrity Bureau aimed at weeding out corrupt cops; the implementation of community policing — the increased saturation of police in Black working class and poor communities; the expansion of police training on topics from interrogation techniques to customer service; and the appropriation of pay raises to all police officers.
While the named purpose of the Pennington Plan was to restore public safety in response to out-of-control crime, these reforms went hand-in-hand with Morial’s urban redevelopment aims; policing public space was deemed essential for gentrification projects. As documented in the “City of New Orleans 1995 Annual Report,” Morial sought to expand the city’s tourism economy through building a new convention center and expanding the footprint of the downtown tourism areas. In addition, Morial advocated for the privatization of public housing in the name of “revitalizing” neighborhoods through the displacement of long-term Black working-class and poor residents.
Morial hired the Linder Maple Group in 1996 to create a five-year plan of the NOPD. The Linder Maple Group, well known as architects of the NYPD’s adoption of broken windows policing, was a strategic choice as Morial sought to remake New Orleans along the lines of Giuliani’s New York. While the Pennington Plan had already included some elements of broken window policing, the Linder Maple Group recommended more. Following the recommendations of Linder Maple, the NOPD increased patrols in the French Quarter and the adjacent Downtown Development District along with the adoption of zero tolerance for “quality of life” offenses to visibly mark that the city was clamping down on disorder.
In addition, the NOPD adopted CompStat, which used statistics to track complaints and arrests by geographic policing districts to identify concentrated “hot spots” to hold district commanders to quantitative policing goals — incentivizing higher arrest rates. CompStat’s adoption was coupled with the NOPD de-prioritizing response to 911 calls. Pennington then announced in 1996 that he was launching a recruitment campaign for the NOPD to increase its number of officers from 1,285 cops to 1,700.
These initiatives saw Morial and Pennington widely praised by writers in the Chicago TribuneThe Washington Post, and beyond for the professionalization of the NOPD and the city’s triumph over crime. Despite claims by city boosters to the contrary, these policing policy impacts on crime rates were more uneven than expected.
New Orleans had already seen a decline in crime, just like elsewhere in the U.S. before the election of Morial. While homicides did experience a notable decline after 1995 (before the hiring of Linder Maple), overall offenses labeled “violent crime” and those labeled “property crime” by the NOPD were on a significant downward trend as early as 1990,based on data provided by New Orleans. Furthermore, there was little to no significant correlation between implementing broken windows and community policing tactics on the city’s drop in crime. Kevin A. Unterholz, a political science researcher, says that there was no correlation between broken windows and community policing tactics. has documentedCompStat was implemented and officers increased in number. This made it more likely that violence would rise rather than fall. Contrary to the liberal idea that professionalizing police would end the endemic racism of policing violence, New Orleans continued to experience corruption and abuse by police. I reviewed dozens of letters to elected officials from the late 1990s and early2000s while doing this. archival research.
Under these policies, New Orleans’s arrest rates skyrocketed. Municipal arrests jumped from 20,000 to almost 35,000, traffic arrests jumped from 4,500 to 11,00, and drug arrests jumped from just under 4,000 to over 7,000 between 1994 and 1998, according to Unter’s doctoral research. From just under 3,000 arrests in 1993 to almost 10,000 by 1998, juvenile cases rose. Louisiana was the first state to have a criminal justice system in 1998. highest per capita rate of incarcerationThe United States.
Contrary to the assumption made by Democratic leaders in the current wave law-and-order nostalgia: The return of 1990s-era police practices will not make our cities more safe, but it will increase arrests as well as incarceration. State violence will not end interpersonal violence. It will create disorder and instability for many.