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by Peter Moskos

March 19, 2016

Broken Windows case study

Here's how Broken Windows works in real life. A "subway swiper" -- a minor crime -- causes disorder, and then swiper gets into a fight and is murdered.

Herbert Burgess, the Metrocard swiper -- "58 prior arrests and sent to prison in 1993 for 18 years after confessing to fatally strangling his roommate" -- was stabbed and killed:
Neighborhood residents said Mr. Burgess was a familiar presence in the subway station, where he subtly approached people and asked them to give him a dollar or two in exchange for a swipe of his MetroCard. (Selling swipes is illegal in New York City.) Many people described him as disheveled.
From the Daily News:
Burgess saw Velazquez’s daughter trying to add money onto her MetroCard at a machine.

He offered to swipe her through the turnstile for $1.

She refused and tried again to add cash at the machine, which scammers have been known to disable to force straphangers to buy from them.

Burgess grabbed the cash out of her hand and taunted her, sources said. As he walked off, she accused him of robbing her, followed him to street level and called 911 to report him.

She then called her dad, Velazquez, 48, sources said.

Burgess tried to return the cash but she refused and said it was too late, sources said. An irate Burgess dropped the money and punched her in the face.

Velazquez showed up and the daughter pointed to Burgess, sources said.

Velazquez chased Burgess back into the station and grabbed him just as Burgess was about to jump the turnstile.

Velazquez stabbed the victim in the back but Burgess still made it over the turnstile and onto a downtown No. 2 train, according to cops.

Burgess made it just one stop before medics rushed him to Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital, where he died.
Not entirely surprisingly:
Police released a mug shot of Velazquez from a 2013 Harlem arrest for weapon possession and asked for the public’s help tracking him down Thursday.

He has 12 prior arrests, mostly on drug charges, police said. He has one weapons possession arrest.
And yet another non-gun murder in New York City.


bacchys said...

No doubt Velazquez "feared for his life." Burgess probably reached for his waistband.

Velazquez should be put on paid suspension while his friends investigate if he did anything wrong.

Adam said...

Oh, how clever of you, Bacchys, to take this post that has absolutely nothing to do with killings by police and use it to make a snide remark about cops.

Moskos said...

Adam, you read my mind. That comment is exactly the unproductive non-good-discussion-promoting comment I don't like here. Off topic and anti-cop?! Come on, now... And just before I was to delete it, I realized I couldn't because... I laughed when I read it. And humor trumps all.

bacchys said...

Well, I'm glad you laughed.

That that comment gets viewed as "anti-cop"- even though it doesn't mention cops at all- rather proves the problem we have with policing the police.

Moskos said...

Come on, Bacchys. All of us, you included, understood the reference. You didn't mention, "cops," but we're not stupid. And it proves nothing other than you read a post that I spent time writing, trying to expand our minds and make us think about issues. And instead of trying to create a serious discussion, you felt compelled to ruin the comment section of this post with anti-cop sentiment.

Seriously, I laughed and that was that. But I really was hoping for a good discussion here on this post. And thanks to you I don't get it.

Jay Livingston said...

Peter, Bacchys's point is precisely that we all did in fact get the reference. It draws attention to the fact or perception that when cops kill someone, they get special treatment unavailable to civilians. Yeah, it's off topic. But what exactly is the topic; what was your point in this post?

Anonymous said...

But what exactly is the topic; what was your point in this post?

The title and first two sentences of the post too vague for you?

Anonymous said...

Anyways, besides the Broken Windows aspect of this example, there's a non crazy case to be made that Velazquez was using force on a fleeing robbery suspect. Hard to know without all the details but it's the kind of thing I could see resulting in a hung jury or an acquittal.

The other interesting thing about this is Burgess is the poster child for three strikes type laws. 58 prior arrests and literally a murderer. He's at a minimum the type of case that should make us think that maybe there should be a lower bar to commit someone to an asylum and kept on Thorazine or something.

Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Livingston said...

Broken Windows, as I understand it, is the idea of that if the police enforcing laws against petty violations like turnstile-jumping and $1 robbery will reduce serious crime. I don’t see how civilians stabbing a guy who robbed their daughter is part of that. Or does Broken Windows include the idea that enforcing the law on small-beer violators will prevent the violators from becoming homicide victims?

I also thought that Broken Windows was less about offenders than about places. It’s not the idea that if you bust someone for a petty crime, then that same individual won’t commit a serious crime. It’s that potential offenders will not commit their crimes in places where things and people appear more orderly. Yes, Burgess and maybe Velasquez too should not have been in the free world, but that has nothing to do with Broken Windows.

Kyle said...

Jay is trying help us to refocus on a discussion about the crime. Since "Broken windows" is a theory, either you believe it or dump it. In a perfect world, solving and preventing a crime is considered heroic and the right thing to do (not sure if it's true that authoritarian states has 100% crime solving rates). Enforcing broken window theory promotes police activities and proactive policing... however, it can lead to a police state environment and 1984 is closer when solving a "thought crime" became real.

Love campbell's soup but c'mon, really? three strikes type law? this ain't baseball my friend, this is the criminal justice system(s). Judges are figure heads who follow Judicial guidelines and they vary from state to state, city to city, case to case... Sentencing is more like playing bowling, fair enough for players to pick their own ballz instead of waiting for your opponent to throw you the ball. probably off topic a bit, but there only one way to score perfect in bowling, you gotta strike every rounds. 10 convictions of anything, you're done.

Moskos said...

It's not about Velasquez but Burgess. The guy is a "familiar" and "disheveled" presence is a subway stop. And he's not riding it to get to work. He's greeting every passenger. He shouldn't be there.

He is a "broken window." But maybe since he's "just" selling swipes and isn't hurting anybody.... he's not cleared away. And left to his own devices his behavior directly leads escalates to an assault and homicide (his own).

The crackdown on turnstile jumping in the 1990s was both about the environment of the subway but also about the individuals doing the jumping. Squeegee men? That was just about squeegee men. Sometimes "order maintenance" policing (to use a synonym for "broken windows") is just focus on quality-of-life issues that should and could be a police concern. Velasquez didn't need to vandalize metrocard machines, punch somebody, and get killed for him to be a matter of police concern. That fact that all that did happen just makes this one an obvious case study.

Kyle said...

obviously, Jay is Apple's fan who doesn't like anything to do with Windows (broken or not) ;)

In order to understand Broken Windows, you gota read it and believe it like the bible. Velasquez committed a crime, so it's not him we focusing. Burgess was loitering and until he successfully sold a swipe, he was attempting a crime while consistently committing a violation.

Sent by my iPad

Andy D said...

It brings us back to the point of your "Not on my post, you don't" post. If there was a cop who "owned" that station, who knew the people from the neighborhood who pass through day after day, and who would, no doubt know Burgess, then Burgess would have heard the familiar "Herb, not in my station, bro. Go hassle people elsewhere." from whatever officer had that station beat. Burgess would know the officer, would know enough not to push his luck and try to sell swipes there, and would move along. Or at the minimum, when he started hassling Velazquez's daughter, the beat officer would have intervened without allowing Burgess' behavior to escalate to robbery and death.

Anonymous said...

But what if Burgess, like Eric Garner, tells the officer to push off? Eventually he or someone else will. Then the police have to use force against the sort of crime that will be called a 'chickenshit violation' by some state's attorneys. And it might work out okay 90% of the time but 10% of the time something will go bad. Maybe the officer screws up or maybe Burgess just has a massive heart attack. In the current environment in many cities the cop can expect to have his career hit or maybe even be imprisoned.

I just don't see broken windows policing being possible right now. And maybe that's okay- NYC isn't awash in homicides right now and they've certainly changed. People will get annoyed that there are broken windows and panhandlers and public defecation, but until that reaches a critical political mass I don't see the pendulum swinging back.

Kyle said...

@Thorn dude, don't compare Burgess and Garner. First, the place of occurrence is different; one inside subway station and the other on public sidewalk. Second, use of force by the police is regulated and use of force by the CRIMINALS is not... so please.

Wish we can safely restrain everyone in the future... handheld soundwave weapons maybe? anyone watched Psycho-Pass?