What Mr. Bratton mainly wants to underscore is that crime in the Big Apple continues to plumb historic lows, never mind recent tabloid headlines. He wants to underscore, also, the reason for it: broken-windows policing methods. Such is his belief in broken windows that he comes to the meeting flanked by the man who helped come up with the idea: George Kelling, the legendary criminologist.
Broken windows stresses that endemic criminality is not primarily a function of the usual "root causes"—poverty, racism, bad schools, broken families and so on. The real problem is disorder itself.
"Disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence," Mr. Kelling observed in a seminal 1982 Atlantic article, co-written with the late James Q. Wilson. The mere appearance of disorder—graffiti, broken windows, an abandoned car, drug dealers or prostitutes openly plying their trades—creates a sense that nobody's looking, nobody cares, nobody is in charge. Bad guys respond to these environmental cues by acting badly. Good people stay off the street, bolt their doors, move out.
Last October I wrote a column with the headline "Iraq Tips Toward the Abyss." It was prompted by the news that 7,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed over the previous 10 months alone.
"Americans may think they've changed the channel on Iraq, but the grisly show goes on," I wrote. "Pay attention before it gets worse." The world yawned and the Obama administration did nothing.
In January came the news that a group called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham had retaken Fallujah, just 40 or so miles west of Baghdad, a city that U.S. Marines had liberated a decade earlier at a major cost in lives. The media ran a few stories about the heartache of the battle's veterans. President Obama said nothing.
In July, ISIS took Mosul and seized six divisions worth of U.S. supplied Iraqi military equipment. For once, President Obama took public notice but waited another month before doing anything, ostensibly because he disapproved of the leadership in Baghdad. That was around the time Kurdistan nearly fell to ISIS and the Yazidis were nearly wiped out.
This is a case study of allowing neighborhoods to decay and disorder to fester; of doing things reactively, not preventively. Where would we be in Iraq today if Mr. Obama hadn't simply walked and looked away for the past three years?
The answer to disorder is to provide order. To engage community leaders. To enforce norms. To reassure good citizens that their security is being looked after and it's not every man for himself. To maintain a visible presence that deters would-be lawbreakers from committing criminal acts. To prevent bad people from acting badly, and to punish them swiftly when they do.