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New 42nd Precinct Commander Applies Broken Windows Philosophy to Own Squad

By Eddie Small | October 21, 2016 1:55pm
 Deputy Inspector Ernest Morales has taken over as the new commander of the 42nd Precinct in the South Bronx.
Deputy Inspector Ernest Morales has taken over as the new commander of the 42nd Precinct in the South Bronx.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

MORRISANIA — The new commander at the 42nd Precinct is such a strong believer in the "broken windows" philosophy of fighting crime that he applies it to his own officers.

"Promptness, being on time, uniform issues," said Deputy Inspector Ernest Morales, listing off some of the matters he expects the officers under his command to take very seriously. "I believe if you address the small issues, you avoid the big problems, not only with our police officers but with crime in general."

The "broken windows" policing theory is a hallmark of former New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton that emphasizes focusing on minor offenses as a way to prevent more serious crimes.

Although it has been criticized for being ineffective and unfairly targeting minorities, Morales maintains that the philosophy itself is strong and that problems with it only arise when officers have a strained relationship with the neighborhood they serve, something he hopes to prevent from happening at the 42nd Precinct.

"I would hope that that message reflects out within the community: everyone is to be respected. Everyone is to be treated fairly," he said.

Morales just started at the 42nd Precinct on Wednesday and has already tried to drive this message home with his new squad by spending his first few days walking around in jeans and a T-shirt to see how the other officers would react, explaining that if they treated him with less respect based on the way he dressed, they would likely do the same to members of the community.

Although Morales has only been at the 42nd Precinct for less than a week, he has years of experience working at other positions in The Bronx, including as a sergeant in the 47th Precinct, a lieutenant in the 44th Precinct and commanding officer of Transit District 12. He will now be the third commanding officer at the 42nd Precinct in roughly three years.

Morales grew up in New York City at the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side and said the best thing his mother ever did for him was have him take part in the Fresh Air Fund, a program that provides New York children with a chance to get out of the city and see the country over the summer.

"[It] showed me the American dream: a home, education, the possibilities," he said, "and because she opened up my purview to life, it gave me a goal, something to shoot for."

He credits boxing for helping him stay out of trouble growing up as well, and although he briefly went pro in 1989, his career only lasted for one match.

"I won, and I remember the pain," he said. "and I said if this is how I feel winning, imagine how I’m going to feel losing. I don’t know that I want to do this and make a career out of this."

He hopes to use his new position leading the 42nd Precinct to help residents realize there are opportunities outside of their neighborhood, something he thinks many of them do not fully appreciate.

"They don’t know that life has other opportunities," he said. "So all they know is that street corner. All they know is that residential housing complex."

Morales stressed that he considers himself in the business of arresting criminals, not making criminals, and would much rather have his officers mentor young people in the neighborhood than send them to court.

"The most important word in my vocabulary is discretion," he said. "The fact of the matter is that if you can mentor a young person out within the community and you can share your vision with them and serve as their role model, I believe that that would go much further than a summons."