Search About Subscribe Donate
One customer at Astoria Auto Detailing Center in Queens said the tint on the windows of his Mercedes-Benz, pictured above, were within the legal limit. "I know because I've been pulled over so many times [for my windows]."

When ‘Broken Windows’ Meets Tinted Windows

In New York, darkened car windows lead to more police encounters than stop and frisk.

In the land of “broken windows” policing, it’s tinted windows that may land you in trouble.

The New York City Police Department issued 74,345 tickets for tinted windows in 2014, an average of 204 per day, according to a recent analysis by the Police Reform Organizing Project, an advocacy group that focuses on what it sees as excessive policing.

That number is higher than the number of stop-and-frisks, which totaled 47,345 over the same period.

State law dictates that car windows must allow at least 70 percent of sunlight through, measured by a “tint meter” that officers carry. The maximum penalty for a violation is $150 or 30 days in jail. Ignorance of the law is no excuse: buying a car with too-dark windows can still lead to a ticket.

“A driver needs unobstructed views of the roadway and other motorists,” said Stacy Wood, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Critics see a law that disproportionately targets people of color and provides a pretext to churn revenue and fish for other violations or crimes. “It represents a form of heavy-handed and intrusive policing,” said Robert Gangi, founder of the Police Reform Organizing Project.

Broken windows policing, promoted by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, theorizes that rooting out low-level, quality-of-life violations, such as graffiti, prevents more serious crime. “Bratton has said ‘broken windows’ policing is driven by 911 and 311 calls. But people don’t call the cops about tinted windows,” said Gangi.

NYPD spokesman Lt. John Grimpel said tinted windows can be dangerous to officers. “You can’t see into the car, so we would have no idea what’s going on inside when the windows are tinted,” he said, noting that people found guilty of having their windows too dark “aren’t going to get jail time.”

As of this June, there were 37,974 violations doled out for tinted windows in 2015.

Before you go...

Can you help us make a difference?

The Marshall Project produces journalism that makes an impact. Our investigation into violence using police dogs prompted departments from Indiana to Louisiana to change their policies. Thousands of cameras were installed in the infamous Attica prison after we revealed the extent of violent abuse by guards. Municipalities stopped charging parents for their kids’ incarceration because of our reporting. Supreme Court justices have cited us, along with incarcerated people acting as their own lawyers.

The type of reporting we practice takes persistence, skill and, above all, time, which is why we need your support. Donations from readers like you allow us to commit the time and attention needed to tell stories that are driving real change. We could not do it without you.

Please donate to The Marshall Project today. We’re extremely grateful to each and every donor who helps power our journalism. Your support goes a long way toward sustaining this important work.