|A present day police chief recently recalled that as a lieutenant in March1982, an article appeared in the Atlantic Monthly that “knocked his socks off.” Since that time, the article — “The Police and Neighborhood Safety: Broken Windows,” by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling — would provide the theoretical and practical underpinning for much of the crime decreases that have been occurring nationwide for the past several years. Moreover, the term “broken windows” has become a metaphor, a law enforcement catch phrase, for increased police attention to quality-of-life crime and rescuing neighborhoods and public spaces from decay.
Kelling, a long-time criminal justice scholar and researcher who sports a lengthy list of publications spanning three decades, finds it interesting to have a long-term “relationship with a metaphor that I helped create.” The strength of a metaphor, he says, is that it “helps people wrap their minds around a fairly complex issue.” The disadvantage is that once the metaphor is “gets a life of its own, it begins to block thinking.” In addition, as has happened with the “broken windows” concept, a metaphor can breed “bastard children” like zero-tolerance campaigns, crackdowns and sweeps, terms that Kelling declares are “anathema” to his philosophy of policing. His is a philosophy that is based on a community policing model in which police and residents know and work with each other to solve neighborhood problems, policing activities are decentralized, and officers are given the proper legal tools and guidance in the wise use of police discretion — discretion that does not use race as a factor...
A LEN interview with
Prof. George Kelling,
co-author of “Fixing Broken Windows”
“Few departments give officers the kind of guidance they need. Officers have to be very carefully trained, but they also have to learn to think through their behavior very carefully because they’re going to use a lot of discretion.”
LAW ENFORCEMENT NEWS: Your name has been irrevocably linked with the phrase “broken windows” and with quality-of-life enforcement. Since the article establishing the broken-windows thesis first appeared in 1982, what changes have you seen in policing that have incorporated your ideas?
KELLING: Well, you will recall that I learned about the ideas of order maintenance by watching foot patrol officers in Newark, N.J., negotiate a standard behavior for street persons that they and the community could live with. Police have always done order maintenance, but it’s been largely unofficial. That is, they would remind people, warn people, occasionally arrest people, but nothing much would happen to the arrests or follow-through because prosecutors weren’t interested in minor offenses or in dealing with the troubled population that oftentimes is involved in disorderly behavior. So, I think the biggest change is that, starting in the late 1980s, police departments started to conduct order maintenance officially, and that led in turn to changes in prosecutions because, if police were going to handle disorderly behavior officially and process the cases, prosecutors had to start taking it seriously as well. All of which, I think, suggests that police and prosecutors are listening more carefully to the demands of citizens for order...