Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXIX, Nos. 611, 612 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2003

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In this issue:
DNA sometimes makes for bad-fitting genes.

Alarming developments.

Wheel-y big news.

Drunk as a skunk.

Another fine meth.

Stirring the pot.

Violence is all in the family.

Sex meets violence.

When good cops go bad.

Looking for warm bodies.

Wolves in cops’ clothing.

Crime’s ups & downs.

A few good anti-crime ideas.

Research looks for answers.

Facing up to profiling.

Order in the court.

Banking on ill-gotten gains.

Taking advantage of high-tech advances.

Changes at the top.

That’s just too weird.

Justice by the numbers.

LEN salutes its 2003 Person of the Year:
As clear as glass
With the “Broken Windows” thesis,
George Kelling puts things into focus for policing

     It is unlikely that the public-relations adage “love me or hate me, just don’t ignore me” was ever intended or expected to apply to public policy, but when one is talking about the crime-control thesis known as “Broken Windows,” even its handful of detractors are hard-pressed to ignore it, and concede that it is virtually impossible to dismiss the profound impact it has had on policing over the last two decades.

     “Broken Windows,” which broke onto the scene in 1982 in a cover story in The Atlantic Monthly co-authored by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, is rightfully considered, along with community policing and problem-oriented policing, as one of the three foremost ground-breaking ideas in criminal justice over the past two decades.

     Based on the notion that signs of neighborhood disorder, such as broken windows and derelict vehicles, can foment a spiral of decay and lawlessness, Broken Windows posits at its most basic that when police take care of the so-called small things, such as graffiti and loitering, bigger crimes like robbery and gun violence can be curbed. The proof has been seen, proponents say, in the drastic reduction in crime in cities like New York where law enforcement officials have embraced its lessons wholeheartedly.

Kelling Lights the Way

     Indeed, the influence of the three theories has been such that it would be difficult to find even a small police agency now that does not hold to some type of quality-of-life philosophy. But what has made Broken Windows stand out — and along with it Kelling, the Law Enforcement News Man of the Year for 2003 — has been its value as a link between theory and practice.

     “For seeing the obvious, but translating it in a way that could be understood by practitioners as well as by public policy decision-makers, [Kelling] really enabled police to break through into the community policing and problem-oriented movements, because both those movements were powerful complimentary strategies,” Edward W. Flynn, the Massachusetts state Secretary of Public Safety, said in an interview with LEN. “For them to be effective, their practitioners really had to understand the link between those activities and crime control. George Kelling lit the way.”

     Kelling’s work has been uniquely pivotal in influencing law enforcement practices and has provided theoretical backing for innovative strategies, said Eli Silverman, a professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “[Kelling] ratified…the intuitive collective wisdom of police,” he noted.

     Kelling said that if anyone had told him back in 1982 that Broken Windows would have the “legs” it has had, he would have been stunned. When it was first published, he had anticipated a negative response from academics as well as from police officials, who he believed would be resistant to some of its ideas. But the maintenance of order was such an ingrained aspect of police work, Kelling told LEN, that he believed he and Wilson were on to an important point about the profession. “That is, that the little things matter,” he said.

Kansas City Roots

     A professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in New Jersey and professor emeritus of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, Kelling has served as executive director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

     While best known for Broken Windows, Kelling was considered a leader in criminal-justice scholarship and research as far back as the early 1970s when, as evaluation field staff director of the Police Foundation, he played a principal role in the seminal Kansas City preventive patrol experiment, the evaluation of neighborhood team policing in New York City, and the Newark foot patrol experiment.

     “George’s contribution to policing spans 35 years or so,” said Chief Darryl Stephens of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., Police Department and a former executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. “A lot of people don’t really see the connection back there, but his research work and involvement with policing over that time frame, even before Broken Windows, kind of helped lay the foundation for the innovation in community policing and problem solving we see today throughout the country.

     “Obviously, Broken Windows was a theory, an idea that really sort of opened people’s eyes,” Stephens told LEN, “and once they started thinking about that and comparing it with their own experiences, the arguments that he and James Q. Wilson were advancing, it had a certain amount of common sense to it, as well. I think that’s been an enormous contribution to policing in America.”

No Fare

     It was extraordinary luck, Kelling said, that he was able to use the New York City subway system as a laboratory for Broken Windows. Another aspect of the theory to emerge from that — the one that is perhaps the most easily grasped at this point in its evolution — is that those who think the rules do not apply to them in big ways, think they do not apply in small ways, either. It is often how they are caught.

     “While not all fare-beaters were criminals, a lot of criminals were fare-beaters,” Kelling said of the subway experiment. “So it turns out that enforcement of laws against minor offenses puts [police] in contact with high-rate offenders. That was a wrinkle I don’t think we anticipated.”

     That outcome has been replicated in other studies, as well, Kelling points out. Research done in England has found that those who park illegally in handicapped parking places have bad driving records. The first day that police in Newark, N.J., began enforcing laws regarding bicycle riding, he said, they found two or three guns.

     “I think that kind of anecdotal evidence is starting to come in, and some of the distortions that I think critics of Broken Windows have created, I think, have been unconvincing in the policy and policing world, because there are now very few departments that wouldn’t say they use quality-of-life enforcement,” said Kelling. “That’s just an ingrained part of public policy at the present time.”

Troubled by Zero Tolerance

     What Kelling refers to as “distortions” of Broken Windows include the zero-tolerance policies, sweeps and crackdowns that some jurisdictions have implemented in its name, and for which critics have taken him to task. Kelling has never endorsed such methods, and has stressed the need for intensive training of local police before departments embark on a quality-of-life footing. The issue was re-examined by Kelling and Catherine M. Coles in a follow-up work titled “Fixing Broken Windows,” published by The Free Press in 1996.

     “Critics of Broken Windows are right when they point out there’s an enormous potential for abuse here,” said Kelling. “And while charges of criminalizing the homeless and criminalizing the poor are hyperbole, I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s an enormous potential for abuse. When some police department one day hears about Broken Windows and says, ‘Tomorrow, we’re going to start a Broken Windows program here,’ I get very nervous.”

     Kelling believes guidelines can and should be developed for situations in which the action to be taken is left up to officers’ discretion.

     “I think departments, at great risk and at great risk to policy, at times stumble into these phrases like ‘use your common sense,’ and things like that, which sound like personal inclination and bias rather than effective policing,” he said.

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2003: A year in retrospect
Can criminal justice tame the “monster” that’s eating it?

     “Terrorism,” in the estimation of Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn, “is the monster that ate criminal justice.” Combating this Hydra-like creature has commandeered much of the national agenda in law enforcement, as local and federal agencies expend increasing amounts of time and money on detecting it, preventing it and responding to it.

     All that attention notwithstanding, however, local law enforcement in this country is still trying to define its role in the larger scheme of things, particularly when it comes to intelligence gathering and sharing and sorting out inter-agency relationships. Add to this the changes that have been occurring at the federal level and, clearly, the whole field is in motion. Yet for all the activity, numerous reports issued this year have pointed to the fact that more than two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies are still not sharing information to a degree that would prevent another attack.

     Numerous examples underscored the nation’s vulnerability: weapons smuggled onto airplanes; an undetected radiation device in a ship’s cargo container; undercover agents carrying false identification who were able to get circumvent all manner of security checks, to name just a few. While no level of preparedness offers an airtight guarantee of complete safety, it seems apparent that the country’s level of preparedness still leaves a lot to be desired.

     Despite the voracious appetite of this shape-shifting giant, the funds that are being devoted to addressing the terrorist threat remain unequal to the task at hand, particularly since the added demand comes at a time when local budgets are woefully stretched. Federal dollars have been slow to reach local agencies, but it is also the method of funding that is troubling to many police executives. As in the late 1980s and early ’90s, federal dollars are being funneled through the states. It is a method favored by Republican administrations — less bureaucracy at the top, more bureaucracy at the bottom. This process, however, can turn local departments into competitors just when they should be working together. To mitigate the problem, Massachusetts officials implemented a policy requiring police departments to develop their plans and present them to the state as a region. While this approach may not solve the problem of regions that transcend state lines, it does require just the kind of cooperation that would be necessary in a disaster situation.

The Politics of Funding

     To many officials, the issue of funding is bigger than simply one of how much money there is, what it is being used for and how it is doled out. It is a question of fairness. In one of the numerous reports issued this year on the nation’s preparedness — or lack of it — for a terrorist attack, a panel led by former Senator Warren Rudman, whose previous report on terrorism foreshadowed the 9/11 attack, warned that funding allocations for homeland security that were not based on vulnerability, as opposed to political considerations, would undermine public safety. His fears were borne out as federal allocations were finally made, with New York City receiving a $5-per-capita share of federal first-responder funds while Wyoming received $35 and North Dakota received $29. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly called the federal formula “blind to the threats this country faces and blind to the consequences of an attack.” One can scarcely blame him.

     The federal funding that did get through the pipeline to local departments continues to be spent, for the most part, on emergency equipment, protective gear, voice communications systems and data-sharing technology. The interoperability of voice communications remains a problem. A “report card” issued in April by the Public Safety Wireless Network indicated that there is still a long way to go in this area despite improvements in some jurisdictions. One of the major stumbling blocks is the lack of sufficient radio frequencies to accommodate public safety needs. With too few to go around, agencies often find themselves competing for a place on the radio band. The other stumbling block, of course, is money; communications upgrades are a very costly proposition. One agency, the Chesterfield County, Va., Police Department spent approximately $70 million to put in a state-of-the-art system. Outdated equipment, the lack of redundant systems, new systems that are unable to communicate with old ones, and decades of localized implementation and purchasing have made a patchwork of systems that desperately need to be integrated

Searching for the Grail

     Interoperability failings also plague public safety data-sharing. An enormous amount of information currently exists (as imperfect as it may be) that law enforcement agencies have a legal right to, but the process of retrieving the information from myriad non-networked systems of varying ages is simply too slow and painstaking. Law enforcement has always known that criminals and terrorists are often able to exploit the boundaries of geography and jurisdiction. Finding the solution to this incompatibility problem — which can exist among agencies within an individual locality, among neighboring localities, and among state and federal agencies — has been a virtual search for the Holy Grail. Some law enforcement officials in Louisiana felt they had found the grail in a database-linking system developed by a software entrepreneur who practically donated it to a number of sheriff departments. Florida and more than a dozen other states hoped to find the grail in the Matrix, a system whose parent company was able to identify five of the Sept. 11 hijackers before the federal authorities had done so. The program has been in use for more than a year in Florida where law enforcement officials sing its praise. As the year ended, however, a number of states have dropped out, with most citing the cost, but some worried about privacy issues highlighted by other corporate rivals and civil libertarians.

     (The concerns of civil libertarians were also directed toward the USA Patriot Act, the sweeping anti-terrorism legislation that is due for reauthorization next year. To address some of this concern, Attorney General John Ashcroft took to the road in a series of appearances aimed at defending the expanded powers that the act gives law enforcement. The country still appears to strongly support the act, with a poll taken in September indicating that 71 percent think the government has either struck the right balance or has not gone far enough to fight terrorism. Nonetheless, the poll also found a slow, steady increase in those who believe the legislation has gone too far — their concern fueled by fears that the powers of the Patriot Act will be used on routine types of criminal activity rather than just terrorism.)

     Early in the year a Terrorist Threat Integration Center was announced that would provide federal anti-terrorist screeners with “one-stop shopping.” As of August, however, 12 separate terrorist watch lists maintained by at least nine federal agencies had not yet been consolidated. As the year wound down, and after much public criticism, officials subsequently announced that the center would be operational by December 1.

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