Boldness, new directions & originality mark spirited work

Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in our Communities.
By George L. Kelling
and Catherine M. Coles
New York: Martin Kessler Books (The Free Press), 1996.
319 pp., $25.00.

By Eli B. Silverman

Make no mistake about it: “Fixing Broken Windows” is an important book and, from a number of perspectives, an ambitious one. As such, it must be reckoned with from several standpoints.

For starters, it provides the most spirited in-depth defense and rationale of the “broken windows” thesis yet in print. Secondly, the grounds for this explanation spring from a multidisciplinary approach. The authors represent diverse academic perspectives (the experienced police expert Kelling and the lawyer/anthropologist Coles), and hence the material is presented from the vantage point of historical, legal and social science evidence. Despite the authors’ differing backgrounds, the materials are presented in a thoroughly integrated manner. Consequently, the book never gives the impression that each author contributed separate chapters that were combined into a finished product. Rather, it reads more fluidly, as if each chapter was truly a product of a collaborative effort. No small achievement here.

Furthermore, the book seeks both to furnish rich theoretical discussion while providing sufficient illustrative material. This is followed by an endeavor to integrate the two by proposing a model of emerging community-criminal justice order restoration and crime reduction patterns.

This trailblazing work represents an exceptionally significant contribution and welcome addition to the literature. The fact that some of the many issues raised require further exploration is simply a testimony to the boldness, new directions and originality of this volume.

(Eli B. Silverman, Ph. D., is a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the author of the forthcoming book “985 Homicides: Policing New York City” [Northeastern University Press].)


Revisiting a landmark 14 years after noticing the broken windows

By Mark C. Bach

A landmark in propelling modern law enforcement agencies toward community based policing was the article “Broken Windows,”  published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1982.  In it, authors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling provided America with a glimpse of what they felt communities could be seeking from their police agencies. They promoted the idea that neighborhoods and communities need maintenance and caring if they are to survive. If a window remained broken in a building, it was a sign that nobody cared or took ownership of the building, and soon every window would be broken. Of course, once a neighborhood lost just one building, others would follow.

Now in this follow-up book by Kelling and Catherine Coles, we have a chance to read in depth about the concepts and applications of “broken windows” across America.

The book’s only real drawback is that the authors focus much of their energy on the legal issues and case law related to dealing with homeless issues. While some readers may need this information and exposure, many readers from the criminal justice fields may skim right through those areas. This reviewer would have preferred a more extensive discussion of how community policing is effective, and evaluations of specific programs or cities.

That constructive criticism notwithstanding, the authors have provided fresh, new perspectives to installing community-based policing in local agencies, and share some successes as well as failures with us.  For any criminal justice professional, this book is a great primer for dealing with the “homeless” and restoring social order in our neighborhoods.

(Mark C. Bach is a sergeant with the Tempe, Ariz., Police Department, where he is the administrator of the Office of Management and Budget.)

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Excerpted from Law Enforcement News
Jan 31, 1997. 
© 1997, LEN Inc.  [ Subscribe.]