James Q. Wilson Dies; Crime Expert, Co-Author of “Broken Windows”


James Q. Wilson, a political scientist who coauthored the influential “Broken Windows” article in The Atlantic Monthly in 1982, a touchstone for the move toward community policing across the U.S., died today in Boston, where he was beaing treated for leukemia, the Boston Globe reports. Wilson, 80, was most recently at the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy at Boston College. He taught at Harvard University for 26 years before leaving in the late 1980s for California, where he had grown up, to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Pepperdine University.

Considered one of the nation's most significant thinkers about crime and other urban matters, Wilson cowrote the Atlantic article with George Kelling. The article, Wilson told the The Wall Street Journal, suggested that “public order is a fragile thing, and if you don't fix the first broken window, soon all the windows will be broken.” Kelling and Wilson wrote in the Atlantic that “at the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (It has always been fun.)”

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