A New George Kelling Approach To “Broken Windows” In New York City


Criminologist George Kelling, contracted by the New York Police Department to analyze crime in subways, city parks, and large public squares, has made a more than 40-year career of hitting the streets for police departments nationwide to find creative ways to prevent crime, says the Wall Street Journal. His early work led to the controversial “Broken Windows” theory, which involves cracking down on people who commit violations such as graffiti and loitering to prevent larger offenses. It helped usher in a two-decade crime drop that has made New York one of the safest large cities.

Kelling, 78, undertook a similar subway project 25 years ago for New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, in an era when the city’s transit system was rife with crirme and fear. “We were talking 20 years ago about a system out of control,” he said. Today, “the system is a far cry from out of control.” Part of the plan today, he said, isn’t to crack down on violations, but to get minor criminals the help they need from appropriate agencies. This is a departure from Kelling’s approach in the 1990s, which critics said harshly punished vulnerable members of the community who weren’t committing serious offenses. “If they have changed, great,” said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who clashed with Kelling and the New York police in the 1990s. “The rhetoric is not enough. We’ll have to wait and see what they actually do.”

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