George Kelling, the man widely credited with helping bring down crime in New York City and its subways, is headed west to diagnose Denver’s ailing police department, says the Rocky Mountain News. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper wants Kelling, a professor at Rutgers University and a fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, to analyze city crime, police strategies and police organization. Two decades ago, he led a revolution in how police should go about their business – coining a phrase “broken windows” as a metaphor for what was wrong in American law enforcement.
The theory, in a nutshell: “Let broken windows – or small crimes – go unrepaired, and criminals believe there is no property owner. They take over. Fix those windows and the criminals can be contained.” Kelling’s ideas have since won respect in some communities, but nagging skepticism in others. He advocates overthrowing much of the top-down, bureaucratic, rule-saturated command structure that evolved in U.S. police departments over the past century. Instead, he says patrol officers and their supervisors should take more ownership of their precincts. Civil libertarians have challenged Kelling, pointing to what they see as root causes of crime – racism, social injustice and poverty – areas that the broken windows philosophy largely ignores. David Thacher, a University of Michigan associate professor, has written that “social science has not been kind to the broken windows theory.” Thacher says some studies have “concluded that the relationship between disorder and serious crime is modest, and even that relationship is largely an artifact of more fundamental social forces.”