George Kelling Dies; Co-Author of ‘Broken Windows’ Theory

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George Kelling, a criminologist whose “broken windows” theory conceived with James Q. Wilson revolutionized policing by targeting lesser infractions that fuel fear and unrest in urban neighborhoods, died on Wednesday at 83, the New York Times reports. Drawing on earlier research and his own studies in Newark and Kansas City, Mo., Kelling popularized “broken windows” in a 7,000-word article he wrote in The Atlantic magazine in 1982 with Wilson, whom he credited with the term. Their premise was that even “one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares” in a community, and that such neglect could lead to disorder. Maintaining order and preventing crime, they argued, go hand in hand.

Kelling had been a seminarian, a social worker and a probation officer; he taught at Rutgers University and was a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Wilson taught government and public policy at Harvard and later at the University of California, Los Angeles. The “broken windows” strategy was widely embraced by law enforcement agencies. Police officers reasserted their prerogative to pursue drunks, prostitutes, vagrants, subway turnstile jumpers and the squeegee men who washed windshields, unsolicited, for money in stopped traffic. William Bratton, former police commissioner in New York City and Boston and a former chief in Los Angeles, said Kelling had “been the most profound influence on American policing in the last 40 or 50 years.” Bratton added, “I put into practice his theories, and they worked.”

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