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NYPD: Broken Windows Revolution

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Like Wilson, George Kelling’s popularity skyrocketed as police officials continuously approached him with questions and discussions about the “Broken Windows” cover story. In the mid-1980s, the Chairman of the New York State Transportation Authority, Robert Kiley, approached Kelling and requested that he assist the New York law enforcement “dealt with ‘homelessness’ in New York City’s subway system.”[1] The New York Transit Authority official hired Kelling as a consultant in 1985. From 1985 to the 1990s, George Kelling’s involvement with the New York police authorizes marked the beginning of the broken windows policing revolution. As the transit authority’s consultant, Kelling guided local law enforcement to police signs of social disorder and eliminate the presence of disorderly persons within the subway system, including the homeless. With this strategy underway, the New York subway system became the premier testing grounds for broken windows policing—one of the first implemented police reform initiatives to inspire larger reforms within New York City and other major centers across the country.

The New York City Police Department best exemplified the impact of broken windows theory on the function and performance of modern urban policing. New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, informally known as Bill, referred to James Wilson as “my intellectual mentor.”[2] Wilson’s broken windows teachings inspired Bratton and sparked his long-standing commitment to using police authorities as a mechanism for eliminating disorderly conduct and regulating anti-social behavior. Likewise, Bratton and Kelling maintained close professional ties. After Bratton became head of the transit police in 1990 and the New York City Police Chief in 1994, he and Kelling collaborated on a concept Bratton referred to as “quality-of-life policing”—a term that revolutionized the NYPD under Bratton’s leadership throughout the nineties.[3]


[1] Kelling, George L. Recollections of James Q. Wilson and Broken Windows. TS.

[2] James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. "Broken Windows." The Atlantic. May 11, 2010. Accessed March 23, 2017. http://www.theatlantic.com/projects/the-future-of-the-city/archive/2010/05/broken-windows/56479/.

[3] In addition to serving as the NYC Police Commissioner, Bratton also served as a top police administrator in the Boston PD and Los Angeles PD. Throughout his tenure in all three cities, Bratton consulted with both Wilson and Kelling on implementing broken windows policing tactics within each municipality.

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