Browse Exhibits (7 total)

Remembering Eric Garner

eric garner.jpg

On July 17th, 2014, New York City police officers buried Eric Garner’s muffled cries into the concrete city streets of Staten Island. Their arms, legs, and hands gripped his body with unrestrained force. Garner pleaded, “I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe” as officers confined him face-down and cut off his air supply with a chokehold. Bystanders to Garner’s fateful encounter captured the NYPD officers on video. His death ignited a firestorm of protest as footage of his strangled body circulated worldwide. In response, news pundits sparked heated televised debates and commentary from criminological scholars dominated the airwaves.[1] Black Lives Matter activists took to the streets and demanded reparations for Garner and his family. [2] Blue Lives Matter spokespersons counteracted verbal attacks against New York police, calling the Department of Justice charges against the accused officer Daniel Pantaleo “politically motivated.”[3] Likewise, the New York Police Union, formerly known as the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, rallied to Pantaleo’s defense, stating, “There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with…No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being's life and we are all saddened by this tragedy.”[4] However, protests mounted after the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo. After New York City officials rejected culpability for Garner’s death, discord between minority residents of Staten Island and New York City Police worsened.

Eric Garner Video (Unedited)

[1] "A Search for Justice in the Eric Garner Case." The New York Times. December 03, 2014. Accessed September 12, 2016.

[2] Black Lives Matter was in part founded in direct opposition to prominent policing strategies like Broken Windows. To learn more about Black Lives Matter opposition to 21st century policing tactics visit their website. "About | Black Lives Matter." Black Lives Matter. Accessed September 13, 2016.

[3] Habanero, Chief. "BREAKING: DOJ To Charge Officer For The Death Of Eric Garner." Blue Lives Matter. November 02, 2016. Accessed March 13, 2017.

[4] Andrew Siff, Jonathan Dienst and Jennifer Millman. "No Indictment of NYPD Cop in Garner Chokehold Death." NBC New York. December 3, 2014. Accessed March 13, 2017.

[5] Taibbi, Matt. "The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate." Rolling Stone. December 5, 2014. Accessed September 13, 2016.

[6] Throughout this paper, broken windows policing and broken windows theory will be used interchangeable. Broken windows theory refers to James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s criminological ideas, while broken windows policing describes the application of Wilson and Kelling’s ideas into practiced forms of law enforcement. 

[7] Kelling, George L., and Catherine M. Coles. Fixing broken windows: restoring order and reducing crime in our communities. New York: Martin Kessler Books, 1996.

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The Back Door Criminologist: Wilson Meets Kelling

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In the aftermath of the urban rebellions of the late sixties, Ivy League experts on urban crime garnered strong political traction with policymakers and police practitioners. As hundreds of US cities burned in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, President Johnson’s team of domestic security advisors poured over crime commission reports in search of viable police reform options. After signing the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Johnson’s War on Crime laid the groundwork for a strategy that criminologists referred to as order maintenance policing. The Act funneled federal funds toward local, state, and national law enforcement institutions dedicated to strengthening police efficacy and advancing “the development of new methods for the prevention and reduction of crime and the detection and apprehension of criminals.”[1]

The federal government’s call for more robust “research and development” efforts provided criminal justice scholars with the intellectual firepower needed to jumpstart the order maintenance movement’s transformative impact on urban America. The urgency to quell widespread fear of crime motivated federal agencies established under the Safe Streets Act, namely the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), to amp up its funding capacities and invest resources into public and private programs dedicated to tackling the crime crisis.[2] Instrumental organizations like the International Association of Police Chiefs and the Ford Foundation doubled down on their fundraising initiatives and bolstered opportunities for academics to conduct field research on policing in crime-ridden spaces across the US. The Ford Foundation played an especially significant role in furthering criminological studies with the founding of the national Police Foundation in Washington, D.C. in 1970. This newly instituted research powerhouse focused exclusively on the nonpartisan advancement of law enforcement practices through the enhanced empirical study of policing as a science.[3] The Police Foundation alone raised 30 million dollars to advance policing research throughout the decade.[4] The heightened national attention on law enforcement and criminal behavior generated unprecedented access to public and private funding sources for criminological theorists. As a result, prominent academics felt empowered to introduce innovative police research that challenged existing theories of criminality, law enforcement, and maintaining social order.[5]

James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling were among these newly empowered scholars who gained significant political attention for their ideas and recommendations regarding crime control. The political hysteria surrounding the War on Crime propelled the work of these notable scholars into the national limelight. As public paranoia intensified, Wilson, Kelling, and collaborators advocated for more police patrol tactics aimed at eliminating social disorder in urban communities. Backed by the salient “law and order” rhetoric of national political figures like Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan, Wilson and Kelling popularized theories of order maintenance policing and criminal deterrence for over three decades. Wilson and Kelling’s contributions underscored the political philosophy of “law and order”—a salient idea encapsulated by Barry Goldwater’s infamous “tough on crime” campaign and adamant endorsement of aggressive policing and increased incarceration. As politicians latched onto the political promise of “law and order,” Wilson and Kelling’s ideas fueled the intellectual development of order maintenance policing practices designed to combat America’s urban crime problem.

[1] "Omnibus Crime Control And Safe Streets Act Of 1968 42 U.S.C. § 3789d." Omnibus Crime Control And Safe Streets Act Of 1968 42 U.S.C. § 3789d | CRT | Department of Justice. Accessed February 10, 2017.

[2] Hinton, Elizabeth Kai. From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016, pg. 86

[3] "History of the Police Foundation." Police Foundation. Accessed October 26, 2016.

[4] Kelling, George L. Recollections of James Q. Wilson and Broken Windows. MS. 2012. Accessed December 5, 2016.

[5] The Police Foundation established a key platform for “police science” to flourish in the 1970s and 80s. A full review of Police Foundation history in the 1970s can be found using the following citation. "The Early Years." Police Foundation. Accessed November 17, 2016. 

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The "Broken Windows" Debut

Broken Windows: The police and neighborhood safety (March 1982)

“The broken windows idea does two things, one indisputably good and the other probably effective: It encourages the police to take public order seriously, something that the overwhelming majority of people ardently desire, and it raises the possibility that more order will mean less crime. The first goal requires no evidence. The second does, and so far most studies suggest that more public order (along with other factors) is associated with less predatory street crime. With all this in mind, we believe that it remains a strategy worth pursuing”[1]

 Wilson and Kelling sent shockwaves through the policing world with their publication of “Broken Windows: the police and neighborhood safety” in the March 1982 issue of The Atlantic. Prior to this publication, both men had encountered each other’s work as professional affiliates of the Police Foundation and Harvard University. However, Wilson and Kelling had yet established a formal collaborative relationship. In his recollections of Wilson and the making of broken windows theory, Kelling recounted how Wilson first made contact with him about the possibility of co-authoring a piece on order maintenance and crime control after reading Kelling’s Newark Foot Patrol research report. Kelling remembered feeling surprised and honored by his request to collaborate. After Wilson insisted on Kelling’s help with drafting the paper, the two men fashioned together a Zimbardo study inspired concept of broken windows from a metaphor that James Wilson initially suggested. Kelling commented, “the broken windows metaphor was Jim’s idea…when finished, the metaphor of broken windows went like this: just as a broken window left untended is a sign that no one cares and lead to fear of crime, serious predatory crime, and urban decay – in sum, minor offenses matter.”[2]

 George L. Kelling & James Q. Wilson. "A Quarter Century of Broken Windows." The American Interest A Quarter Century of Broken Windows Comments. Sept. & oct. 2006. Accessed March 23, 2017.

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

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NYPD: Broken Windows Revolution


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.

[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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The Seductive Appeal of “Broken Windows” in the 21st Century


The modern American policing tradition has reached a crossroads. In the contemporary moment, police officials and policymakers must decide to whether or not to resolve long-standing issues plaguing the US criminal justice system. Given the current state of America’s overworked court systems, overburdened penal institutions, and over-policed minority populations, lawmakers know that maintaining the status quo—or worse, reverting back to antiquated policies—will only prolong the decades-long battle to improve criminal justice practices. Under the Trump Administration, the prospects for finding comprehensive solutions that ensure police efficacy, build public trust, and inspire police-community collaboration are grim. Trump officials have openly and unapologetically endorsed outdated law-and-order policies that have proven to be both unhelpful and counterproductive to reforming the police.

Even the newly appointed US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, proudly supports returning to criminal policies enacted during Reagan’s War on Drugs. The Chicago Tribune reported that General Sessions plans to ramp up drug and gun prosecutions and rollback many of the sentencing reforms passed under President Obama in order to revive mandatory minimums.[22] Although crime rates have yet to reach comparable levels under President Reagan, General Sessions insists that spikes in urban homicides justify the revival of heavy-handed crackdowns on crime and disorder in the streets. To further this goal, General Sessions hired Steven H. Cook, former cop and the President of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys. Cook’s infamous reputation as a tough-on-crime advocate made him an ideal candidate for Jeff Sessions’ burgeoning vision for the Department of Justice. For years, Cook has traveled nation-wide and appeared on major news networks singing the praises of order maintenance policing, vehemently claiming: “The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed…I don’t think that’s hard-line. I think that’s exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice.”[23]

Since the dawn of the Trump presidency, federal officials have cast the challenges of modern American policing as products of an ‘anti-police atmosphere.’ However, the contentious rhetoric and inflammatory debates about police brutality continues to distract policymakers and the general public from the central issues at stake. Police reform efforts at their core are not about demonizing the police or promoting “anti-police” sentiments. Instead, initiatives to improve relations between officers and the communities they serve have the central objective of ensuring the equal protection and general welfare of all Americans, regardless of their race and zip code. In order to accomplish meaningful reforms, we must contextualize recurring problems within law enforcement agencies within the larger history of race, politics, and the development of American institutions. Rather than recycling the same reforms filled with weak solutions and divisive dogma, politicians and academics must confront and evaluate the tumultuous history of police. Reformers must begin to examine the police as an evolving sociopolitical institution with an unusual amount of discretionary authority compared to other publicly regulated agencies.

American policing has undergone dramatic fluctuations and transformations in its design, purpose, and function since its inception in the 1840s. As a result, the role of the American police officer has often been a hotly contested drama amongst law enforcement officials, politicians, and public intellectuals like Wilson and Kelling throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Given the complexity of criminal justice issues burdening marginalized minorities concentrated in US cities, the need to contextualize age-old problems related to policing is urgent. Ultimately, overcoming these challenges requires a renewed commitment to moving past outdated and ineffectual policing practices and crafting nuanced laws and policies specifically aimed at regulating police, uplifting the urban underclass, and repairing broken windows.

[22] Horwitz, Sari. "In Jeff Sessions' Justice Department, a retro feel to the war on drugs." April 09, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2017.

[23] Ibid.

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The Zimbardo Experiment (1969)

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Broken windows theory derived from a cluster of experiments conducted in the early seventies. One experiment in particular played a significant role in shaping the theoretical framework of broken windows theory. In 1969, Stanford psychologist Phillip Zimbardo conducted a famous criminological experiment showcasing the significance of “broken windows” symbolism.

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Wilson and Kelling: Team Policing Experiment (1973)

In 1977, Police Foundation researchers worked in tandem with the Urban Institute to publish one of the largest and most comprehensive experimental examinations of local policing ever conducted. The report, titled The Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment, outlined new and innovative policing techniques that experts called “team policing.” Team policing developed in response to two mounting complaints: (1) growing concerns over police effectiveness in reducing crime rates and (2) worsening tensions between police officers and community members concerned about police fairness and equity. The concept of team policing attempted to decentralize the law enforcement regime in order to make everyday officers more accessible and accountable to local community members. Experts defined team policing as a law enforcement model that “embraced traditional police goals—preventing and controlling crime, keeping the peace, and helping people. It endorsed individual officers’ initiative and discretion…Moreover, while acknowledging community needs, it left final decision in the hands of the police.”[1]

Policing researchers argued that team policing techniques encourage officers to function as neighborhood “generalists” or public servants capable of addressing a variety of community concerns with the utmost care and sensitivity.[2] Furthermore, proponents of team policing stressed how adjustments to police services, patrolling assignments, and police-community relations aligned with vision of the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice and the 1973 National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. Given the salience of crime control tactics and police-community relation efforts, Police Foundation surveyors reported that “by 1974, at least 60 police departments in the United States, in communities ranging in size from Burnsville, Minnesota (population 20,000), to New York City, had tried team policing in at least part of their jurisdiction.”[3]

The Cincinnati Police Division (CPD) under the leadership of Chief Carl Goodin took up the mantle of team policing experimentation with the establishment of the Community Sector Team Policing (COMSEC) in March 1971. COMSEC organized the CPD into six distinct sectors. Each of the officers assigned to a particular sector underwent extensive training and consultation sessions with the Program Management Bureau, the central unit responsible for monitoring the research and development process of the team policing division. From predominately black residential areas to the central business district, the Cincinnati Police spent servicing their assigned neighborhoods and providing a “unified delivery of all police services” to local citizens in need. After the thirty-month long experiment came to an end, researchers concluded that team policing tactics marginally lowered burglary rates, increased citizen reporting, and reduced residents’ fear of walking their neighborhoods at night.[4]  

In the height of the team policing phenomenon in 1973, James Q. Wilson published a foreword in the Police Foundation report titled Team Policing: Seven Case Studies. This report featured team policing research findings in law enforcement departments across the United States, including New York City, Los Angles, Richmond, and Detroit. Wilson described the shift in urban policing strategy as a consequence of reigning administrative dilemmas shaping police departments nationwide. Wilson explained that police administrators felt compelled to focus on assuaging “community fear and distrust of the police” and simultaneously manage citizen demands for “a massive police presence that will reduce crime.”[5] Essentially, police practitioners desired to merge the service-oriented and enforcement-oriented facets of police work in order to effectively address local crime concerns and improve community relations. As the Vice Chairman of the Police Foundation, Wilson underscored the historical evolution of police patrol styles in response to changing societal needs:

            “At one time our cities were policed by watchmen who not only walked a beat, but who managed it and the people on it with a minimum of supervision and relatively few arrests…In reaction to this, advocates of centralized control, close supervision, and maximum enforcement arose, whose textbooks and personal example created a new era of policing that was called ‘professionalism.’ Now some of the doctrines of that school are being questioned by those who believe that professionalism separated the police from the community and over-emphasized writing tickets and making arrests.”[6] 

As the police profession adapted and professionalized, emerging social dilemmas forced law enforcement officials to consider improved solutions for providing police services and enforcement power to a diverse range of communities. Given the national political climate surrounding crime, race relations, and the urban crisis, the seventies marked the beginning of robust research efforts in the policing field designed to investigate a complex set of law enforcement needs and goals. Consequently, experimentation provided insight into the ways in which style, strategy, and supervision shaped the efficacy and legitimacy of police work in crime-ridden areas. As these research publications surfaced, the national discourse on “fear of crime” and police innovation brought social scientists in conversation with policy experts searching for the next groundbreaking solution to the police reform debate.   

[1] Schwartz, A. I., Et. Al. "Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment." The Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment: A summary Report. Accessed March 20, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Schwartz, A. I., Et. Al. "Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment." The Cincinnati Team Policing Experiment: A summary Report. Accessed March 20, 2017.

[5] "Team Policing: Seven Case Studies." Police Foundation. August 1973. Accessed March 20, 2017.

[6] Ibid.

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