There are any number of ideas out there on how to fight crime, but few have proven so successful as the strategy articulated by crime consultant Kelling and James Q. Wilson in a groundbreaking 1982 article, The Police and Neighborhood Safety. While traditional policing has concentrated on reacting to crime, Kelling and Wilson argued for a more proactive approach. Using the now famous analogy of the "broken window" (a broken window leads to more broken windows which lead to graffiti, etc., creating an atmosphere conducive to criminal behavior), they argued that by attacking the quality-of-life crimes traditional policing has largely ignoredsuch as public drunkenness and aggressive panhandlingmore serious crimes would be deterred. Several cities, most notably New York, which have experimented with these ideas have enjoyed impressive drops in crime. Using these success stories, Kelling and Coles, a lawyer and anthropologist, further elaborate on the practice of "broken window" policing and on how to identify and combat specific sources of disorder. Thus, the authors favor more beat cops, more community self-policing, and greater police targeting of public intoxication as well as antisocial behavior typically associated with the homeless. While the authors stress that they are not anti-homeless, they believe that practices such as camping in public spaces and aggressive panhandling are the chief "broken windows" in society today. This assertion leads to longoften tediousdiscussions of the fate of various cities' anti-panhandling statutes and how to draft laws that might survive challenges on civil-liberties grounds. Not sure if it wants to be a dry, academic monograph, or a more popular account, this book suffers from a certain unevenness of tone.
While statistical backing for the authors' specific assertions is light, their larger program appears to have worked wonders wherever it has been tried. This may very well be the future of policing.