'Broken Windows' Theorist Dead at 80

James Q. Wilson had huge influence on police work in big cities

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 3, 2012 10:05 AM CST

(Newser) – James Q. Wilson, who came up with the influential "broken windows" theory of policing and crime prevention, died yesterday of leukemia at age 80. A sample of the obituaries:

  • Los Angeles Times: He "helped launch a revolution in law enforcement" with the windows theory—"the idea that eradicating graffiti, public drunkenness and other signposts of community decay was crucial to making neighborhoods safer."
  • New York Times: His theory "holds that when the police emphasize the maintenance of order rather than the piecemeal pursuit of rapists, murderers and carjackers, concentrating on less threatening though often illegal disturbances in the fabric of urban life like street-corner drug-dealing, graffiti and subway turnstile-jumping, the rate of more serious crime goes down." Cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Boston embraced it.

  • Associated Press: He "helped trigger a nationwide move toward community policing."
  • Original 1982 article: Wilson pitched his theory in the Atlantic 30 years ago with coauthor George Kelling. A key line: "(I)f a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. ... One unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (It has always been fun.)” Read it in full here.

In this 1972 file photo, Harvard government professor James Q. Wilson is shown in Boston.
In this 1972 file photo, Harvard government professor James Q. Wilson is shown in Boston.   (AP Photo, File)
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