About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

January 8, 2015

George Kelling on Broken Windows

In the LA Times:
Q: Do people confuse and conflate broken windows with “zero-tolerance policing” or “stop, question and frisk” practices?

A: Yes. The other day I read that a Delaware police chief said his department was going to do broken windows with steroids. I find that pretty scary because that smacks of zealotry.

Broken windows is a tactic, an essential part of community policing that works with the community to identify problems and set priorities. It doesn't matter what problems police are up against, they need partners to resolve them, whether it's squeegee men or homeless in the subway. Broken windows is a tactic within community policing strategy.


Jay Livingston said...

From the original article in the Atlantic:

What the police in fact do is to chase known gang members out of the project. In the words of one officer, "We kick ass."

In NYC (and probably elsewhere) the ass-kicking extended to far more people (nearly all Black and Hispanic) than "known gang members." Stop and frisk, arrests for possession of weed, etc. Did Kelling ever write or advise against this?

Alex Elkins said...

Useful article, though I'm curious what others think of this claim by Kelling:

"We experimented during the '60s, '70s and '80s with not maintaining order and it was a disaster."

That strikes me as historically untrue--the part about the police taking a hands-off approach from the 60s to the 80s. He must be referring to isolated community policing projects in select cities, not urban policing in general. Right??

Peter Moskos said...

Jay, I think the definition of "kick ass" has changed (and may mean different things in Chicago and NYC.) But I have never heard him specifically advise against this.

I also think Kelling has always been a realist when it comes to the legal and extra-legal policing. He understands that policing is never as legally clear cut as outsiders wish or want to believe. That said, Kelling has always said that there needs to be clear understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior for police officers, with backing from the top of the department.

I think a more valid criticism of the original article is the claim that somehow police cleaned up crime in the Robert Taylor homes!

But I'll take him on his more recent writings. Kelling was very clear about the need for expressed written rules in the NYC subway. He does not want cops given vague orders and told to "deal with" a person.

Peter Moskos said...

Alex, I can't be sure, but I think Kelling *is* talking about policing in the macro sense as being hands-off in the 60s to 80s. Urban police in general.

Kelling wants cops to maintain public order to preventing the behavior that causes a reasonable person to be *afraid*. That is Broken Windows in a different nutshell.

He's also talking about defining deviance down and cops telling people there's nothing they can do about disorder because it's not illegal.

What I'm pretty sure about is that he's not talking about individual officers being hands off but rather the philosophy of police interactions with the community. He's talking about replacing the beat officer walking foot with cops in cars. He's talking about police being proactive compared to waiting for a 911 call to come in. He's talking about police knowing the people in their post versus sitting in cars waiting for a call.

Mostly though I read it as Kelling saying he hates cops in cars and I've heard him say he's love to unplug police from the 911 system. That's what he mean by not maintaining order.

Alex Elkins said...

Thanks, Peter. So, if I understand him and you correctly, his dispute is with the postwar iteration of police professionalism--an aloof police leadership insensitive to community concerns, reproduced in motorized patrol which reinforces the distance between officers and neighborhood residents.

It's a curious contrast to draw because Bittner and others first articulated the idea of police as peace-keepers, instead of law enforcers, in that very moment. They identified that police, above all, maintain order, handle situations, etc. Perhaps I'm confusing scales of comparison here or am reading too much into his historical example.

Out of curiosity, do you see a connection between "aggressive, preventive patrol" and Broken Windows? The former, as articulated by O. W. Wilson, emphasized a pervasive police presence to make neighborhoods feel safer, less hospitable to criminals. Is it simply that Wilson's model was okay with police in cars--which perhaps did little to calm public fears--whereas Kelling mainly wants cops on the corners, talking with people, making "soft" interventions?

I guess I just balked at the notion that police somehow didn't wage aggressive anti-crime campaigns from the 1960s to 1980s. Your response leads me to believe that he's not saying that at all...He's saying that police were too reactive, not proactive enough.

Peter Moskos said...

I think you're pretty on the mark here. Yes, Kelling does take greatly Bittner's ideas of police discretion in "Police on Skid Row." To help fill out the picture, also consider that Kelling sees Broken Windows as a direct descendent of Jane Jacob's "Death and Life of Great American Cities."

So I draw a continuum to Broken Windows from Robert Peel (1829) to Jane Jacobs (1961) to Herman Goldstein (both 1963 "Police Discretion" and 1979 "Problem-Oriented Approach") and Egon Bittner's (1967) "Police on Skid Row".

So I think Kelling sees O.W. Wilson (not to be confused with James Q., who co-wrote Broken windows) as the philosophical enemy. O.W. Wilson did more than any other single person to get police on a bad track to everything Kelling hates: cops in cars, a 911 system of call and response, quantifying police efficiency, and even "efficiency" itself as a goal in policing. Of course Wilson thought his model would reduce crime (there was even talk of car patrol and "omnipresence" eliminating crime!). But when that didn't happen, police were happen to accept the liberal party line that crime was society's problem ("root causes") and thus the goal of police became to simply arrest offenders as the front end of the "criminal justice system."

As to "hard" versus "soft" policing, it's tricky. Kelling is quick to say that Broken Windows, foot patrol, and order maintenance is anything but "soft" policing (though he is all for "soft" interventions). When Bratton was on cover Time magazine (and led to his getting fired by an vain mayor) Broken Windows was called "community policing." Kelling sees Broken Windows as a "hard" form of community policing. But this isn't your "soft" "hug a thug" form of community policing that has given community policing such a wimply name among police.

There's also something interesting about police "professionalism." Who can be against police "professionalism," right? But in the latter half of the 20th century, the word got co-opted by a very conservative O.W. Wilson model of policing that moved toward car patrol and removed police from the community (both because the community could corrupt policing and, on the other side of the ideological spectrum, because police were seen as evil force best kept out of the community except when called for). This conservative take on "professionalism" was best exemplified by Hoover's FBI and the LAPD under Daryl Gates. The latter ended up in flames.

bacchys said...

Professionalism has come to mean paramilitary. It doesn't much mean obeying the law.

Alex Elkins said...

Excellent to have your thoughts, Peter. Thanks again.

Matt said...

In most American cities the number of cops available to take calls limits the number of "cops walking the beat". I have one of the smallest beats in my city; it is 228 blocks (12x19). The majority of cops in my city have much, much larger areas to cover... by themselves. How exactly are we expected to be both walking the beat and responding to 911 calls dozens of block away? I've found myself trying to be Andy Griffith and was rudely awakened to reality by the request for emergency cover while being 10 blocks from my car. Unacceptable.

My agency is currently experimenting with special walking beat units that smile and play hacky sack and make the newspapers gush, but their attention is limited to a very small number of blocks. Meanwhile those blocks ignored are relegated to the hell of vehicle based patrol in a city that says we already have more cops than we need.

Peter Moskos said...

Unplug cops from 911 would be a radical solution. What percentage of your calls are bullshit? What if you didn't have to respond every time an idiot picked up a phone? Just an idea, mind you.

Police and the public have been trained that this 911 system works and is good. Sure it's needed for fire and heart attacks. I'm just convinced we should dedicate most of the police department to response time.

Peter Moskos said...

Let me put it another way: what if you were the master of your work time and police services? Do you think you could do a better job than what you do now?

It's a crazy idea (actually it's how policing worked for the first 140 years), but it just might work.

Adam said...

I very much agree with Matt about the nature of the problem, and with Peter about the solution. Cops don't feel free to get out of their cars and engage with the community because of the 911 call system. Dispatchers are fixated on "clearing the board," and the lazy cops will give you crap if they have to go off post to respond to a call for service because you (the post officer) were off doing something proactive.

I've noticed that some departments (Chicago, for example) have stopped sending officers to the scenes of crimes that are minor or not in progress. It may be too soon to measure the effects, but are any criminologists keeping an eye on policies like that, to see if they make a difference?

I always thought there should be a designated car or two on each shift that would respond all over the district for the minor stuff. In some municipalities, unarmed (and much cheaper) "community service officers" handle a lot of that stuff. People waiting for a police report could get an automated call, like when they're waiting for the Comcast guy. "An officer will arrive at your house in...FOUR to SIX hours..."

Matt said...

The 911 dispatch-based system of policing has significant flaws, especially in a mobile phone world, and discourages proactive policing by pressuring officers to stay available so they can provide timely cover and not inconvenience other officers. Could I make a bigger impact on my community by being free to patrol how I want and what I want? Probably, but someone needs to respond to the dozens of health care related and suicidal calls each week. No amount of community policing is going to make people want to stop killing themselves either quickly with suicide or slowly with drugs and alcohol.

The changes in policing reflect the changes in society. We are not the same people we were 60, 100, 140 years ago; I'm not sure why we should expect to be the same cops. That means we absolutely need to keep adapting and sometimes that means dusting off what was old and remaking it into something new.

Peter Moskos said...

Have one car to respond to the calls. Yes, it would take longer. Oh well.

Maybe have a trained social worker go to domestic calls. Certainly have a psychiatrist go to mental cases. That is not crazy talk, it's common sense (especially the latter. If my loved were off his or meds, the last thing I'd want is a 22-year-old rookie (or some bitter burnt-out veteran) showing up on the scene.

And have another car doing nothing but backing up other officers, perhaps.

Then the rest of squad can actually police as they wish. (And think of the paperwork reduction if you didn't have to go to every domestic)

And then have citizen calls for police go through a an police officer (like the desk sgt) so he or she can say, "no, sorry, sir, we're not responding to that. it's not a police matter." [thought bubble: "because it's complete bullshit, you drunk idiot!"] Just by doing that we've cut 911 calls by 1/3.

And understand that the desk sgt may make a bad judgement call every now and then. But such is the price to pay to get away from the idea that every numskull who can dial 911 gets automatic police service. And overall crime would have to drop to justify this.

There are not fewer cops than back in the day. It's about priorities. Police cars were supposed to save money and eliminate crime. They did not.

The problem with all this is that for all the (sometimes justified) bitching cops do, the scariest word is still: "change."

Peter Moskos said...

Also, if you or anybody can get me raw data on calls to police and dispatched calls that includes mobile phone versus land line, I'd love to look at it.

I want to see how cell phones have changed policing. Nobody has ever looked at that, as far as I know. Are there more calls for in progress crimes now? Are calls different by category? I would assume so, but I don't know. Things like that.

campbell said...

Domestics will have to continue to be a police response so long as those violations remain a mandatory arrest. And good luck getting that changed.

Mental issues and and also drunks should far and away be responded to by civilians and only police if there's something like a violence issue. Our non jail drunk tank is run by the Volunteers of America and we could totally cut down calls downtown near the homeless shelter if all those drunken "man down" calls were being responded to first by their drunk van.

Lots of petty property crimes with no suspect info can be handled just fine with things like online reporting and we've started doing some of that on the dept website.

Without a doubt one category of calls that has exploded in the cell phone era is in progress driving complaints. Suspected DUIs, reckless drivers, road rage, etc. It's also just a bit too easy now for some of the bleeding hearts (who mean well) to whip out the cell phone for every passed out drunk they see.

Matt said...

Peter, I agree. Completely. I've offered something similar to everything you wrote just in the last week (and most weeks to be honest) even the bit about change. Change is indeed the big scary thing lurking in the corner aiming to get us all killed, fired, or turned into social workers.

Regarding mental health calls, we repeatedly get calls by health clinics to put a hold on non-violent patients. Basically, a sick guy goes to the doctor and the doctor calls the cops on him because the guy says he needs treatment. Here is an area where looking to the past might be useful. What happened 50 years ago when a guy said he wanted to kill himself? Were police even involved? I don't think we can expect meaningful change in our health care system any time soon.

Some of the ideas you've had other agencies use or have used: patrol supervisor as gatekeeper to dispatch; mandatory online, phone, or telephone reporting of property crimes with no suspect; changes in patrol responsibilities/practices. These are all viable; the argument I get most often against reducing the number of bullshit calls we respond to is that often, those are the only interactions regular citizens have with police and are therefore valuable...

...and, this obviously brings us back home again to where we were trying to figure out how to get cops out of cars to interact with citizens.

Peter Moskos said...

I think 50 years ago the metal patient was either left to kill himself or, more often, locked up in a mental institutions. In the 1950s, there were more people held in psychiatric institutions than in prisons.

I don't see the big advantage of taking reports over the phone. It still has to be done by a police officer. The public doesn't like it (unless they just want a report). It does save a cop going to location, but that's not much saving for a cop. But it's the kind of thing that could be done by appointment. People don't mind being told at 1pm that a cop will be there between 4 and 5pm. They do mind being told that a cop is on the way and then having to wait 3 or 4 hours.

And I've never heard of any real gatekeeper to dispatch. Can you give me some specifics?

And I don't buy that bullshit calls are beneficial to anybody. Having a pissed-off cop give you dirty looks and leave with a few choice words? Though maybe my definition of a bullshit call is different than your definition.

Matt said...

Phone reports taken by cops who would otherwise be on disability are absolutely a benefit. Pregnant officers, post surgical officers, or maybe just tweaked an ankle playing basketball and need a month to recover officers: these are all excellent options for phone officers (or put them on a public contact desk and have them do double duty) to get productivity out of otherwise unusable cops.

In my agency, which I'm not willing to out myself as belonging to, briefly employed a patrol sergeant in the dispatch room who would review questionable 911 calls as to whether or not police would be dispatched. It was before my time, (10 years) and I have not found a fully informed opinion on why this position was discontinued, however.

We may be using the same term, bullshit calls, for different concepts. I do know that I have had many positive citizen interactions on calls that when dispatched I bitched like hell about being dispatched to. Sometimes I get there and realize the poor bastards just have lived such amazingly blessed lives that whatever piddly shit that just occurred is the worst thing that has happened to them in years. Or they have had such a fucked up day/life that they just need to have someone official say, "Wow, that sucks." They are happy to see me and genuinely appreciate the fact that I (when mandated) document their bullshit in an official document. It almost makes my otherwise worthless days of arresting people on felonies only to see them released before the paperwork is done worth it... sometimes.

Peter Moskos said...

That made me laugh. (Thanks.)