U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs National Institute of Justice
NT OF J US
National Institute of Justice
R e s e a r c h R e p o r t
N BJ A C E I OF F
IJ J O F OJJ D P B RO J US T I C E P
“Broken Windows” and Police Discretion
S G OVC RA MS
U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs 810 Seventh Street N.W. Washington, DC 20531 Janet Reno Attorney General Raymond C. Fisher Associate Attorney General Laurie Robinson Assistant Attorney General Noël Brennan Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Travis Director, National Institute of Justice Office of Justice Programs World Wide Web Site http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov National Institute of Justice World Wide Web Site http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij
“Broken Windows” and Police Discretion
George L. Kelling Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University Research Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
October 1999 NCJ 178259
Jeremy Travis Director Steve Edwards Program Monitor
This program was supported under award number 95–IJ–CX–0013 to George L. Kelling by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Findings and conclusions of the research reported here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The National Institute of Justice is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime.
The past two decades have seen growing awareness of the complexity of police work, an examination of the use of discretion in officers’ daily policing activities, and a better understanding of the critical role community leaders play in the vitality of neighborhoods. Noted criminologist George L. Kelling has been involved in practical police work since the 1970s, working day-to-day with officers in numerous agencies in all parts of the country and serving as an adviser to communities, large and small, looking for better ways to integrate police work into the lives of their citizens. In the context of the “broken windows” metaphor, proposed by James Q. Wilson and Dr. Kelling in 1982 in The Atlantic Monthly, this Research Report details how an officer’s sensitive role in order maintenance and crime prevention extends far beyond just arresting lawbreakers—how discretion exists at every level of the police organization. Historically, police have asserted authority in many ways, often having nothing to do with arrest. Dr. Kelling takes a special interest in the use of discretion to exercise the core police authority, enforcement of the law. He wants to understand better why officers make arrests in some circumstances and not others, especially when they are dealing with the more mundane aspects of policing—such
as handling alcoholics and panhandlers and resolving disputes between neighbors. And he notes that police officers themselves are often unable to articulate the precise characteristics of an event that led them to act as they did. Kelling maintains that officers must and should exercise discretion in such situations. But giving police officers permission to use their professional judgment is not the same as endorsing random or arbitrary policing. In his view, policing that reflects a neighborhood’s values and sense of justice and that understands residents’ concerns is more likely to do justice than policing that strictly follows a rule book. Police work is in transition within communities. The police are more frequently involved in creating and nurturing partnerships with community residents, businesses, faith-based organizations, schools, and neighborhood associations. Their role in the justice process...
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