The scholarly work of James Q. Wilson, who died Friday at age 80, helped revive the common sense ideas that criminals should be punished and that police should maintain order, ideas credited with helping reduce crime in
For Kelling and Wilson, maintaining good order meant minimizing loitering, rowdy behavior, public drinking, panhandling, solicitation, graffiti, litter, and abandoned property (i.e., broken windows). Such disorder, the authors argued, told criminals where violent crimes were more likely to go unchecked. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police chief William Bratton put the “Broken Windows Theory” into practice beginning in 1994. Murder rates in the city fell by more than half by 1999 and continued to drop throughout the next decade.
President George W. Bush awarded Wilson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. George Will sums up
For more on James Q. Wilson’s life and work, see these tributes: “The Sinatra of Social Science,” The American Enterprise Institute, January 6; “A Man of Reason,” Heather MacDonald, City Journal, March 4; “James Q. Wilson’s Life-Saving Work,” Thomas Sowell, National Review, March 6.