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Author of ‘broken windows’ theory of policing to speak at St. Olaf

George Kelling '56 will deliver an April 14 lecture examining the "broken windows" theory and its role in American policing.
George Kelling ’56 will deliver an April 14 lecture examining the “broken windows” theory and its role in American policing. Watch the lecture live online.

Criminologist George Kelling ’56, who co-authored the “broken windows” theory of policing that has come under sharp criticism in recent months, will speak at St. Olaf College April 14.

Kelling’s lecture will examine the broken windows theory — which argues that preventing relatively minor crimes like vandalism and public drinking prevents more serious crimes from happening — and its role in American policing. After outlining the theory, he will invite questions.

The lecture will be streamed live and archived online.

The broken windows theory has been criticized by observers who think it has contributed to over-policing in America. Kelling and others contend that it has led to crime reductions in New York and other places.

The theory, which Kelling co-authored with James Q. Wilson more than three decades ago, “called for police and community engagement to prevent local crime, down to petty offenses, and to create order as an end in itself,” notes a recent profile in the Los Angeles Times.

Victor Rios discusses his research during his March 4 lecture at St. Olaf.

The strategy has been widely used for decades by major police departments, including those in New York City and Los Angeles. But, the Los Angeles Times story notes, “since fatal police encounters with black men in Missouri and New York began with small offenses — walking in the street, selling untaxed cigarettes — there have been calls to end ‘broken windows’ policing.”

In that article, as well as in an interview with the New York Times and a piece he co-wrote with New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, Kelling maintains that the broken windows theory still works.

Kelling, an emeritus professor at Rutgers University and currently a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is the second speaker in a St. Olaf lecture series titled Community, Race, and Policing in America.

The series, hosted by the college’s new Institute for Freedom and Community, brings highly regarded academics to campus to discuss their research and engage in thoughtful conversation.

Traci Burch will deliver an April 20 lecture that examines the effects of the criminal justice system on low-income communities.

University of California, Santa Barbara Associate Professor of Sociology Victor Rios, the author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, kicked off the series with a March 4 lecture that questioned the “broken windows” theory (watch it here). He discussed his research, which tracks the effects of policing and the criminal justice system on low-income young people of color.

A week after Kelling visits campus, Northwestern University Associate Professor of Political Science Traci Burch will wrap up the lecture series with a talk examining the effects of the criminal justice system on low-income communities. Her April 20 lecture — which is organized by Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society —  is titled The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment.

Burch, who is also a research professor at the American Bar Foundation, is the author of the award-winning book Trading Democracy for Justice: Criminal Convictions and the Decline of Neighborhood Political Participation.