Broken Windows author on NYPD gig

A transit officer, center, rides undercover on the NYC Subway. (AP Photo)
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The author of the "Broken Windows" theory that revolutionized policing and was a formative influence on police commissioner Bill Bratton says the NYPD needs to improve relations with minority communities through communication and transparency.

George Kelling, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and professor at Rutgers who co-authored the influential article laying out the theory, confirmed in an interview with Capital that he is in talks with Bratton about a consulting role with the department.

A New Hampshire resident, Kelling has visited the city only a handful of times in recent years, but he said media reports made clear the NYPD’s relationship in minority neighborhoods is damaged.

"The press seems to indicate there is a problem and that needs to be addressed,” he said.

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The key to effective policing and repairing community relations, Kelling said, is communication, transparency, partnership and consistency. He recalled how Bratton, during his first tenure as commissioner in New York under Rudy Giuliani, “ran CompStat meetings in neighborhoods so people can sit in and see it” instead of holding them at Police headquarters.

“Look at Bryant Park,” Kelling said. “The rules are posted and made explicit and look at how rule-obeying has dominated the culture in Bryant Park.”

In 1982, Kelling co-wrote an article in the Atlantic with the late George Wilson, arguing that minor quality of life crimes like vandalism (broken windows) and graffiti, if left unaddressed, could lead to more serious and violent crimes. Police could prevent those crimes, and not just respond to them, by addressing minor offenses, Kelling and Wilson argued.

Kelling also said he was confident that he and Bratton are in agreement on the need to keep up quality-of-life enforcement.

“I think we come out of the same school,” Kelling said. “Bill, very early, discovered on his own that citizens in their neighborhoods were concerned about minor offenses … more than they were about serious crime.”

“The generators of fear (among residents) were minor offenses" like loitering on street corners and unruly kids taking over parks, Kelling added. "Bill discovered that and worked on it.”

Last month, an advocacy group asked Bratton to roll back the NYPD’s enforcement on quality of life crimes. In a 10-page report given to Bratton at a closed-press meeting, the group Change the NYPD wrote that they wanted Bratton within his first 100 days to “acknowledge the severe and destabilizing consequence of low-level arrest and summonses” and “reduce costly and wasteful arrests and summonses for quality of life offenses like possession of small amounts of marijuana, trespass and disorderly conduct.”

Kelling argued it was necessary to aggressively enforce quality of life laws, but added that it could be done without causing a rift with black and Latino New Yorkers.

“If you send out the proper messages” and partner with local residents, “you begin to prevent crime,” Kelling said, adding that would “reduce the number of arrests” and result in fewer incarcerations.

In regard to stop-and-frisk, which was a major theme of Bill de Blasio’s successful mayoral campaign, Kelling said, “I don’t know how it was carried out. I don’t know what Ray [Kelly, the former NYPD commissioner] did.”

Asked about the timetable for his work with the NYPD, Kelling said, “It’s very much built around action; that’s a matter of weeks, maybe a couple of months.”

Once problems are diagnosed, Kelling expects quick action so he can measure tangible results, rather than relying on unproven academic theories.

“I don’t do reports," he said. "I work to develop policies and actions."