George Kelling, father of ‘Broken Windows’ policing, dead at 83

William J. Bratton said Kelling’s work had “the most profound influence on American policing in the last 40 to 50 years”


By PoliceOne Staff

HANOVER, NH  — George L. Kelling, the criminologist who co-wrote the “Broken Windows” policing theory, died at his New Hampshire home on Wednesday. He was 83.

His wife, Catherine M. Coles, confirmed his cause of death was complications due to cancer, The New York Times reports.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee (right) and author George Kelling (left), are interviewed in Detroit in 2012. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee (right) and author George Kelling (left), are interviewed in Detroit in 2012. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Kelling, known for revolutionizing policing in America by targeting lesser infractions by community offenders, published his popularized “broken windows” theory in The Atlantic magazine with Professor James Q. Wilson in 1982. The premise of the 7,000 word article was that neglected communities could lead to uncontrollable disorder. The two argued that preventing crime and maintaining order go hand in hand.

The theory was widely embraced by law enforcement. The strategy was considered a foundation for community policing by addressing the causes behind patterns of complaints and recurring infractions that could breed more serious crimes and create a climate of chaos.

According to former police leader William J. Bratton, Kelling’s work had “the most profound influence on American policing in the last 40 to 50 years.”

Kelling was also a probation officer, social worker and professor who taught at Rutgers University, Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles.

In addition to his wife, Kelling is survived by his son, George, and daughter, Kristin, both from his first marriage. He also has four grandchildren.

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