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George L. Kelling and Catherine M. Coles
From Fixing Broken Windows
(The Free Press, 1996)

From Chapter Three:
The Importance of Connecting

Things happen when police officers get out of their cars and systematically interact with citizens, through foot patrol or some other tactic. Let us provide an example observed by Kelling in walking foot patrol on the streets of Newark, New Jersey, during the mid-1970s. This was a time when most of the citizens in the area were black and the officers were white, when memories of the 1960s riots in American cities were still fresh. As two officers patrolled a Newark street, they came upon a pregnant African-American woman with a young child at a bus stop being harangued by a drunk African-American man. Both the woman and child were obviously terrified. The officers knew the man and addressed him by name: "Joe, you must leave this woman alone." When Joe protested, one of the officers took him firmly by the shoulders, turned him around, and began walking him away from the woman. Joe continued to protest: "I'm not doing anything wrong." His street companions, who were standing alongside nearby buildings and watching, began to comment: "Oh, oh, Joe wants to get arrested." The officer walked Joe about ten yards away from the woman and instructed him: "I'm going to let you go, but keep walking. I don't want you to bother this woman anymore." Joe continued to protest, and when the officer let him go, he took a couple of steps forward, then tried to run around the officers and back to the woman and child. The officers immediately grabbed Joe, wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, and called for a car to take him to the station for booking. During the twenty-minute wait for the car, Joe continued to protest, ranting and raving in a drunken fashion. One officer held Joe down, while the other exchanged comments with citizens, including the woman and child who had been harassed. Joe's street colleagues never came to his aid, but ridiculed him for behaving as he had. Finally, a police car came, the officers put Joe in the backseat, the car pulled away, and citizens dispersed.

How different this event might have been if the officers and citizens had been unfamiliar with each other. For many white officers, making such an arrest on a Newark street, when the vast majority of passersby were African Americans, would have been a nightmare scenario. As it was, however, the scene was relatively relaxed. Indeed, throughout their foot patrols white officers in Newark moved easily along city streets, chatted with citizens, explained to miscreants why they had to behave, ordered people to "move on," and occasionally, made arrests. In effect, these officers were exercising the very authority ideally accorded to police that we described in Chapter 1, an authority negotiated as citizens and police came to know and trust each other and to recognize their mutual interest in maintaining order on the streets.

  • Return to The Promise of Public Order: An Interview with George Kelling and Catherine Coles.

    Copyright © 1996 Fixing Broken Windows, by George L. Kelling and Catherine M. Coles. Reprinted by arrangement with The Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster.