Breaking Laws to Fix Broken Windows: A Revisionist Take on Order Maintenance Policing

Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law 19 (2):112-152 (2014)
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Abstract
Today, there is a family of celebrated police strategies that teach the importance of cracking down on petty crime and urban nuisance as the key to effective crime control. Under the “broken windows” appellation, this strategy is linked in the public mind with New York City and the alleged successes of its police department in reducing the rate of crime over the past two decades. This paper is critical of such order maintenance approaches to policing: I argue that infringements of civil liberty by such departments could be reduced if the departments looked at law more as a good to be served for its own sake and less as an instrument for the promotion of order. In other words, a shot of legalism is the correct medicine to reduce police misconduct that pierces the law’s protections of citizen freedom. This Article contributes to the critical literature on broken windows policing by reassessing the work of the famous Harvard scholar (James Q. Wilson) who fathered it. The Article takes Wilson’s work and turns it on its head, drawing very different prescriptive conclusions than he did himself.
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