The Breakfast Table

Crime Control 101

Dear Ester:

As I noted earlier, I too had hoped to get on e-mail earlier. Class preparation, however, delayed me.

As you may know, my center of interest is crime control, especially police activities to prevent crime through order maintenance. You mentioned Mayor Giuliani in your note earlier. While the mayor’s position on the merits of certain art has been highly topical and controversial in New York City (and for those who read the New York Times in other areas of the country), in most of the sections of the country he is best known for his record on crime control. And as you may know, one part of his crime-control strategy has been to deal with minor offenses–a strategy that he has openly acknowledged is derived from an article I wrote with James Q. Wilson in the Atlantic in 1982. The article was known as “Broken Windows.”

Art criticism and order maintenance might be quite different issues on one level, but on another they are linked. Both raise free-speech issues. I know little about free-speech issues as they relate to art, however, although not a lawyer, I have become quite familiar with the issues as they relate to certain aspects of disorderly behavior, especially panhandling in public spaces (begging). (You may or may not know that I was extensively involved during the late 1980s in restoring order in the New York City subways and that panhandling was, perhaps, the most divisive issue.)

In respects, the subway experience (both in dealing with graffiti and with other forms of disorderly behavior) became the prototype for New York City’s anti-crime efforts, at least in its early stages. Later, new managerial and tactical innovations seemed to accelerate declines in crime.

This issue, crime control and how it is accomplished, is the basis of Mayor Giuliani’s reputation outside of New York City. But, as you suggest, we are going into an election year and it will be interesting to see how reputations play themselves out over time.

I hope that you had a good holiday. I will look forward to hearing from you and will write more early tomorrow a.m.

George L. Kelling