US & Canada

'Broken Windows' policing theorist James Wilson dies

University headshot of James Q Wilson
Image caption A family friend said James Q Wilson was "open and egalitarian" both professionally and personally

A political scientist whose "Broken Windows" theory on policing changed crime-fighting in major US cities has died at the age of 80.

James Wilsonargued in a 1982 articlethat police departments needed to focus on the after-effects of crime on a community, including some of the smallest, for example broken windows.

Wilson wrote or co-authored more than a dozen books during a long career.

His work impacted police departments in New York City and Los Angeles.

In New York, officials used Wilson's theory to begin cracking down on smaller offences on the city's subway, including graffiti and ticket-jumping. The department credits this with helping to improve perceptions of public safety.

Wilson, who co-authored the article in The Atlantic magazine with George Kelling, had walked the beat with police in Newark, New Jersey, as part of his research.

"He's just clearly one of the foremost social scientists of the second half of the 20th Century," family friend Peter Skerry, told the Associated Press. "He was a very on-the-ground kind of scholar and brought a great insight and common sense to things."

One of the key insights of the article was that the observation that as police moved away from walking patrols, minor offences that were ignored created a sense of disorder.

Preventing such "broken windows" could prevent more serious crime, the authors argued.

Wilson taught at various universities during his career, including Boston College, Harvard, UCLA and Pepperdine.

He died in Boston as he was being treated for leukaemia.

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