The police and neighborhood safety
by JAMES Q
WILSON AND GEORGE L.
James Q. Wilson is Shattuck Professor of Government at Harvard and author of
Thinking About Crime.
George L. Kelling, formerly director of the evaluation
field staff of the Police foundation, is currently a research fellow at the John F
Kennedy School of Government
In the mid-1970s, the state of New Jersey announced a "Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Program,"
designed to improve the quality of community life in twenty-eight cities.
As part of that program, the
state provided money to help cities take police officers out of their patrol cars and assign them to walking
beats. The governor and other state officials were enthusiastic about using foot patrol as a way of cutting
crime, but many police chiefs were skeptical. Foot patrol, in their eyes, had been pretty much discredited.
It reduced the mobility of the police, who thus had difficulty responding to citizen calls for service, and it
weakened headquarters control over patrol
Many police officers also disliked foot patrol, but for different reasons: it was hard work, it kept them
outside on cold, rainy nights, and it reduced their chances for making a “good pinch.”
departments, assigning officers to foot patrol had been used as a form of punishment.
experts on policing doubted that foot patrol would have any impact on crime rates; it was, in the opinion
of most, little more than a sop to public opinion. But since the state was paying for it, the local authorities
were willing to go along.
Five years after the program started, the Police Foundation, in Washington, D. C., published an evaluation
of the foot-patrol project. Based on its analysis of a carefully controlled experiment carried out chiefly in
Newark, the foundation concluded, to the surprise of hardly anyone, that foot patrol had not reduced
crime rates. But residents of the foot-patrolled neighborhoods seemed to feel more secure than persons in
other areas, tended to believe that crime had been reduced, and seemed to take fewer steps to protect
themselves from crime (staying at home with the doors locked, for example). Moreover, citizens in the
foot patrol areas had a more favorable opinion of the police than did those living elsewhere. And officers
walking beats had higher morale, greater job satisfaction, and a more favorable attitude toward citizens in
their neighborhoods than did officers assigned to patrol cars.
These findings may be taken as evidence that the skeptics were right -- foot patrol has no effect on crime;
it merely fools the citizens into thinking that they are safer. But in our view, and in the view of the authors
of the Police Foundation study (of whom Kelling was one), the citizens of Newark were not fooled at all.
They knew what the foot patrol officers were doing, they knew it was different from what motorized