Public policy professors Mark A.R. Kleiman and Mark Peterson took part in a panel discussion sponsored by Zócalo Public Square on the lasting influence of James Q. Wilson on crime prevention and community development.
Wilson, who died in March, was the James Collins Professor of Management and Public Policy at the UCLA Anderson School. He and George Kelling wrote a paper introducing "broken windows theory" as a form of crime prevention, arguing that empowering police officers to maintain order according to community standards would help create a conducive environment for lower crime rates.
The discussion, which was Kleiman moderated and included LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Pepperdine University economist Angela Hawken, covered a wide range of Wilson's work. Peterson noted that Wilson's teachings had relevance to those interested in public policy at any level – demographers, organizers, local politicians, or federal officials. His emphasis on community, Peterson said, helped personalize the hard data that most academics and policy makers use in their work.
“He very much believed in community,” Peterson said. “And he was an optimist about human nature.”
Kleiman raised an uncomfortable truth of Wilson's legacy. Wilson was an advocate for increased incarceration, arguing simply that criminals who are behind bars are unable to commit more crimes. Kleiman said while he initially believed that increased prison capacity could be effective policy, he thinks now that the incarceration rate has grown unsustainably high. Hawken pointed out that Wilson missed the fact that propensity to commit crimes is tied to the age of the criminal, and as prisoners age, the argument that keeping them in prison helps reduce repeat offenses begins to wither.
Kleiman took the opportunity to make one of his many quips of the evening. “Serious crime has about the same age structure as serious basketball,” he said.
The event was cosponsored by Zócalo and RAND Corporation, in partnership with UCLA.