James Q. Wilson

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James Q. Wilson (1931-) is an American sociologist and political scientist, who approaches urban renovation with some American conservative theory, but whose urban policing theories have some experiential validation. He is Ronald Reagan Professor of Political Science at Pepperdine University, where he teaches:[1]

  • Why is Any Nation a Democracy?
  • Crime and Gun Control
  • Drugs and Crime Control
  • Crime Prevention

A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he is a policy adviser to the American Civil Rights Union, an organization that positions itself as an alternative to the American Civil Liberties Union; he emphasizes that rights and liberties are inseparable.

In the past, he has been Professor of Government at Harvard University(1961-1986), the James Collins Professor of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles (1986-1997); Chairman of the White House Task Force on Crime in 1966, Chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Drug Abuse Prevention in 1972 to 1973; President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1985-1991); chair, president and distinguished scholar, American Political Science Association

Broken windows

One of his best-known contributions is the "Broken Windows" school of neighborhood policing, which postulates that if police act quickly on the minor signs of urban decay such as broken windows and graffiti, this will encourage the neighborhood to be proactive on the larger, less visible problems. [2]


Los Angeles Times editorial director wrote of Wilson that

... left Southern California as a young man and returned to it as an accomplished one, but he is not exactly a product of it nor is he a participant in its civic life by most conventional definitions. He holds no local position, serves no local board, aspires to no local office.

And yet Wilson's abiding intellectual pursuits -- morality, the family and crime, to name just three -- have helped shape modern Los Angeles, both through his influence on its recent leaders and through his enormous contributions to political science.

Wilson's principal effect is through his writing, some of it amplified by his relationships with civic leaders. Police Chief William J. Bratton is a disciple of Wilson's policing strategies. And former Mayor Richard Riordan calls Wilson the most intellectually honest person he knows -- someone interested in exploring questions, not dictating answers.

Wilson expressed a similar view of himself and his work. "I often write books about problems for which I can't think of a solution," he said. "The reason I write the book is not because I know what I want to say to the public. I write the book in order to figure out for myself what I think about the subject."[3]

Social capital

He has written about social capital as a necessary part of viable society:


  1. Meet the Faculty: James Q. Wilson, Pepperdine University
  2. George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson (March 1982), "Broken Windows: The police and neighborhood safety", Atlantic Monthly
  3. Jim Newton (3 June 2007), "James Q. Wilson's moral sense", Los Angeles Times