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History's Blotter

Click on the dates below for a look back in time at a moment in law enforcement history.

For a long time, if you entered any police or sheriff’s department in the country, you would be greeted at the front desk by a sergeant presiding over a large bound book. Everyone who came into the station, every call patrolmen answered—it was all documented in that book, called a blotter. The National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired blotters from all across the United States. They are an important part of our collection—teeming with information about day-to-day law enforcement activities and touching on national events as they affected specific agencies. Find below our version of a national blotter: History’s Blotter draws from events in many places and times to present the collective experience of law enforcement in America. Take a look at the entry featured this month (below), and scroll down to explore the History's Blotter archive.

March 1982 | Broken Windows Theory



“Arresting a single drunk or a single vagrant who has harmed no identifiable person seems unjust, and in a sense it is. But failing to do anything about a score of drunks or a hundred vagrants may destroy an entire community.”

—George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, 1982

In March of 1982, The Atlantic Monthly published “Broken Windows: the Police and Neighborhood Safety” by sociologists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson.  The authors drew on established ideas about community policing and some recent studies on foot patrols to set forward a simple idea about law enforcement’s role in a community. Officers were not just crime-fighters. They helped maintain order, and that order was vital to a community’s survival. “If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken,” Kelling and Wilson surmised. Officers could help repair those windows and make sure no more were broken.

The influential article proposed more foot patrols to allow for more face to face and informal interactions between officers and the public. It also stressed a targeted analysis of neighborhoods to determine which ones would benefit the most from this approach:

“Some neighborhoods are so demoralized and crime-ridden as to make foot patrol useless; the best the police can do with limited resources is respond to the enormous number of calls for service. Other neighborhoods are so stable and serene as to make foot patrol unnecessary. The key is to identify neighborhoods at the tipping point—where the public order is deteriorating but not unreclaimable, where the streets are used frequently but by apprehensive people, where a window is likely to be broken at any time, and must quickly be fixed if all are not to be shattered.”

Kelling and Wilson’s broken window metaphor proved to be a powerful rephrasing of the tenets of community policing, and it continued to influence law enforcement policy and procedure for decades. While criticized for downplaying the rights of the individual, Broken Windows reaffirmed the importance of community and the police: “Above all, we must return to our long-abandoned view that the police ought to protect communities as well as individuals. Our crime statistics and victimization surveys measure individual losses, but they do not measure communal losses. Just as physicians now recognize the importance of fostering health rather than simply treating illness, so the police—and the rest of us—ought to recognize the importance of maintaining, intact, communities without broken windows.”

History's Blotter Archive

1611
First Lawman in the Colonies? | May 1611

1775
New-Gate Prison | December 11, 1775

1788
Ben Franklin on How to Improve the Nightwatch | August 1788

1819
Night Watchmen | January 1819

1841
Mary Cecilia Rogers, The Beautiful Cigar Girl | July 25, 1841

1844
Eliza Farnham, head matron at Sing Sing | March 18, 1844

1844
Cherokee Light-Horse | November 13, 1844

1852
Irish Police in Boston | January 5, 1852

1858
Boston Police Get New Uniforms | November 1, 1858

1865
Abraham Lincoln Authorized U.S. Secret Service | July 5, 1865

1871
National Police Convention | October 21, 1871

1872
Tragedy at Going Snake | April 15, 1872

1874
Apache Tribal Police | September 1874

1875
Ranger Daniel Webster Roberts' Colt Revolver | September 13, 1875

1877
US Marshal Frederick Douglass | March 17, 1877

1880
Revenuers and Moonshiners | April 30, 1880

1884
Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves | February 8, 1884

1886
Haymarket Riot | May 4, 1886

1892
Borden Murders, Fall River, Massachusetts | August 4, 1892

1898
Marie Connolly Owens | March 14, 1898

1908
The Dog Squad | January 19, 1908

1908
Pat Garrett Assassinated | February 29, 1908

1909
Police Autos | June 1909

1911
US Marshals in Alaska Territory | January 14, 1911

1915
Aletha Gilbert, City Mother, LAPD | May 26, 1915

1915
The Black Hand | April 15, 1915

1919
Boston Police Strike | September 9, 1919

1920
Wall Street Bombing | September 16, 1920

1923
Izzy and Moe call on Governor Al Smith | January 18, 1923

1926
Eliot Ness | August 26, 1926

1931
Calling Dick Tracy! | October 4, 1931

1934
Deputy Ted Hinton | May 23, 1934

1941
Agent Robert L. Shivers | December 7, 1941

1942
Saboteur Trial | June 13, 1942

1950
Truman Assassination Thwarted | November 1, 1950

1956
The Mad Bomber | December 2, 1956

1957
Dragnet and Police Procedurals | July 26, 1957

1957
Apalachin Mafia Summit | November 14, 1957

1958
Morris Childs | October 22-23, 1958

1963
Medgar Evers | June 12, 1963

1966
Texas Tower Shooting | August 1, 1966

1968
First 911 Call | February 16, 1968

1971
Phone Phreaking | October 1971

1980
ABSCAM FBI Sting | February 3, 1980

1981
FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco | July 26, 1981

1982
Broken Windows Theory | March 1982

1985
Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Kidnapped | February 7, 1985

1986
FBI Miami Shootout | April 11, 1986

1989
US Invades Panama | December 20, 1989

1990
Missing Masterpieces | March 18, 1990

 

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