BROKEN WINDOW THEORY
Broken Window Theory is outcome
of 'Broken Window', the title of a 1982 article by criminologist James Q. Wilson and
George Kelling. Broken Window Theory argues that a broken window left unrepaired will make
a building look uncared for or abandoned and soon attract vandals to break all the other
Broken Window Theory is directed
towards the prevention of crime and this will be
accomplished by steps like keeping buildings in good repair, maintaining clean streets and
parks and responding effectively to petty street crime. These actions make citizens feel
safer and when they frequent public places and criminal activity is less likely to occur.
Many jurisdictions in North
America have adopted practices based on this Broken Window Theory perspective.
Broken window theory suggests
promoting walking-the-beat form of policing on the basis that indicators of neighbourhood
disrepair such as a broken window foster criminality. The logic of Broken Window Theory is
that signs of neighbourhood decay lead residents to withdraw from public life of the
neighbourhood and thereby reduce the efficacy of informal social
control, leaving the area open for serious criminal misdemeanours.
The Broken Window Theory has inspired police departments
in New York and other major cities to crack down on the small stuff in order to keep out
the big stuff. It works: keeping on top of broken windows, graffiti, and other small
infractions has reduced the serious crime level. - Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas - Don't Live
with Broken Windows.
New York crime and drug decline is one of the best
example of a successful implementation of the Broken Window Theory (BWT).
The Broken Window Theory has been implemented in many
cities around the world, with some success. Broken Window Theory states that signs of
disorder, like graffiti, dirty streets, broken windows induce more disorder. Not only more
graffitti and other petty crimes, but also more serious crimes like murder, robbery, etc.
Kellings "broken windows" theory was put
to practice by the Boston Police in the late 1980s and then by Rudi Guiliani after he was
elected as the Mayor of New York City. The crime rate declined sharply, as police came
hard on graffiti and other small unsocial behaviour in the neighbourhood. Broken window
theory may be right. Graffiti on the wall could prompt people to violate social behaviour.
And appearance that a neighbourhood lacks social control (a broken window) can lead to
Reconsidering the 'Broken Windows' Theory -
For 20 years, something called the "broken windows" theory has guided some
social policy and many city police departments. The theory holds that disorder in urban
neighborhoods leads people to be disorderly.
From: Broken Windows - The police and neighborhood safety
by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling
Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree
that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the
windows will soon be broken. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale
because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are
populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one
cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. Philip
Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, reported in 1969 on some experiments testing the
broken-window theory. He arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with
its hood up on a street in the Bronx and a comparable automobile on a street in Palo Alto,
California. The car in the Bronx was attacked by "vandals" within ten minutes of
its "abandonment." The first to arrive were a family, father, mother, and young
son, who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours, everything of value
had been removed. Most of the adult "vandals" were well-dressed, apparently
clean-cut whites. The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo
smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside
down and utterly destroyed. Again, the "vandals" appeared to be primarily
A Crack in the Broken-Windows Theory -
By Richard Morin
What causes some neighborhoods to thrive, while others decay? It's a question that has
fascinated social scientists for decades and led directly to the Broken Windows theory,
which holds that ignoring the little problems, graffiti, litter, shattered glass, creates
a sense of irreversible decline that leads people to abandon the community or to stay
That theory, in turn, spawned a revolution in law enforcement and neighborhood activism. Broken windows? Get building owners to replace them.
Graffiti on the walls? Scrub them clean, then get tough with graffiti artists. Abandoned
cars? Haul them away. Drunks on the sidewalks? Get them off the streets, too.
The "Broken Window" Theory
This explanation of the "broken window" theory was written by Henry G. Cisneros
when he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. It was published in a series of
essays titled "Defensible Space: Deterring Crime and Building Community" -
James Q. Wilson and George Kelling developed the `broken windows' thesis to explain the
signaling function of neighborhood characteristics. This thesis suggests that the
following sequence of events can be expected in deteriorating neighborhoods. Evidence of
decay remains in the neighborhood for a reasonably long period of time. People who live
and work in the area feel more vulnerable and begin to withdraw. They become less willing
to intervene to maintain public order or to address physical signs of deterioration.
Sensing this, teens and other possible offenders become bolder and intensify their
harassment and vandalism. The "broken window" theory suggests that neighborhood
order strategies help to deter and reduce crime.
"So has the death of broken window theory
been exaggerated? The Harcourt and Ludwig (2006) research discrediting the
original broken window theory may tell us that physical signs of disorder do not predict
neighbourhood crime; but what they do predict is more physical disorder. And on what
grounds is it deemed acceptable that people should be expected to live in such an
environment? Where broken windows are not being repaired and other maintenance is not
being carried out, residents (yes, that includes schoolchildren) are being subjected to
disrespect on the part of the services established and funded to maintain order."
From work I've done on estates in the past I'm sure that local people often sense the
danger of a tipping point of disorder, although they might not articulate it in terms of
'broken window theory' or collective efficacy or whatever. - Kevin Harris, Mending broken
"The Spreading of Disorder"
Kees Keizer, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg
Experiment to assess the broken windows theory BWT. In one setting they looked at whether
individuals would steal an envelope visibly containing a five euro note. "The white
(addressed) window envelope sticking out of a mailbox (situated in Groningen) was very
noticeable for everyone approaching the mailbox, and it was clearly visible that the
envelope contained a 5 note". In the baseline condition the mail box and the
ground surrounding it were clean. In one test condition the mail box was covered with
graffitti and in another the ground was covered with litter.
Researchers link 'broken
windows' policing with drop in serious crime - John L. Worrall, the CSU San
Bernardino criminal justice professor.
There is a significant link
between targeting minor crime and a drop in serious crime, even when community factors such as unemployment and the number of young
people are considered, according to a study from the California Institute for County
Government at California State University, Sacramento.
The study, "Does 'Broken Windows' Law Enforcement Reduce Serious Crime?"
examined all California counties from 1989 to 2000.
It found for the first time a generalizeable statistical tie between so-called
"broken windows" policing and a drop in felony property crime while also
controlling for so many social and economic factors.
Broken windows policing assumes that serious crime can be reduced by strongly enforcing
minor crimes such as graffiti, property damage, prostitution, public drunkenness and the
This new study compared both misdemeanor arrests and misdemeanor charges filed to the
overall number of arrests and charges. More misdemeanor arrests and charges were taken to
indicate a local law enforcement tendency to engage in broken window policing. That
tendency was then compared to the felony property crime rate to see if a link existed.
"We've tested the spirit of the broken windows theory, and we've found a relationship
between targeting misdemeanors and reducing serious crime," says John L. Worrall, the
CSU San Bernardino criminal justice professor who authored the study.
Worrall cautions that the focus of this study was finding a statistical link between
enforcing minor crimes and a drop in serious crime. So it doesn't conclusively prove a
cause and effect relationship, and it doesn't estimate how much of a drop in crime is seen
when a community pursues a broken windows strategy.
"What makes this study unique is all the other factors we controlled for, and that
even after we did that we still found a strong statistical relationship between broken
windows policing and a reduction in serious crime," Worrall says. "This is by no
means the last word on the broken window theory, but it is an important