Sociology Index E-Books

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 windows.

Many jurisdictions in North America have adopted practices based on this Broken Window Theory perspective. 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.

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.

Kelling’s 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 crime.

Reconsidering the 'Broken Windows' Theory - Marcus Rosenbaum
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 respectable whites.

A Crack in the Broken Window 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 away.
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" - January 1995.
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 window theory.

"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 like.

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 contribution."