Sociology Index


Broken Window Theory is the result of 'Broken Window', the title of an article by criminologist James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. Broken Windows Theory argues that a broken window left unrepaired will make a building look abandoned and will quickly attract vandals to break the other windows. Broken window theory suggests promoting beat form of policing on the basis that indicators of neighbourhood disrepair such as a broken window foster criminality.

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 by steps like keeping buildings in good repair, maintaining clean streets and responding effectively to petty street crime. New York crime and drug decline is one of the best example of a successful implementation of Broken Window Theory.

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 problems in order to keep out the big problems. Keeping buildings without broken windows and other small measures has reduced the serious crime level.

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 1980s and then by Rudi Guiliani after he was elected as the Mayor of NY City. The crime rate declined sharply, as police came hard on graffiti and other small unsocial behavior in the neighbourhood. Broken window theory may be right. Graffiti on the wall could prompt people to violate social behavior. 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.

Don't Live with Broken Windows - Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas.

From: Broken Windows - The police and neighborhood safety
by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling
Social psychology, 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. The Broken Window Theory spawned a revolution in law enforcement and neighborhood activism. Broken windows? Get building owners to replace the Broken Windows. Take away abandoned cars from the streets.

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 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 broken windows thesis suggests that the following sequence of events can be expected in deteriorating neighborhoods. Evidence of decay remains in the neighborhood for a long period of time. 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. Where broken windows are not being repaired residents are being subjected to disrespect. From work I've done on estates in the past I'm sure that local people often sense the danger although they might not articulate it in terms of broken window theory. - Kevin Harris, Mending broken window theory.

The Spreading of Disorder" Kees Keizer, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg
Experiment to assess the broken windows theory. In one setting they looked at whether individuals would steal an envelope visibly containing a five euro note.

Researchers link broken windows theory with drop in serious crime - John L. Worrall, the CSU San Bernardino criminal justice professor.

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, and similar offences. More misdemeanor arrests and charges were taken to indicate a local law enforcement tendency to engage in broken window policing.

We've tested the spirit of the broken windows theory, and we've found a relationship between targeting misdemeanors and reducing serious crime, said John L. Worrall, the CSU San Bernardino criminal justice professor who authored the study. The study 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, we still found a strong statistical relationship between broken windows policing and a reduction in serious crime. This is by no means the last word on the broken window theory, but it is an important contribution.