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. This theory
argues that a broken window left un repaired will make a building look uncared for or
abandoned and soon attract vandals to break all the other windows.
Broken Window Theory is directed towards the prevention
of crime will be accomplished by steps like painting over graffiti, keeping buildings in
good repair, maintaining clean streets and parks and responding effectively to petty
These actions make citizens feel safer and when they
frequent public places criminal activity is less likely to occur. Many jurisdictions in
North America have adopted practices based on this Broken Window 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 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
New York crime and drug decline is one of the best example of a successful
implementation of the Broken Window Theory (BWT). BWT 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. Removing
the minor signs of disorder is thought to induce a decrease in the amount of more serious
The Broken Window Theory has been implemented in many cities around the world,
with some success.
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 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. New research shows that people's perceptions
of disorder don't always match the actual disorder in their neighborhoods.
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, virtually everything
of value had been removed. Then random destruction began--windows were smashed, parts torn
off, upholstery ripped. 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-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
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 (for example, to attempt to break up groups of rowdy
teens loitering on street corners) or to address physical signs of deterioration.
Sensing this, teens and other possible offenders become bolder and intensify their
harassment and vandalism. Residents become yet more fearful and withdraw further from
community involvement and upkeep. This atmosphere then attracts offenders from outside the
area, who sense that it has become a vulnerable and less risky site for crime. The
"broken window" theory suggests that neighborhood order strategies such as those
listed below 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, neighbourhoods.typepad.com.
"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 - Full Report - cicg.org/publications/CICG_Brief_Aug_2002.pdf
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. It's also one of the few studies to
look at the strategy on a large scale, rather than a neighborhood or community level.
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. It has been the subject of heated debate, with many police agencies adopting it and
critics charging it leads to police harassment.
Previous studies have tended to focus on single jurisdictions, and haven't been able to
discount numerous other possible factors when they discovered drops in serious crime.
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
"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