Broken Windows Theory

The “ Broken Windows Theory ” is a theory regarding the effect of urban disorder and vandalism, as an effect upon anti-social behavior.  The theory states that preventing small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, burglary helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.

Consider a building with a few broken windows.  If the windows are not repaired vandals will break more windows, eventually breaking into the building and possibly become squatters or light fires inside.  Or consider a pavement.  If litter accumulates, more litter will accumulate and eventually people will start leaving bags of refuge and break into cars.

[1]  Scientists arranged for an automobile with no license plate and the hood up to be parked in a Bronx neighborhood.  Within minutes of its abandonment vandals arrived who removed the radiator and battery.  Within 24 hours later everything of value had been stripped from the vehicle. After that the windows were smashed in, upholstery ripped and children were using the car as a playground.

The thinking is a successful strategy for preventing vandalism is to address problems when they are small.  Repair the broken windows within a short time and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break into more windows and do further damage.

Police work is essential to crime prevention but the presence of police authority alone is not enough to maintain a safe and crime-free city.  The community has to help with crime prevention.  If people care for and protect spaces they feel invested in, if they have a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the area.[2]  Broken windows and vandalism are still prevalent because communities simply do not care about the damage.  THE THEORY IS THAT FIXING BROKEN WINDOWS PREVENTS FURTHER PETTY CRIME AND LOW-LEVEL ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR IS DETERRED.  Thereafter major crime is prevented as a result.

The experts study the normal daily activities of residents as to whether they are comfortable with their culture in the community, as to whether they feel like a stranger, a regular, or an outsider.  It is a way of explaining people and their interactions with space.  The culture of a community deteriorates and changes over time when there is an influence of unwanted people and behaviors change the landscape.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (New York City, 1993) implemented such policies addressing crimes that negatively impact quality of life, such as more strictly enforcing laws against subway fair evasion, public drinking, public urination, and graffiti.  He increased enforcement against squeegee men and shut down many of the city’s night spots for illegal dancing almost a zero-tolerance policy.  He cleaned up and painted taxi-cabs and put lids on trash cans.

Subsequent studies prove that petty and serious crimes fell significantly after these policies were implemented and continued to decline for more than 10 years, and that at least in New York City’s “broken window theory” was effective.

[1] The Atlanta Monthly, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, March 1982.

[2] Defensible Space, Oscar Newman, (1972).  The defensible space theory city planner Oscar Newman encompasses ideas about crime prevention and neighborhood safety.  Higher crime rate existed in high-rise apartment buildings than in lower housing projects.  This, he concluded, was because residents felt no control or personal responsibility for an area occupied by so many people.  Through good design, people should not only feel comfortable questioning what is happening in their surrounding, but they should feel obligated to do so.

By | 2017-11-05T19:00:23+00:00 September 11th, 2017|Legal News|Comments Off on Broken Windows Theory

About the Author:

Dee Wampler
Dee Wampler has practiced law for 50 years has received many awards and honors. As Greene County’s youngest elected Prosecuting Attorney at the age of 29, Wampler’s reputation was quickly established as a leading trial attorney. Dee was an original organizer and first president Crimestoppers. Wampler has published over 250 articles for Law Enforcement Journals, and authored six books: Missouri Criminal Law Handbook; The Trial of Christ; The Myth of Separation Between Church and State; Standing on the Front Line; Defending Yourself Against Cops in Missouri, and other Strange Places; and One Nation Under God. His knowledge of criminal law and trial tactics is widely recognized.