imperial-institute

Broken Windows Theory

The broken windows theory developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling advocates that tolerance towards minor infractions and social disorder can induce and encourage violence and more serious crime. In practice, that means that neighborhoods covered with litter and graffiti are more prone to the rise in crime rate.

At the same time, it is important to note that the original broken windows thesis did not put forward a particular policing strategy. However, the effect of Kelling’s and Wilson’s arguments on policing methods was tremendous. Policy makers interpreted the theory in the way that it is the fight with unaddressed disorders (e.g. turnstile jumping) that provokes criminal activity, and, thus, the root of lowering the crime rate lies in combating the former.

As a result, broken windows policing turned out to be quite vigorous and aggressive order-maintenance strategy that followed the benchmarks of increasing the number of arrests. The function emphasized under this approach is the establishment of order, which can, at the first glance, be confused with initiatives of beautification of neighborhoods or raising the quality of life in given communities. In this sense, the broken windows theory did have a role in bringing policing practices slowly but surely closer to community-engagement techniques. However, the aggressive implementation of the theory did not show any empirical evidence as to the underlying thesis that is supposed to help reduce violent and serious crime.

What made broken windows policing different from the then traditional policing was the focus on minor crime and, furthermore, the engagement of law enforcement to fixing disorders previously under the attention of other public services (e.g. panhandling, public urination, and public drinking). At the same time, the means employed in the practice of such policing were very traditional: arrest, criminal charges, and detention. To sum up, the focus of broken windows policing was put on other types of infractions, but the means were typical for traditional policing.