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The policies developed based on Broken Windows typically involve officers becoming more prevalent in troubled communities with the intentions of restoring order and reducing fear of major crime among residents.
There is little data available comparing the effectiveness of the policing strategies born from these theories, but we can discuss their differences in concept and practice. The name “broken windows” is based on a metaphor that the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy describes below: “the model focuses on the importance of disorder (e.g., broken windows) in generating and sustaining more serious crime.
The Broken Windows theory was introduced in 1982 in an article written by social scientists James Q. Disorder is not directly linked to serious crime; instead, disorder leads to increased fear and withdrawal from residents, which then allows more serious crime to move in because of decreased levels of informal social control.” The Broken Windows theory was initially and most notably put into practice by the NYPD, but has also been a fundamental theory for building policing strategies for law enforcement agencies across the country.
The hypothesis has been the subject of an intensive academic debate and has had an important effect on law enforcement in the USA, where it increased the focus on community policing and zero tolerance.
This essay reviews the evidence for the existence of the broken windows effect and the effectiveness of the associated policing strategies.
It also meant a spike in reports that police were unfairly targeting minorities, particularly black men. But what’s curious is how the first two steps of this cycle—“A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up”—have disappeared in the public imagination.
The broken-windows theory always worked better as an idea than as a description of the real world. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. The third step—“a window is smashed”—inspired the article’s catchy title and took center stage.
According to Wilson and Kelling, criminals perceive broken windows and other forms of disorder as signs of weak social control; in turn, they assume that crimes committed there are unlikely to be checked.
“Though it is not inevitable,” Wilson and Kelling argue, “it is more likely that here, rather than in places where people are confident they can regulate public behavior by informal controls, drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped.”“Broken Windows” is one of the most cited articles in the history of criminology; it’s sometimes called the Bible of policing.
The early 1980’s saw the rise of two functionally different, but conceptually related policing theories: Broken Windows and Community Policing.
Though these two theories take different forms in practice, they both stem from the same fundamental concept that law enforcement officers must have an active presence within their communities in order to reduce major crime.