What is the Broken Windows Theory?

The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that suggests that visible signs of crime, disorder, and anti-social behavior create an environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including more serious crimes. This theory suggests that policing practices that target minor offenses, such as vandalism, fare evasion, and public intoxication, can reduce more serious crimes.

The theory is based on the idea that when a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, it signals that no one cares about the property and that it is acceptable to engage in further vandalism. This theory suggests that if a community allows minor offenses to go unpunished, it sends a message that criminal behavior is tolerated, which can lead to an increase in more serious crimes.

The broken windows theory was first introduced by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in a 1982 article in The Atlantic magazine. In the article, they argue that “disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence.” They go on to argue that if a community allows disorder and minor offenses to go unpunished, it will lead to an increase in more serious crimes.

The broken windows theory has influenced law enforcement policies, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. It has been used to justify using proactive policing strategies, such as zero tolerance and stop, question, and frisk. These strategies are based on the idea that by cracking down on minor offenses, police can prevent more serious crimes from occurring.

One example of the broken windows theory in action is the New York City Police Department’s “Broken Windows” strategy, which was implemented in the 1990s. This strategy focused on cracking down on minor offenses, such as turnstile jumping and graffiti, in an effort to reduce more serious crimes. The strategy was credited with helping to reduce crime in New York City and has been adopted by other cities around the country.

In conclusion, the broken windows theory is a widely debated theory that suggests that visible signs of crime and disorder create an environment that encourages further crime and disorder. It has influenced law enforcement policies and has been used to justify proactive policing strategies. While the effectiveness of the theory in reducing crime remains a subject of debate, it remains an essential concept in the field of criminology.

Sources:

Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. (1982). Broken windows. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/

Author: Jim Lunsford

My name is Jim Lunsford. I'm a husband, father, and grandfather that works in law enforcement. I love my family, community, and country. I'm always striving to be the best me, and I will never give up.