Sociology Index


Broken Window Theory postulates that signs of disorder, like graffiti, dirty streets, and broken windows induce more disorder. The broken window theory is a theory of the norm-setting and signalling effect of urban crime and anti-social behavior. Broken Window Theory also states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop vandalism and escalation of serious crime. Broken Window Theory is outcome of 'Broken Window', the title of a 1982 article by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling.

The Broken Window Theory has been implemented in many cities around the world. Broken window theory is applied not only to elements of the workplace environment but any kind of outstanding issue that has not been promptly dealt with. Broken window theory is the concept that every problem that goes unattended in a given environment affects people's attitude toward that environment and leads to more such problems. When litter accumulates on a pavement, soon, more litter accumulates at the same place.

According to broken window theory, promoting walking-the-beat form of policing is the best way to keep things in order, because indicators of neighbourhood disrepair such as a broken window foster criminality. Broken Window Theory is directed towards the prevention of crime and this will be accomplished by steps like keeping buildings in good repair.

Broken Window Theory argues that a broken window left unrepaired will make a building look uncared for or abandoned, and therefore attract vandals to break all the other windows. Many jurisdictions in North America have adopted practices based on this Broken Window Theory perspective. New York crime and drug decline is one of the best example of a successful implementation of Broken Window Theory.

Broken Window policing has received accolade for being part of the crime turnaround that saved New York and other cities. There was a continuity of bad behavior, just as Broken Windows suggested, and order-maintenance policing, as the Broken Windows approach is also called, reduced disorder and led to the apprehension of many serious criminals, helping reinvigorate formerly troubled neighborhoods. The last quarter-century in New York offers a powerful case for the Broken Windows Theory’s accuracy.

Broken Windows Theory Logic

The logic of Broken Window Theory 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. 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 Windows.

From Broken Windows to Perceived Routine Activities: Examining Impacts of Environmental Interventions on Perceived Safety of Urban Alleys. Bin Jiang, Cecilia Nga Sze Mak, Hua Zhong, Linda Larsen, and Christopher John Webster.
Abstract: We review two important criminology theories that discuss the environmental and social factors that lead to crime: the Broken Windows Theory and the Routine Activity Theory. All interventions yielded higher perceived safety than existing alley scenes. Interventions based on the Broken Windows Theory yielded only modest improvements in perceived safety, while interventions based on the Routine Activity Theory yielded higher ratings. Our findings question the dominant use of the Broken Windows Theory in environmental interventions.

Broken Window Theory - The police and neighborhood safety - by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

According to social psychology, 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. Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, reported in 1969 on some experiments testing the broken-window theory.

Philip Zimbardo 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, everything of value had been removed. 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.

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 Broken Window Theory holds that disorder in urban neighborhoods leads people to be disorderly.

A Crack in the Broken Window 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 stay away.
Broken Window Theory spawned a revolution in law enforcement and neighborhood activism. Broken windows? Get building owners to replace them.

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" - January 1995. James Q. Wilson and George Kelling developed the broken windows theory to explain the signaling function of neighborhood characteristics. The broken window theory suggests that neighborhood order strategies 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.

Where broken windows are not being repaired and other maintenance is not being carried out, residents 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.

The Spreading of Disorder" Kees Keizer, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg
Experiment to assess the broken windows theory. 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.

Researchers link 'broken windows' policing with drop in serious crime - John L. Worrall, the CSU San Bernardino criminal justice professor. 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. This study on "Does 'Broken Windows' Law 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. 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.