Proposed in 1982, George Kelling and Dr. James Q Wilsons' "Broken Windows Theory"suggests that environment instability and disorder influences delinquent behavior and crime.
According to journalist William Menna of "The Broken Window", "Broken windows theory proposes that crime is not necessarily caused by broken down neighborhoods, but that they become magnets for crime and delinquent behavior because of their disorganization. Residents may become more lax in their civility and criminals and other delinquents may then be drawn to these areas of lawlessness"(Menna 1).
Since its origins in the 80's, Broken windows theory sought to eliminate quality of life crimes in hopes of improving American society as a whole.
Broken windows theory was highly acclaimed under the Reagan administration. Reagan used this theory with the War on Drugs in effort to combat the crack epidemic and declining societal standards.
Broken windows not only influenced a rise in total police personnel, but altered the nature of police work as a whole for the next two decades. According to Allison Chapell's "Broken Windows or Window Breakers", "Law enforcement agencies began to place greater focus on victimless crimes, creating a shift in police resources in efforts to protect communities from crime"(Chapell 523).
Quality of Life Crimes and Broken Windows Theory:
Broken windows theory unintentionally influenced a massive rise in incarceration from 1982 to present day United States.
Fearing social disorder and moral damnation, the American justice department used parts of this theory to crack down on quality of life crimes.
Victimless crimes such as drug use, prostituion and vandalism were targeted through concentrated law enforcement efforts.
Greater police presence influenced racial disparities, minimally reduced crime and failed to stabliize American soceity all together.
Broken windows theory was implemented in efforts to eliminate disorder; but instead turned the United States further into social and economic decline.
Quality of life crimes have currently contributed to the United States massive incarceration rate. According to Fareed Zakaria's "Incarceration Nation", "There is a reason the United States incarceration rate is four times the world average"(Zakaria 1).
(Broken Windows Theory Video Above)
Broken Windows and Law Enforcement:
Broken windows critics have denounced the theory for its lack of attention to police intervention. The theory did not consider the impact of concentrated law enforcement and the use of officer discretion with minorities.
According to Brooklyn College Sociologist Alex Vitale, "Broken windows policing did not attempt to directly fight violent crime but rather the ‘sense that the street is disorderly, a source of distasteful, worrisome encounters. The theory created a kind of moral imperative for the police to restore middle class values to the city’s public spaces"(Champion 2).
P. (2012). Jane Jacobs’ framing of public disorder and its relation to the
‘broken windows’ theory. Theoretical Criminology, 16(1), 63-84.
Menna, William. "The "Broken Window" Crime Theory." Helium. Helium, 02 Jan. 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
"Stop and Frisk Practices | New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) - American Civil Liberties Union of New York State." New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Zakaria, F. (2012). Incarceration Nation. Time, 179(13), 18.
Noah, Timothy.""Broken Windows" Revisited." The New Republic. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Champion, Edward (2011). "The Year in Broken Windows." P 1-3.
Chappell, A. T., Monk-Turner, E., & Payne, B. K. (2011). Broken Windows or Window Breakers: The Influence of Physical and Social Disorder on Quality of Life. JQ: Justice Quarterly, 28(3), 522-540.
Evich, Mich. "Study in Lowell Supports Broken Windows Theory." MMA.org. Web
Racial Disparity and Broken Windows Theory:
WIlson and Kelling's broken windows theory was as much of a failure as it was a success in combating the growing crime rate.
In theory, broken windows was supposed to maintain social order, but in-fact influenced major racial disparity amongst Americans.
Under broken windows theory, law enforcement is largely focused in broken down/hot zone areas within communities.
Areas with high crime rates are linked with high poverty levels; and high poverty levels are undoubtedly linked with American minorities.
According to Jane Jacobs "Framing of Public disorder ", "The poverty rate of African Americans remained nearly twice the national rate, with 24.4 percent of blacks living below the poverty line in 2003. Hispanic Americans were a close second with 21.3 percent living in poverty"(Jacobs 64).
When applied, broken windows theory unfairly targets minority citizens and increases the chance of a minority arrest.
Policies influenced by broken windows theory such as New York's "Stop and Frisk" campaign have raised major concerns over racial profiling and proper police procedure.
Trial and Error:
According to Timothy Noah of "The New Republic Magazine", "During the period when New York City implemented an aggressive disorder enforcement policy, there were strong drops in the crime rates. The overall rate of felony complaints, for example, fell some 44 percent between 1993 and 1997 (Greene, 1999). Homicides declined more than 60 percent in this same period, a result that led many policy makers and some scholars to see the New York approach to policing as the most dramatic and important innovation of the last decade"(Noah 1).
In 2005, Suffolk and Harvard University students conducted research involving the effects of broken windows theory in Lowell Massachusetts. According to Mich Evich of the MMA, "Hot zone areas that received additional attention experienced a 20% reduction in calls to the police. The study concluded that cleaning up the physical environment is more effective than misdemeanor arrests, and that increasing social services had no effect"(Evich 1).
Broken windows theory has had skewed results since its institution. Crime rates were immediately impacted and steadily decreased witihin the first few years. Unfortunately, future crime rates and the American economy would be negatively impacted through broken windows influence on government policies.