What Is Broken Windows Theory

Broken Windows Theory is a theory of urban criminology that emerged in the early 1980s and was heavily used by the New York police. It is an approach to the fight against crime that theorizes that maintaining cities helps to promote civic participation in its well-being. In simple terms, the more ordered a city appears (hence the connection to “broken windows”), the more orderly will be the behavior of its citizens.

Origin

The origin of Broken Windows Theory can be traced back to a psychologist from Stanford, Connecticut, called Philip Zimbardo. He had organized a social experiment to test the theory in 1969. Zimbardo parked an old car in the Bronx and another of similar conditions parked in Palo Alto, Californi. The car in the Bronx was vandalized almost immediately with all the important items stolen. The other car in Palo Alto remained undisturbed for more than a week before Zimbardo himself broke the windows. Within hours, other people came and vandalized the car. The hypothesis is that a community like the Bronx, where citizen services may not have the resources to encourage the maintenance of its structures, would be more apathetic than a high-level area like Palo Alto. This theory was later affirmed in a 1982 article by James Wilson and George Kelling which stated that criminal activities in a community begin as small minor crimes and gradually become capital crimes. The authors also stated that the best way to deal with crime was to face it in its infancy through the creation of neighborhoods free of social diseases such as prostitution, drug abuse and other disordered tendencies.

Application

In the 1980s and 70s, New York City had witnessed a wave of criminal activity and the city’s city council was desperately seeking solutions to the threat that was tarnishing its reputation. The city’s Transit Authority then hired the author of the “Broken Windows” article, George Kelling as a consultant who suggested the implementation of the theory. The Transit Authority leader, David Gunn, implemented the approach by first erasing all graffiti from the city’s metropolitan system, which was conducted during his tenure from 1984 to 1990. Kelling’s successor, William J. Bratton, continued with implementing the theory through non-tolerance to dodge taxes and reducing leniency during arrests for minor offenses. In 1993, New York City mayor Ruby Giuliani hired Bratton as police commissioner, and this gave Bratton a broader field to implement the theory of broken windows and was noted for arrests on public urination, public drinking and other minor crimes .

Several studies in the past have linked the significant decline in criminal activity in the last decade to Bratton’s implementation of the “broken window” theory. The impressive results of the implementation of the theory by the city of New York meant that several other US cities implemented the theory including Boston, Albuquerque and Lowell. and this gave Bratton a wider field to implement the theory of broken windows and was noted for arrests on public urination, public drinking and other minor crimes. Several studies in the past have linked the significant decline in criminal activity in the last decade to Bratton’s implementation of the “broken window” theory.

The impressive results of the implementation of the theory by the city of New York meant that several other US cities implemented the theory including Boston, Albuquerque and Lowell. and this gave Bratton a wider field to implement the theory of broken windows and was noted for arrests on public urination, public drinking and other minor crimes. Several studies in the past have linked the significant decline in criminal activity in the last decade to Bratton’s implementation of the “broken window” theory. The impressive results of the implementation of the theory by the city of New York meant that several other US cities implemented the theory including Boston, Albuquerque and Lowell.

Meaning

Through the introduction of the theory in New York, the areas saw a decline in criminal activity and also an improvement in the nominal value that made the area attractive to investors and attracted many tenants who were initially skeptical about living in those areas. However, the theory was not consistently successful if applied elsewhere.

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