Broken Window Theory

Fixing Broken Windows was written by George L. Kelling and Catherine M. Coles to explain the “Broken Windows” theory created by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. The “Broken Windows” theory states that if a

window breaks in an abandoned building in a neighborhood and it is not fixed, then more windows will be broken and graffiti will occur. In turn, this will make honest people afraid to leave their homes, and only the mischievous people who want to cause trouble will be out on the streets reeking havoc. Thus producing crime. Fixing Broken Windows offers a very desiccated but persuasive look at how to reform the modern criminal justice system by looking at three different aspects: the rise of crime rates in the middle of the 1960’s; the fact that the police are in a reactive role; and how the “broken windows” theory actually works.

The authors state that in the middle of the 1960’s the connection between fear and disorder was recognized. People felt that they had fewer defenses against crime. Rather than moving out of the neighborhoods, citizens purchased guns, knives, and animals to protect them from criminals. Decline and decay increased in many cities. Riots made people focus on disorder. People feared going to parks because they had become threatening places. Americans – whites and blacks – fled the inner city for the suburbs. The ones that did not purchase weapons or animals locked themselves in their homes and only left when absolutely necessary. People became frightened because the violent crime rates had more than tripled. There was an increase in conviction rates for males ages seventeen through twenty-one, found guilty of criminal acts. Also, the 60’s brought on a greater tolerance for new ideas, equal rights issues and individual expression. However, in the 60’s there was a national economic decline that caused unemployment and resentment among many of the citizens throughout the country. In addition to these factors, there was the greater visibility of youth and youth permissiveness. Also, there was less censored media. More women began working outside the home. Divorce rates grew which caused more broken homes then before. The atmosphere of the 60’s was one of vibrant nightlife. The country had recovered from the war and the 60’s was a prosperous time for America.

The authors also state that the police are now in a reactive role. This means that they respond to crime, rather than preventing it. Police officers stopped foot patrol and began responding to 911 calls. Many people advocate the restoration of foot patrol for all areas. Foot patrolling is called community policing and consists of two elements – community partnership and problem solving. The police must increase positive relationships with citizens to improve crime control and prevention. To be successful, community-policing programs must operate on a neighborhood scale, finding solutions to neighborhood problems. Successful programs recognize that something, which works well in one neighborhood, may be totally inappropriate for another. Problems must be identified and solutions developed one neighborhood at a time. Community Policing does not propose that we stop fighting crime and disorder, but that officers employ new and innovative strategies. We must become pro-active in preventive rather than reactive. Enforcement is very much a part of the concept. Officers are encouraged to give warnings whenever possible; however, they are still required to make traffic stops and arrests. There is still an emphasis on drunken driving, drugs and juvenile crime. The community should not have the mistaken perception that all enforcement has stopped just because the officers are being “friendly”.

Simply put, the “Broken Windows says that if something is not stopped while it is small, then it will grow and grow until it is out of control. The theory is actually a combination of several aspects. First, the community is responsible for the crime rate. The citizens are to try to prevent crime in their individual neighborhoods and thus will protect society. Secondly, the police officers need to be more proactive in preventing crime. The police officers need to get out and do the hard work of foot patrolling and community policing. Thirdly, it is a metaphor used to show how people can become involved in the criminal justice system. To effectively protect society from fear and disorder, police officers, communities, and the criminal justice system must all work together, to reduce and ultimately eliminate fear and disorder.

Fixing Broken Windows does give a persuasive account of how to fix the modern problems in our communities concerning crime. I do agree with the authors when they say that a majority of the fear and disorder comes from the reactive roles of the police officers. If they were out on foot patrol, crime would be reduced. I also think that the communities themselves need to be more proactive when it comes to crime. Parents need to control their children and protect their neighbor hoods. I do think that all communities should enforce the “Broken Windows” theory; they would see a dramatic drop in their crime rates and not just their reported crime rates. I would advise anyone concerned with the crime rate in their community to read Fixing Broken Windows; Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities by George M. Kelling and Catherine M. Coles.