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Broken Window Theory

Broken Window Theory

The Community Policing Consortium defines Community Oriented Policing as "a collaborative effort between the police and the community that identifies problems of crime and disorder and involves all elemets of the community in the search for solutions to these problems." This definition states that Community Policing involves the problems of "crime" and "disorder." Although not a crime itself, disorder is believed to be a cause of crime. A study by Wesley Skogan demonstrated that: "In neighborhoods with higher crime levels, disorder was linked more strongly with crime than were other characteristics of the areas - poverty, instability in the housing market, and predominantly minority composition among residents". This is referred to as the "broken windows" theory. Your research paper on the broken window theory will examine this theory, and explain how it fits in with the current law enforcement movement towards Community Oriented Policing.

The "broken windows" concept was originally described in a 1982 article from The Atlantic Monthly. It was a unique idea that linked the situation of community disorder to the rate of crime. Kelling and Coles explain the reasoning behind the theory:

"Broken Windows"used the analogy of a broken window to describe the relationship between disorder and crime: "If a window in a building is broken and is left un-repaired, all the rest of the window s will soon be broken[O]ne unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing" (pg. 19).

The concept of "disorder" in the broken windows philosophy can be interpreted to mean two different things.

  1. First, it can mean an evolving degradation of the physical environment: actual broken windows.
  2. Second, it can mean the increasing occurrence of minor crimes in a neighbor: figurative broken windows.

Some police departments are taking a role in combating each of these two situations.

In terms of degradation of the physical environment, crime thrives in an atmosphere of a neighborhood in decline. Many drug dealers, prostitutes, and thieves tend to hang out in abandoned houses or darkened back alleyways of rundown neighborhoods. They also tend to stay in this region when they commit their crimes. Crime can be reduced when police officers take a role in helping to improve the quality of the neighborhood environment. In addition, helping to clean up an environment also tells potential criminals that the police and residents of the community care about the neighborhood and will not tolerate crime. This acts as a deterrent to future crimes and it was proven in a study of broken windows policing in Houston, Texas.

The second interpretation of the broken windows theory is that minor laws in a community need to be enforced in order to help prevent the occurrence of major crimes. If offenders are allowed to get away with smaller crimes, they will be emboldened and eventually commit larger crimes. In New York City during the 1990s, it was decided that police officials should systematically begin cracking down on smaller crimes in an attempt to demonstrate a show of force and deter additional crime in the city.

The broken windows concept is entirely consistent with the Community Policing philosophy. Literally, execution of a quality of life strategy requires that officers become more involved in the neighborhoods they are assigned to. Because Community Policing implies that police officers will deal with not just criminal acts but also area problems that can lead to crime, a commitment towards helping to improve the atmosphere of a community as well as enforcing all of the laws in a community seems to be a central part of Community Policing.

Although additional studies probably need to be conducted about the broken windows policy, there is empirical evidence that increased police involvement in a community, either by working with residents to help restore the neighborhood or by arresting culprits who have just committed minor crimes, has led to a decrease in crime. This has been demonstrated in New York City and it has also been proven in the Newport News, Virginia example discussed in the article by Wilson and Kelling, where a housing project was fixed up and the burglary rate dropped by 35%. Increased police involvement in at-risk communities provides a beneficial presence for embattled residents and it sends a signal to potential criminals that they ought to reconsider their actions because failure to do so could lead to imprisonment.

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Broken Window Theory Research Papers

A research paper on broken window theory will examine this theory, and explain how it fits in with the current law enforcement movement towards Community Oriented Policing.

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