Table of Contents

Broken Windows Theory: A Theory that is Broken Down

Broken Window Theory and Practice

In conclusion

Criminal Sociology (also known as Sociology of Crime) is the study that focuses on the creation, enforcement, and breaking of criminal laws. Criminal sociology has as its sole purpose to understand, develop and test empirically the various theories that explain criminal behavior, how laws are formed and the operation of the criminal justice system in different countries. The modern criminology was based on the principles of coexistence that philosophers had proposed. The reason why the powerful took advantage of those who had less power was of great interest. During those early years, the focus of the study was on the ability of members to live in harmony. Criminal scientists are still trying to answer this fundamental question about harmonious coexistence. Broken Windows is the theory of criminology which states that visible signs and behaviors such as criminality, anti-sociality, and civil disorder encourage further crime. According to the theory, police methods that focus on minor crimes such as vandalism and public drinking can help create an environment of lawfulness and order, which in turn prevents more serious crimes. This essay discusses why the theory of broken windows is most suitable for explaining why individuals commit crime. The researcher also aims to point out the flaws and faults of the theory, as well as the ways in which it can be used in order to understand societal criminal behaviour.

Breaking the Broken Windows TheoryAn explanation is given based on a general principle that is independent of the object being investigated. It is important to understand that theories are based on suppositions, assumptions and facts which aim to provide rational explanations for the cause-and effect relationships between a grouping of observed phenomena. In the 1980s, sociologists James Wilson (left) and George Kelling (right) developed Broken Windows. This theory says that “when vandalism, such as breaking the windows of cars or buildings, is ignored, more serious crimes are likely to follow.” For instance, if a community leaves a window unrepaired, it’s possible that the other windows will be broken. Sociologists explain that the reason why window-breaking occurs is not always because gangs or criminals are in a particular area. Unrepaired windows signal that nobody cares and therefore attract more broken-in windows. After the theory above was tested, it led to an entirely new way of thinking in the community. As normalcy decreases, the vicious cycle begins. A neighborhood becomes more dangerous and run down.

The broken window theory is also applicable to a smoker. When someone smokes cigarettes on a clean sidewalk, it is likely that they’ll keep the filter in their pocket until they find a trashcan and throw it away. When the streets are littered, however, with filters of cigarettes, no one will bother to search for a bin. Smokers will then throw their filter in with the rest of the litter, thinking that it will not make a difference. The theory is simple: “If a window in a building is not repaired soon, vandals will destroy other windows.” Why? The message is that nobody cares; this is an abandoned object. It is important to note that littering streets with cigarette stubs in no way constitutes a crime. It is akin to breaking the window of a building simply because the first one was broken.

A broken window is a symbol of a community that does not care much about the environment. It also shows that minor deviances are tolerated. The Broken Window Theory influenced policy makers on both sides, but most notably in New York during the 1990s. In 1993 for instance, several policies were launched globally that were based upon the Broken Windows Theory. The sole aim was to emphasize and address crimes which negatively affected quality-of-life. In order to deal with all types of petty crime, such as subway fare-evasion, public urination, graffiti and drinking in public, several policies were introduced. In 2001, the results of a criminal trend study revealed that both the petty crime and the cruel crime had decreased significantly following the implementation. A study of criminal trends in 2001 revealed that both petty and cruel crimes had significantly decreased after the implementation of the policies. The criminal justice system’s zero-tolerance policy, which takes antisocial and low-level crimes seriously, has led to significant declines in deviance.

Broken Window Theory: In PracticeAccording a 2015 systematic study by Braga Welsh Schnell, the police strategies that focus on disorder have a small but significant effect on crime reduction. Researchers concluded that the positive results could be attributed to both the place-based and problem-oriented strategies used by the police authorities. The researchers argue that aggressive strategies to maintain order had no overall significant impact. Researchers claim that police could reduce both disorder crime and non-disorder criminality by applying disorder policing. All of the above strategies are relevant. Researchers also say that the broken windows model is hard to evaluate when it comes to policing for several reasons.

New York, perhaps the most successful place to implement this policy. In other agencies worldwide, the theory was considered to be synonymous with zero-tolerance police, in which disorderly behavior is aggressively enforced and all other offenses are either ticketed of arrested. The broken-window approach is nuanced, and therefore it seems unfair to base the evaluation of its effectiveness on zero tolerance. It can be concluded that, in reality, many police departments around the world do not adhere to broken window policies.

Second, how do you measure the treatment of broken windows? The most important indicator of this theory is misdemeanor arrested, because these data are easily available. Arrests are not enough to capture the approach of community outreach and discretion. In many cases, it’s up to the officers whether they decide an arrest was appropriate. Instead of zero tolerance, more community oriented approaches should be used to work with residents and local communities to address disorder collectively while respecting civil liberties and rights. The model also suggests a long-term indirect relationship between disorder enforcement efforts and a drop in serious crimes. As a result, current evaluations for broken window interventions may be inappropriate. Moreover, there is no doubt that most police studies are based on short follow up periods. This may make it difficult to understand the dynamics and challenges of neighborhoods.

ConclusionFor a long time, the Broken Window Theory has been touted as a powerful tool to help criminal justice system policy make changes instead of solely relying on social policy. The theory is seen as a tool to quickly bring about change and with minimal expenditure by changing police crime control tactics. It is easier to eliminate disorder than to tackle social ills such as poverty and low literacy levels. Although the theory has been shown to be effective at reducing criminal activity, some serious concerns have arisen and immediate action is needed for it to work in reality. It has been suggested that applying the theory to crime reduction can lead to reduced satisfaction among citizens and harm their perception of police legitimacy. The theory could be improved by addressing the issues raised above.


  • rhysgraham

    Rhys Graham is an educational blogger and professor who writes about topics such as literacy, mathematics, and science. He has written several books, including one on the history of science. He is also the co-founder of the website Learn Out Loud, which helps educators create and share classroom activities.