Study Document

Broken Windows Is the Broken Thesis

Pages:7 (2430 words)



Topic:Broken Windows

Document Type:Thesis


(Braga, et. al, 1999). However, the problem is that the study did not directly examine the broken windows theory. While the police present in the study did engage in some of the social order restoration that is characteristic of broken windows policing, they also engaged in overt acts to reduce violent crime, such as removing weapons stashed by local drug dealers. (Braga, et. al, 1999). Obviously, reducing the likelihood that violent criminals will be able to access their weapons would probably reduce their ability to engage in violent crime. Therefore, while that study does not dispute the broken windows theory, it also does not support the broken windows theory.

While it may seem that if it is possible that aggressive policing can have a positive impact on violent crime rates, then the policy should be continued, that position ignores that there are risks associated with broken-windows style policing. In both Britain and the United States, modern crime policy has resulted in an unprecedented number of people incarcerated. In America, there are more than two million people incarcerated each day, and two people per week are put to death. (Garland, 2001). Somewhere in the 1970s, the United States experienced a sharp turn in its criminal policy, and reintroduced concepts that had been removed from the American criminal justice process in the past, including an emphasis on punitive punishments. (Garland, 2001). What Garland seems to suggest is that being "tough on crime" is not a continuation of an American trend, but its own trend, which flies in the face of prior social research. Furthermore, it is largely fueled by status crime and offenses. That is why so many people in today's prisons are there for drug-related offenses. Criminalizing behavior that is not violent or otherwise harmful to others, such as drug use or loitering, simply increases the number of criminals, rather than reducing crime rates.

In fact, Ralph Taylor describes a crime control problem in Philadelphia that appears patently unconstitutional. Residents in a neighborhood had continuous complaints about noisy and rowdy teens who were negatively impacting the quality-of-life for people in that neighborhood. In response, the police developed a program to target rowdiness in those hot spots. When a complaint about rowdy behavior comes in, officers approach the area and document who is present at that time. The officers inform the people present that there has been a complaint. If the officers return to that spot later in the night, anyone who was present at an earlier time is subject to arrest. The judge will come by on a motorcycle and immediately fine adults, while juveniles are detained until a parent can come and get them. (Taylor, 2001). Therefore, people are being arrested for being loud and uncivil. While there is no question that such behavior is disruptive to the people in a neighborhood, it is certainly questionable whether such behavior rises to the level of a crime.

In fact, two areas that social scientists have failed to address is why people find disruptive and rowdy behavior to have such a negative impact on quality of life of a neighborhood, and why this has become a political issue. While society has always been concerned with safety and order, it has not traditionally been government's job to maintain that order. On the contrary:

As a historical matter, nothing could be more wrong. Families and clans were the prime units of security and retained substantial control over the resolution of interpersonal violence until the early modern period of European history. As a fact of historical development, the state only gradually laid claim to the power to punish crimes and secure civic order, and the "monopoly" of legitimate violence so often proclaimed on behalf of the state was the sheerest of fictions even in the most advanced countries before the twentieth century. (Simon, 2007).

However, it does not seem that people, when stripped of governmental protections, lived in the same type of atmosphere of fear that many modern Americans live in today. On the contrary, the imposition of the rule of law carries with it an inherent negative. After all, the enforcement of the criminal law brings with it the implied ability to do harm to a wrongdoer. Not only can the police do harm at the moment of the crime, such as using force to detain an officer, but the threat of the law means that the government can deny someone of a substantial ability, such as freedom. Therefore, while broken windows policing may decrease community disorder and decrease overall crime rates, the citizenry must ask if the cost of those benefits is worth it.

Works Referenced

Braga, a., Weisburd, D., Waring, E., Mazerolle, L., Spelman, W., & Gajewski, F. (1999).

Problem-oriented policing in violent crime places: a randomized controlled experiment. Criminology, 37(3), 541-580.

Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: crime and social order in contemporary society.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Harcourt, B., & Thacher, D. (2005). Is broken windows policing broken? Retrieved November

19, 2008, from Legal Affairs: The Magazine at the Intersection of Law and Life

Web site:

Kelling, G., & Coles, C. (1998). Fixing broken windows. New York: Free Press.

Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: how the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear (studies in crime and public policy). New York:

Taylor, R. (2000). Breaking away from broken windows: Baltimore neighborhoods and the nationwide fight against grime, fear, and decline. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Wilson, J. & Kelling, G. (2004.), Broken windows: the police and…

Sample Source(s) Used


Braga, a., Weisburd, D., Waring, E., Mazerolle, L., Spelman, W., & Gajewski, F. (1999).

Problem-oriented policing in violent crime places: a randomized controlled experiment. Criminology, 37(3), 541-580.

Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: crime and social order in contemporary society.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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