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The Development of the Broken Windows Theory

Discuss about the Broken Windows Theory for Wilson and Kelling.

The development of the Broken Windows theory dates back in 1982. The major proponents of the metaphoric are Wilson and Kelling. The broken windows theory has since then been a central area of focus not only by the social sciences but also the public sphere. The theory has also triggered numerous reforms within the criminal policy. The analogy of the broken windows originated from Newark although it was highly pity. Wilson and Kelling contended that the introduction of police foot patrol was an effective and efficient way of improving the relationship between the residents and the police. Consequently, the public became less fearless of crime. In general, the theory proposes that there can be a significant reduction of crime if only minor crimes can be prevented. The main focus of this paper, therefore, is to provide a critical analysis of the broken windows theory.

Principally, the broken windows theory underpins the significance of a disorder such as broken windows in leading to more serious criminal activities (Wilson, 1982). However, the theory does not necessarily link a disorder to serious crime. The underlying point addressed by the theory is that a disorder leads to increased fear and consequential withdrawal of residents Wilson, 1975). There is thus decline in social control and committing of serious crimes. Nonetheless, the police as described by the theory help in the disruption of the entire process. Police's tendency to focus on a disorder and minor crimes in areas without serious crimes help in reducing fear among the residents and promoting withdrawal from committing crimes (Jean, 2008). Additionally, according to the theory, police encourage informal social control thereby encouraging the residents to have control over their neighborhoods hence preventing the occurrence of more severe crimes.    

Wilson and Kelling provide a remarkable exemplification of how crime is likely to be brought down by the theory of broken windows. The broken windows theorizing depict the relationship between fear and disorder. Borrowing from this hypothesis, it is palpable that citizens are not likely to withdraw from the society if disorder and fear are not linked (Keizer, Lindenberg & Steg, 2008).  Similarly, there will be neither instances of weakened social controls nor the increase of criminal activities in the neighborhood Wilson, (1975). Police, according to this theory are central to reducing fear and crime among the regulars particularly by focusing incivilities. The broken windows theory is thus seen as an effective approach that promotes development in the community. In this case, police help in the preventing the cycle of crime and fear while targeting disorders in the community.

Significance of Disorder in the Broken Windows Theory

The premises of the broken windows theory suggest an intrinsic relationship between crime and disorder. Wilson and Kelling argued that minor disorder such as public drinking, prostitution, littering, panhandling, and loitering can result in grave crimes if tolerated (Wilson & Kelling, 1982). Therefore, Wilson and Kelling notion that the criminals may tend to assume that if the misdemeanors are tolerated, then the delinquent behaviors may not be reported or controlled. Consequently, the breaking of one window and its abandonment in its state will lead to more broken windows. It thus means that the tolerance of less serious crimes lowers the standards of the society thereby increasing the society's susceptibility to criminal acts (Herbert, 2001). Wilson and Kelling's article represents a scripted manner in which crimes emanate from disorders.

Another essential factor that characterizes the broken windows theory is that it is premised on some conventions. These agreed upon understandings include the inside-outside (regular versus strangers) dichotomy, an advantage of order over disorder, the suspicion directed towards an unattached adult, the possibility of crimes occurrence in the disorderly neighborhoods, the difference between the law abiders and disorderly people (Hinkle & Weisburd, 2008). Essentially, the broken windows theory is grounded on the aspects of societal abstinence, orderliness, and cleanliness and more so the idea of deterrence. Besides, the theory proposes the policing that focuses on maintaining order. This, form of policing according to Harcourt (1998) encourages the social norm of orderliness. Conversely, Hinkle and  Weisburd (2008) express their irony of the social meaning of orderliness, disorganization or disorderliness in evading crime.

Nevertheless, according to Gau and Pratt, (2008), the article portrays a manner of hierarchy that addresses the importance of order than disorder. Typically, an ideal society according to Harcourt (1998) comprises of two groups. These are the citizens or what Harcourt refers to as the descent folk and the criminals or the disorderly people. The latter consists of the mentally ill persons, loiterers, prostitutes, rowdy teenagers, drunkards, addicts, and panhandlers. These categories of people are associated with misdemeanors such as begging, loitering, littering, prostitution, and drinking. Hence, Gau and Pratt (2008) maintain that the privilege of orderly versus disorderly gives rises to two different groups. The first category is the formation of the disorderly insiders who require controlling and the second type, disorderly outsiders, who should be excluded.

Another shortcoming of the theory is that it is likely to create room for both minor and major crimes. Wilson and Kelling (1982) contend that failure to deal with a disorder can instill fear in residents in that the residents may perceive the breakdown of social control in the neighborhood. Consequently, the residents may withdraw from the community a factor that contributes to decline in informal social control. As a result, there will be emergence of another disorder. Moreover, there will be increased crimes and criminals who perceive that the social control is not effective enough hence the likelihood of arrest are minimal (Keizer, Lindenberg, & Steg, 2008). Consequently, the cycle deteriorates since outside criminals are likely to migrate to the neighborhood where the risks of being caught are small. 

The Role of the Police in the Broken Windows Theory

Conversely, the theory and the rather covert aspect of deterrence imply that elimination of minor crimes and acts of disorderliness in prevents the commitment or commission of serious crimes in the neighborhood (Sampson & Raudenbush, 2004).  The problem with this theory is that despite the aspects of crime being empirical, the theory itself has no empirical proof of the same. Consequently, Harcourt (1998) argues that the rationale for crime decline in New York City is a contestable approach and cannot simply be explained by the simplistic analysis of the broken windows analogy. According to Harcourt (2009), the supporters of the theory support its verification through two main social scientific studies. One of these studies is Wesley Skogan's Disorder and Decline (1990), and the other is Jacqueline Cohen and Robert Sampson's. Moreover, the theory appears to have roots following the reduced crime rate in New York City here the theory has widely been effected. However, Harcourt (2009) posit that these studies do not verify the theory whatsoever but have mainly sparked sparse and mixed reactions. For this reason, the broken windows theory does not account for the reduced crime rates in New York City. In fact, Harcourt notes that criminality has reduced in many states and countries since the 1990s. Hence, states such as Boston, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Washington D.C, San Diego, Houston, San Francisco, and San Antonio have significantly reduced crime. Some of the states have even higher crime rate reduction than what is recorded in New York City.

In concluding, the broken windows theory has played a notable role in reducing crime rate particularly in New York City. This being one of its main advantages, the theory is also highly criticized for lack of empirical evidence and propensity to reduce the crime rate. The order-maintenance crackdown as exemplified in theory is not an alternative to the criminal justice system. Rather, it is an additional approach or simply a supplement of the criminal justice. Evidently, one cannot rule out the fact that what the theory has done is to increase serious punishment for those who commit major crimes and at the same time increase severe treatment for minor crimes.

References

Gau, J. M., & Pratt, T. C. (2008). Broken windows or window dressing? Citizens'(in) ability to tell the difference between disorder and crime. Criminology & Public Policy, 7(2), 163-194.

Harcourt, B. E. (1998). Reflecting on the Subject: A Critique of the Social Influence Conception of Deterrence, the Broken Windows Theory, and Order-Maintenance Policing New York Style. Michigan Law Review, 97, 291.

Harcourt, B. E. (2009). Illusion of order: The false promise of broken windows policing. Harvard University Press.

Herbert, S. (2001). Policing the contemporary city: fixing broken windows or shoring up neo- liberalism?. Theoretical Criminology, 5(4), 445-466.

Hinkle, J. C., & Weisburd, D. (2008). The irony of broken windows policing: A micro-place study of the relationship between disorder, focused police crackdowns and fear of crime. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(6), 503-512.

Jean, P. K. S. (2008). Pockets of crime: Broken windows, collective efficacy, and the criminal point of view. University of Chicago Press.

Keizer, K., Lindenberg, S., & Steg, L. (2008). The spreading of disorder. Science, 322(5908),1681-1685. 

Sampson, R. J., & Raudenbush, S. W. (2004). Seeing disorder: Neighborhood stigma and thesocial construction of “broken windows”. Social psychology quarterly, 67(4), 319-342.

Wilson, J. Q. (1975). Thinking about crime. New York: Basic Books.

Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. L. (1982). Broken windows. Atlantic monthly, 249(3), 29-38.

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