Criminology The Broken Windows Theory of Policing

Criminology:The Broken Windows Theory of Policing

Whatis the broken windows theory of policing?

Thebroken windows theory of policing was introduced in 1982 by JamesWilson, a social scientist and George Kelling, a criminologist. Themodel was born out of an observation made by the duo that when awindow on a wall is broken and unrepaired, the remaining ones willalso be broken soon. The sight of an unrepaired window shows thatnobody cares about it, and hence breaking the remaining ones will notcost anything. In the same way, disorderly conduct that goesunchecked leads to the flourishing of serious street crime (Greene112). The solution to this, as prescribed by the pair, was thatpolice officers must keep the streets orderly by punishing even theminor signs of misbehavior. If they gave warnings or arrested minoroffenders, people would then be obligated to behave in a more orderlymanner (Wilson and Kelling 3).

Themodel focuses on the impact of disorder on the generation andsustenance of more serious crime. While a disorder may notnecessarily be directly connected to the more serious crimes, itgives rise to increased fear levels and withdrawal of residents, thuscreating a ground for more serious offenses to be committed.Disorders lead to decreased levels of informal social control thatcreate space for crime to infiltrate (Ranasinghe 63). The policecould easily disrupt this entire process. If they put more focus ondisorders and the less serious felonies in communities that are yetto be overcome by serious crime, they will reduce the levels of fearand withdrawal among residents. In effect, this will promoteincreased levels of informal social control in such a way thatresidents will be able to take control of their neighborhoods,eventually preventing the infiltration of serious crime (MacDonald20).

Howdid the New York Police Department implement their New Theory ofPolicing?

Themodel had a huge bearing on police strategy in the 1990s andcontinued being influential in after the 20thcentury. The most bulbous application, though, was New York Cityunder William Bratton the then Police Commissioner. In 1985, GeorgeKelling was employed by the New York City Transit Authority as aconsultant. It was at this point that measures aimed at testing thebroken windows theory began with David Gunn. At the onset, theytargeted the presence of graffiti, after which they maximized theirattention on cleaning the subway system. Later in 1990, WilliamBratton joined Kelling as the head of the New York City TransitPolice, and together, they executed zero lenience on fare dodging,faster processing methods of those arrested and carrying outbackground checks on all detained offenders (Bratton 12).

Laterin 1993, the new Mayor of New York City Rudy Giulani promoted Brattonto Police Commissioner to enable him to implement the theory from abroader perspective. Alongside other police policy makers, Brattonwas certain that aggressive practices of maintaining order practicedby the New York City Police Department were accountable for thedrastic increment in crime rates in the 1990s. He, therefore, tookthe initiative of implementing the theory to action (Bratton 20).

Atthe beginning of the implementation, he assigned squads ofplain-clothes police officers to catch turnstile jumpers. Eventually,arrests for minor misconducts increased and created fear amongst theoffenders, a fact that saw a sharp decline in all forms of subwaycrimes. In 1994, as the new New York City Police commissioner, heintroduced the theory based on a “quality of life initiative.”This new ingenuity cracked down on disorganized behavior,panhandling, drinking in public, and street prostitution. Attempts toobtain cash from motorists in traffic which were a common phenomenonby unsolicited windshield washers were also dealt with. At the end ofBratton’s tenure in 1996, felonies in New York City had dropped bynearly 40 percent, and homicide rates had been cut by half. This isdespite the fact that he had been initially criticized forconcentrating on petty crime while there were more grave crimes thatneeded to be dealt with. However, Bratton knew his goal, which was toattack fresh offenders before they advanced to serious crime (Hinkleand Yang 30).

Howhas the Number of Stops in New York City changed over the last Coupleof Decades?

Accordingto scholars and criminology experts, urban crime had grown to becomean uncontainable issue in America and also in the world at theintroduction of “broken windows” theory. However, this hasexperienced a huge decline as crime rates continue to reduce in thelast 20 years. New York City has seen profound change as proved bythe 2001 study of wrongdoing developments in New York City by Kellingand William Sousa, where proportions of both petty and serious felonyfell significantly for the next ten years. The levels of murderespecially dropped from 26.5 per 100, 000 people in 1993 to 3.3 per100, 000 people in 2013, a figure that is way below the nationalaverage (The National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016). Manytheories were brought forward in trying to explain the drop, but itwas evidently clear that the decision to concentrate on minor crimehad a significant impact.

Asstated earlier, during his tenure at the New York Transit Police inthe early 1990s, Bratton insisted on the arrest of turnstile jumpers,after which they were to be thoroughly searched and background checksdone on them. This move proved beneficial to the law enforcers sincethey discovered that one out of any seven arrested offenders waswanted for other offenses, while one in every twenty was inpossession of a weapon ranging from knives and guns (Gau, Corsaro andBrunson 593).

Thesharp decline in crime came alongside the end of the crack-cocainewave, enhanced security technology which especially made it ratherdifficult to steal a car and a decrease in the lead levels found inthe atmosphere. Apparently, studies have proven that high atmosphericlead levels cause impulsive behavior. All in all, the policingtheory, in conjunction with other factors has led to a decrease incrime stops throughout New York City. Pedestrian stops have also beennoted to decrease by 80 percent, while some areas have experienced100 percent decrease (MacDonald 22).

WhatCivil Rights issues are raised by New York City’s Method ofPolicing?

Inspite of the much-celebrated success and positive outcomes of thepolicing method, the entire practice has not come short of criticismfrom various quarters, including civil rights activists. Many haveclaimed that the model increases the conflict levels between policeand citizens, especially in poor and minority regions. This type ofneighborhoods, often inhabited by Hispanics and Blacks, tend toreceive an inconsistent amount of attention from the police due tothe fact that they experience high incidences of crime. In 2013 forinstance, Hispanics comprised 53 percent of the total New York Citypopulation, though they made up 83 percent of the city’s murdervictims in the year. This is truly evident of racial discrimination(Rice and White, 292).

Thereis also the notion by critics that the increased numbers of stops bypolice for traffic and misdemeanor enforcement act as a revenuegenerator for the city (MacDonald 21). This also happens whenoffenders are faced with warrants for failure to pay fees, or forfailure to make court appearances. This, as viewed by civil rightsgroups, is a way of punishing citizens for being poor.


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Greene,J.R. TheEncyclopedia of Police Science, Volume 1.New York. Routledge, Taylor &amp Francis Group. 2011. Print

Hinkle,J.C. and Yang, S.M. “A New Look into broken Windows: What ShapesIndividuals’ Perceptions of Social Disorder?” Journalof Criminal Justice,vol. 42, no. 1, 2014, pp. 26-35

MacDonald,H. Thewar on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone lessSafe.New York. Encounter Books. 2014. Print

Ranasinghe,Jacobs framing of public disorder and its relation to the brokenwindows theory. TheoreticalCriminology,vol. 16, no. 1, 2012, pp. 63-84

Rice,S.K. and White, M.D. Race,Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings.New York. New York University Press. 2012. Print

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Wilson,J.Q. and Kelling, G.L. BrokenWindows.Web. Accessed 10thNovember 2016