Psychological Impact of the “Broken Windows” Theory

My academic background has helped me to explore and understand some of the complicated aspects of the criminal justice system when addressing crime, criminals, profiling, and crime scene investigation.  This is one of main reasons that I chose this field because of its diversity and challenges.  I find this field fascinating and thought-provoking on so many levels. 

There are so many facets to crime and that is the main reason why there isn’t just one easy answer to solve the growing problem.  Experts, academics, law enforcement personnel, and politicians all seem to disagree on the solutions to curb and combat crime.

What are the psychological aspects of crime and how does it affect individuals and communities?

James Q. Wilson, a political scientist at Harvard, and George L. Kelling, a criminologist, first addressed their findings of the broken windows theory in an Atlantic article back in 1982.  In simplest terms, this theory suggests that run-down neighborhoods and disorderly community environments send a strong message that no on cares and there isn’t anyone in charge.  This in turn creates fear, weakening of community control, and can breed all types of criminal behavior.       

This broken windows theory has been widely and hotly debated since its conception.

Social psychologists along with police officers generally agree that if a window is broken in a building and it doesn’t get fixed, then the rest of the windows will soon be broken.  It shows that no one cares and the morale of the community soon declines as a result. 

Think about it… people then become fearful that they will become a crime victim and don’t want to get involved when there is a crime witnessed.  This is a deterioration of a community as the crime increases.  It’s an actual breeding ground for crime that takes on a life of its own.

I find the broken windows theory to be insightful and provocative in the understanding of crime hot spots.  This theory was addressed more than twenty-five years ago and still has an important lesson for today’s crime deterrent applications across the nation. 

In 2009, The Boston Globe published an article that there was a breakthrough in “broken windows” through the Lowell Experiment.  Basically, 34 crime hot spots were identified and the authorities cleared trash from sidewalks, fixed broken streetlights, and disbanded loiterers.  Abandoned buildings were secured and businesses were forced to comply with codes, more arrests were made for misdemeanor violations, and more referrals were made for mental health and homeless services.  The result was a 20 percent decrease in calls to these areas that needed more law enforcement attention previously.  The article further stated, “The debated “broken windows” theory really works – that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior, and that fixing them can help prevent crime”.          

I find the broken windows theory to be a solid theory that should be implemented in more communities in need of help.  It’s a place to start and should be a part of all law enforcement protocol.

What do you think?  Would this theory applied today work?

Do you know of any community that would benefit from the application of the broken windows theory?  Do you think that by cleaning up a neighborhood that it helps the community psychologically?

I would love to hear from you and welcome your thoughts and comments.

Jennifer Chase
Award Winning Author & Criminologist

Book & Crime Talk:
Books: Compulsion = Dead Game = Silent Partner = Screenwriting

About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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