Broken Windows Theory

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The notion that serious crime is stemmed from minor disorders and fear of crime was a well-developed hypothesis in the 1980s by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling (Hinkle & Weisburd, 2006). Wilson and Kelling (1982) had coined this theory as “broken windows”. Broken windows theory states that disorder in a society causes the residents of the society to develop fear (Hinkle & Weisburd, 2008). The authors go on to state that fear is the fueling source behind delinquent behavior, which resulted in higher rates of serious crimes (2008). The main concept of this theory illustrated that if police were to target and eliminate minor disorders through community policing, it would have an overall impact on the reduction of crime rates (Gau & Pratt, 2008). Broken windows theory was not accepted by all, in fact it sparked a great deal of controversy (Wilson & Kelling, 1982). The opposing views of broken windows theory argued that it was too weak because of the lack thereof empirical evidence proving the correlation between implementation of broken windows policing methods and decrease in crime (Harcourt, 1998). The purpose of this essay was to compare and contrast the two different perspectives on the broken windows theory. This paper shall also conclude whether the broken windows theory can be successfully used within a community policing model. In my opinion the broken windows theory had enough substantial groundwork presented that it was successfully used within community policing. To begin, according to Clyde Cronkhite (2004) the theory was true. Cronkhite connects “disorder and crime as part of a developmental sequence” (2008, p. 246). The main concept that Kelling and Wilson stated, was that if small minor disorders such as littering, public drinking, graffiti etc. were tolerated in a society than it would spiral out creating more serious crimes (Cronkhite, 2004). Cronkhite (2004) gave reasoning behind their theory stating that serious crimes stem from criminals assuming that once there was social acceptance of minor delinquent behaviors, the community became vulnerable and were less likely to act against such behaviors. “Broken windows entails a process whereby unchecked visible disorder signals to residents that community lacks social control. This assumption is that the law-abiding citizens and the criminal alike are attuned to this signal” (Gau & Pratt, 2008, p. 164). Gau and Pratt (2008) gave an explanation as to why criminals tend to flood the streets when minor disorders are present in society. The authors reasoned that it is because the general public sought shelter or safety off of the streets which in turn allowed criminals to occupy the area (Wilson & Kelling, as cited in Gau & Pratt, 2008). From personal experience in third year of University I attended a midnight street walk of downtown Toronto, which allowed me to draw on the same conclusions as Gua and Pratt. During the street walk it was clear that certain geographical areas provided an outlet for further crime to exist based on social senses, such as Regent Park. Also, based on physical evidence that remained on George St in front of Seaton House; needles on the floor, graffiti on the walls and empty alcohol bottles not only concluded that this area was a favorable environment for crime, but that indeed some form of illegal acts had occurred. Furthermore, Gua and Pratt (2010) discussed how the perceptions of disorder in a community instilled fear into its members and how fear created social disengagement from the community. The broken windows perspective outlined the cognitive thought behind what individuals viewed as disorders (Cronkhite, 2004). In other words, disorder was always in the eye of the beholder, which in this case was the community. The way the community interpreted the delinquent behavior for example littering, determined whether the community was going to reject or accept it into their societal values. Based on the community’s decision we...
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