Bring back Broken Windows?

Broken Windows theory has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, accused of contributing to excessive arrests for minor offenses. This column ponders whether it’s time to bring it back, at least for transportation systems like the subway. Disorder and crime in the NY subway rose in the last year or two as police were discouraged from enforcing fare evasion, and as the underground became a refuge for homeless persons. The authors point out that a broken windows approach is not the same as aggressive stop and frisk — the latter targets people who police think might be planning to commit crime, whereas broken windows is a response to offenses that have already occurred. Also, broken windows policing “need not be used only to generate arrests” — it can incorporate collaborative problem solving that aims to prevent further crime, strengthen community ties, and reassure residents and subway riders of their safety.


3 Responses to “Bring back Broken Windows?”

  1. Gunther Says:

    Well, did the authors of the Broken Window Theory foresaw the police abusing and misusing their theory? I haven’t seen the theory being used to solve the political, social, and economic problems of this country; otherwise, you wouldn’t be having a problem of dealing with the homeless, lack of good-paying jobs, etc.

  2. Jeffrey Fagan (@JFagan46) Says:

    I suggest reading a study by Sampson and Raudenbush showing that perceptions of disorder vary by race, with consequences for the allocation of police to neighborhoods. Where white respondents in the Chicago neighborhoods study saw ‘disorder,’ Black and Latinx respondents saw those conditions as something quite different. The greater the concentration of Black population, the more likely neighborhood residents saw “disorder,” attracting police presence that stigmatizes a neighborhood. The study is “Seeing Disorder: Neighborhood Stigma and the Social Construction of “Broken Windows,” 67Social Psych Quarterly 319 (2004).

  3. Richard Myers Says:

    Just like the purest concepts envisioned with Community Oriented and Problem Solving Policing have been grossly distorted and used to describe whatever an agency is doing, so too, is the purest vision of Broken Windows theory. If agencies would pilot Broken windows as originally envisioned, applied it with equity and fairness, and recognized that arrests and tickets aren’t the end game but merely ONE tool to apply when all else fails, this theory like the others named can and would reduce crime. In Bratton’s latest book, he cited implementing this and how officers rarely had to ticket or arrest, then only when they had exhausted all efforts to coax those committing quality of life offenses to cease, become more discreet, or just displace the problem. Today, it is too often used to justify aggressive enforcement.

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