Broken windows policing



The broken windows law is associated with criminology where it involves preventing crimes in the society. George Kelling and James Wilson, who are both criminologists in the United States, introduced the broken windows ideology. They developed this idea in their article; that is, ‘The Atlantic’ in 1982 where their main argument leading to this theory is that an unattended broken window is a sign of carelessness; hence, may facilitate the rise in crime and social disorder. According to Kelling, the broken windows policy is expected to generate a positive working and living environment between the police officers and residents of a community (Wilson & Kelling, 1982). For instance, introducing foot patrols by the officers means that they are likely to interact with people in the cities, which will reduce the people’s fear of crime. This is because the increased interaction between both parties will lead to the reduction in crime rates. Therefore, the broken windows policing involves the close monitoring and supervision by the law enforcement agencies of a particular region, especially in urban environments, to ensure the effective prevention of minor crimes. The small crimes, in this case, include some acts such as public drinking, vandalism, and toll jumping where the prevention of these acts means that the law enforcers prevent serious or major crimes from occurring. Kelling states that police officers should use the broken windows strategy to create a favorable environment in the cities where neighborhoods are kept safe. However, the policing has created controversies in the United States where it fails to protect and serve the people accordingly. This is attributable to the fact that law enforcers misapply the broken windows strategy; hence, increasing the crime rates. Therefore, the study focuses on analyzing the broken window policing strategy and its efficacy. The paper will also evaluate both the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy.

Why Broken Windows Policing is Important

The broken windows theory as addressed by Kelling and Wilson is meant to serve and keep the people safe by ensuring officers manage the small crimes. This is because managing trivial crimes has a positive domino effect in reducing the major crimes in the country. Broken windows policing is associated with the officers addressing disorderly illegal behaviors such as fights, drug abuse, public drinking, and public urination (Harcourt, 2009). The police, in this case, issue the offenders, with warnings, and where they fail to observe the warnings, they are then subjected to summons and arrests. The punishments under broken windows policing are soft compared to punishments under felonies since the offenders are given public works that enable them to avoid engaging in the illegal behaviors. For instance, New York implemented the use of this law where the city has benefited from the effective regulation of the people. Major crimes have declined since the NYPD has provided effective regulation against activities such as illegal street vending, graffiti, and trespassing. Individuals in New York City have been prevented from conducting these operations since they can lead to the emergence of more serious crimes (Fagan & Davies, 2000). For instance, illegal street vending may lead to the increase in drug abuse since the street vendors will be involved in the distribution of drugs. The drug distributors may also engage in gun violence; hence, leading to increased deaths since they may fight to gain power or control in the market. Therefore, the initial regulation of illegal street vending aims at preventing the occurrence of additional crimes in the streets. This indicates how the broken windows strategy is efficient in ensuring people are safe and free from crimes. New York State has also been experiencing a decline in the prisons’ population; where a 17 percent reduction has been evident from 2000-2009. This is due to the radical changes in arrests by the NYPD where misdemeanor arrests have become more dominant compared to felony arrests. This means that most of the offenders are transformed by the punishments suffered due to the small crimes where they fail to engage in felonies. In New York, felony arrests have declined over the years after the application of the policing strategy in the state in 1994 (Harcourt & Ludwig, 2006). This means that the laws and policies under this strategy facilitate the interruption of criminal behavior before it advances into a felony. Broken windows policing is crucial in the society since illegal activities are common compared to major crimes; hence, people have to rely on the law enforcers for safety. This policing can be viewed as a quality-of-life measure as addressed by Wilson since it protects lives of both the citizens and the misdemeanor offenders since they are prevented from engaging in major crimes that are punishable by death. Therefore, broken windows policing, in this case, is viewed to serve the people positively since it protects them from small crimes.

Why Broken Windows Policing is Unfavorable

The misapplication of broken windows policing by the law enforcement agencies has led to the crime prevention strategy into generating negative results despite its measures and regulations. This misapplication involves the agencies aggressively over-policing the minority communities, which may lead to more problems in the society. This may then lead to the straining of the relationship between the minority communities and the police officers; hence, the creation of conflict between both parties. The policing may also involve the criminal justice systems burdening the offenders with huge penalties and fines that they may fail to afford. The fines may lead them into engaging in serious crimes to enable them to raise funds required. Broken windows policing has also been associated with some tragedies where it led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014 in New York. Garner was engaging in the sale of untaxed, loose cigarettes in Staten Island when officers approached him at the street corner (Newman, 2014). The officers then pulled him to the ground by his neck after he resisted arrest where he suffered a cardiac arrest and died. Garner’s death led to increased campaigns by people against broken windows policing since the officers are involved in harassing and manhandling individuals, especially from the minority groups. The death was due to a tactical failure by the officers, but critics argue that the policing led to the failure. A New York officer accidentally shot dead Akai Gurley in Brooklyn in 2014. The officer responsible for the shooting was later charged in a court of law where he was placed under house arrest. According to reports from the NYPD, Gurley’s records indicated that he had 24 prior arrests; hence, the shooting being viewed by critics as over-policing since the victim was an African-American. This is an indication that that implementation of the policy in New York has generated more problems than solutions in the region. The strained relationship between officers and the minority groups has also negatively affected the officers since they have become targets. For instance, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos who are NYPD officers were murdered in December 2014 where the man who executed these deaths claimed to avenge the death of Garner.  David Thacher, a criminologist at the University of Michigan, argues that the policing has led to officers discriminating the minority communities since they are mostly involved in minor crimes; hence, viewed as a potential threat to conduct major offenses. Therefore, this has lead to the people suffering in the hands of the officers where the broken windows strategy can be attributed to this suffering. In this case, broken windows policing is viewed as a major challenge in the society where it generates more negative results than positive ones; hence, failing to serve the people.


Positive Transformation

The offenders of the small crimes are viewed to comprise of the young populations where the officers take them to correctional centers. The punishments experienced by the offenders enable them to identify at an early stage the implications of engaging in illegal behaviors. This realization is crucial since they can regulate their operations; hence, enabling them to make wise decisions in the future. Therefore, the policing ensures the offenders are transformed where they abandon their previous criminal lives.

Community Leadership

The implementation of broken windows policing enables the leaders and law enforcement agencies to focus on ensuring the communities are safe. This has led to the emergence of community leaders who are expected to cooperate with the officers to ensure the communities are free from crime. Therefore, this policing leads to the governments investing in local and community leaders to ensure they monitor the people and that they work with officers to promote their safety. This investment indicates the effective serving of the people by broken windows policing.


Violation of Rights

The police officers may violate the rights of the offenders during the arresting period. The violation may include harassment and brutality, especially on the minority communities. For instance, officers used the wrong tactics when arresting Eric Garner where the tactics led to his death. The officers may also use their power to harass innocent individuals with the aim of obtaining information from them. The rights of the officers may also be violated where the criminals or individuals acting on behalf of the criminals may attack them.

Crimes Disparity

Joshua Hinkle, a criminologist, argues against broken windows policing since its main ideology focuses on small or minor crimes. He wonders who in the policing gets to decide whether the case is minor or major since people’s perceptions regarding crimes may differ (Herbert, 2001). Crimes disparities may occur due to different demographic backgrounds, social environment, and life experiences. Therefore, broken windows policing is viewed to be ineffective due to its nature of limiting crimes; that is, it is only associated with minor offenses.


Broken windows policing is a crime prevention strategy as viewed in the study where it involves the managing of small crimes to prevent the occurrence of major crimes in the society. Two criminologists; that is, George Kelling and James Wilson developed the ideology in their article ‘The Atlantic.’ The measures in this strategy involve the police officers monitoring streets and communities to ensure the safety of the people and prevent disorderly illegal behaviors such as fights, drug abuse, public drinking, and public urination. This policy can be analyzed in two ways where one involves it being effective in serving the people where the other one involves it being ineffective.

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  1. Fagan, J., & Davies, G. (2000). Street Stops and Broken Windows: Terry, Race, and Disorder in New York City. Fordham Urb. LJ, 28, 457.
  2. Harcourt, B. E. (2009). Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing. Harvard University Press.
  3. Harcourt, B. E., & Ludwig, J. (2006). Broken Windows: New Evidence from New York City and A Five-City Social Experiment. The University of Chicago Law Review, 271-320.
  4. Herbert, S. (2001). Policing the Contemporary City: Fixing Broken Windows or Shoring up Neo-Liberalism?. Theoretical Criminology, 5(4), 445-466.
  5. Newman, A. (2014). The Death of Eric Garner, and the Events That Followed. New York Times. New York Times, 3.
  6. Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. L. (1982). The Police and Neighborhood Safety: Broken windows. Atlantic Monthly, 127(2).
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