Simply stated the “Broken Windows” theory of crime prevention says fix the small problems, don’t ignore them, and the big problems will take care of themselves. When the window of a school or other building is broken through vandalism, unless that window is repaired right away it will spawn more vandalism in a downward spiral that can impact whole communities. This theory is often behind the so-called “zero tolerance” of petty crimes and “quality-of-life” crackdowns by political and law enforcement leaders in communities large and small.
In a recent speech, Dr. Kelling elaborated on current crime prevention measures and practices. For example, he cited the use of police in patrol cars rather than “walking a beat” as a practice that does a great job of responding to crime, but a less effective one of preventing the next crime. He also points out the differences in police response and resource application in a shooting that leaves a victim dead as opposed to one where a victim survives. In this example, the homicide case may receive the resources of 3 or 4 investigators, whereas a shooting where the victim survives receives, perhaps, 1 investigator. He says this underscores a reactive policy rather than a crime prevention policy. A shooting survivor may be the beneficiary of a skilled surgeon, a quick responding EMT, or the lousy aim of the shooter. A shooting that does no harm may get a report filed, but no investigation. Dr. Kelling holds that each of these incidents has similar weight in the crime prevention hierarchy, but receives inequitable attention from the police. He states that much of current police protocol is devoted to solving the case, not preventing the next crime.
One jurisdiction (Maryland) arrests the victims of shootings if they were 1) on parole or probation at the time of the shooting, and 2) can be shown to have been involved in criminal conduct (carrying drugs, possessing a handgun, committing a robbery) at the time of their shooting. The goal of this policy is to prevent future crimes and retaliatory shootings.
Is the “Broken Windows” theory showing its age or is it an effective modern tool for crime prevention? Post a comment below to be heard.