What is Broken Windows Theory?
Awareness Crime

What is Broken Windows Theory?


According to Wilson and Kelling, if a window is broken and it remains unrepaired or fixed for a long period then it is likely that the rest of the windows in the building will eventually be broken as well. This is because human beings act according to the cues or signals they receive in an environment. Here people pick up the cue that nobody is trying to fix the broken window, hence they can break the windows without any consequences. Let us try to understand this concept more deeply. Reading this article you will learn; what is the background of this theory and how it works, its criticisms, and a takeaway for us as a society.

What is the Broken Windows Theory?

The broken window theory was proposed by Wilson and Kelling in the early 1980s. In criminology, this theory states that visible signs of criminal acts like graffiti, vandalism, petty crimes antisocial behavior, and social disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, along with a high possibility of serious crimes.

 The theory was first applied in New York City when it was witnessing rising crime rates during the 1990s. Under the leadership of Commissioner William Bratton, the police department implemented this theory by addressing minor offences like graffiti, vandalism, public urinating, littering, public drinking, etc. The goal was to prevent minor offences and maintain conduct in public so they would be able to prevent more serious crimes. Under this theory, they adopted the “zero tolerance policy”.

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This policy was part of a broad strategy to improve the quality of life in the society. The police officers had the authority to make arrests even for petty crimes and were encouraged to implement a proactive approach involving frequent patrols, especially in high-crime areas. Let us understand how the environment impacts our behaviour.

Criticisms of the Theory:

Some arguments suggest that focusing largely on vandalism and petty crimes can affect marginalized communities, Adding to that It oversimplifies the complex causes of crime by attributing it only to visible signs of disorder. Disregarding that crime is influenced by a wide array of socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental factors. Only addressing disorder may not contribute to lower crime rates effectively. It may also turn a blind eye toward the importance of contributing to social services and community development initiatives that address underlying issues such as poverty, homelessness, and mental health.

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Even though there were criticisms regarding this theory it is beneficial to understand how our behaviors are influenced by our environment. The physical environment can affect our behaviour in various ways:

  1. Social signals and cues:  Our environment provides us with cues and signals that indicate how we should act in that particular area. For eg: You might try your best to not litter if you visit a place where cleanliness is highly maintained. On the other hand, you might be a little carefree in a place that has litter on the road
  2.  Mood and emotions: The physical environment that we go to highly can impact our mood and emotions and therefore influence our behaviour. For example, being in a calm and relaxing setting brings us feelings of joy and optimism. A person with positive emotions is more likely to exhibit positive behaviours.
  3. Safety: The physical environment creates a sense of either safety or danger, which affects our behaviour. When people feel safe in society they tend to be more optimistic and eager to contribute towards their society. Along with understanding this, you should also learn how you as a responsible citizen can apply this theory to improve the society’s overall well-being and development. 

How to Create a Safe Society:

  1. Encourage inclusivity: Make it a point to respect each individual. Regardless of what background, class, caste, religion they come from, etc. Promoting and respecting diversity can create a more secure place for everyone to express their needs.
  1. Reducing the gap between the rich and the poor: The rising gap between the rich and the poor can lead to an increase in petty crimes. The government and us as a whole society should take steps towards reducing the gap.
  1. Increase your involvement: Rather than being a bystander, be a proactive participant in addressing safety and reporting any issues and disorders to the right authorities.
  1. Be active: You can contribute to addressing concerns regarding the safety and well-being of individuals by taking part in local community organizations, and volunteering. Try to maintain strong relations by fostering trust with your coworkers, neighbourhood, and other citizens.
Take Away

In today’s article, we learned about the concept of the broken window theory. As stated earlier even though there are criticisms about this theory, there are some concepts that one can implement and understand for world safety and empathy rather than increasing crime rates and misbehaviors.

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References +
  • Broken Windows Theory. (2020, December 9). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/basics/broken-windows-theory#what-is-the-broken-windows-theory
  • https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2471&context=journal_articles
  • Ruhl, C. (2024). Broken Windows Theory of Criminology. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/broken-windows-theory.html

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