Broken Windows Works

Broken Windows policing receives credit—rightly—for being part of the crime turnaround that saved New York and other cities. The theory, originating with George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, argued that tolerating too much local disorder created a climate in which criminal behavior, including serious crimes, would become more likely, since criminals would sense that public norms and vigilance were weak. In practice, this meant that police should crack down on so-called low-level offenses. When the NYPD started doing this during the 1990s, aided by the Compstat crime-mapping and accountability system, it became clear that the low-level offenders were also often wanted for more serious felonies. In short, there was a continuity of bad behavior, just as Broken Windows suggested, and order-maintenance policing, as the Broken Windows approach is also called, reduced disorder and led to the apprehension of many serious criminals, helping reinvigorate formerly-troubled neighborhoods. The last quarter-century in New York offers a powerful case for the theory’s accuracy.


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