Broken Windows Theory

There is this theory I’ve been more than a little obsessed with called the Broken Windows Theory. Some of you might have heard of it if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point or if you are familiar with the approach used by former Mayor of New York City, Rudy Guiliani, back in the early nineties to successfully clean up the city and reduce crime and disorder.

In a nut shell, the theory, developed by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, suggests that when we ignore smaller infractions like littering, loitering, and graffiti, for example, then we make it easier for bigger social problems to flourish like drug dealing, theft, and violence. Imagine a building with a broken window. If it is left unrepaired and the grounds are left unkempt,  then it sends a signal that no one cares and makes it easier for miscreants to smash more windows. Then it seems fine to litter and loiter in the area. Next, there’s urinating on the pavement and drug dealing and so on.

Get the picture?

Unfortunately, those who know and want better and who don’t care for such antisocial behaviour begin to retreat and don’t wish to get involved and register their disapproval out of fear of retaliation from the offenders. They avoid the area and don’t walk along those streets (much like those in Bermuda who avoid Court Street) which only allows offenders to feel free to continue with with their antisocial behaviour undeterred. This all helps to create a general sense of apathy in the community as crime escalates and disorder rules the day.

Back in the early nineties, when New York’s Giuliani and his team of city officials took the Broken Windows Theory approach to cleaning up the city, they aggressively targeted the turn-style jumpers at train stations, loiterers, prostitutes, and got rid of graffiti. Streets were kept clean, graffitti was removed within 24 hours of it appearing, and there was a zero-tolerance approach to law-breaking – no matter how minor. It seemed to work as NYC became a cleaner and safer city with crime rates dropping significantly over the years.

In Bermuda, since people are looking for solutions to end the disturbing trend of violent crime it might not be a bad idea to take a page out of Giuliani’s book and apply the Broken Windows Theory to policing on the island. Certainly, recent news of the government’s plans to tackle crime is encouraging. However, in addition to the raft of measures announced in the press over the past few days, we need to recognise it will take a community effort to support these initiatives. Yes, the government can take the lead with the necessary plans they have outlined, but in Bermuda we need to raise our standards, hold each other accountable, and be serious about enforcing zero-tolerance policies against antisocial behaviour. Our livelihood, safety, and comfort rest on it.

Let’s fix those broken windows…


~ by Carol-Ann Simmons on August 24, 2008.

One Response to “Broken Windows Theory”

  1. […] latest graffiti problem has reminded me that it’s time to revisit the good ol’ Broken Windows Theory that I’ve mentioned on this blog AGES […]

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