Wilson & Kelling's "Broken Windows" Analysis - C Strayer
James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling
A study and analysis of urban police foot patrol
implementation to address public disorder and violent
Wilson & Kelling’s
Hypothesis heightened social
Concentrated community policing of perceived
disorder in impoverished urban areas would improve the residents’
perceptions of improved quality of life. As a consequence, by
maintaining order, more violent crimes would be prevented.
Wilson and Kelling seem to be responding to the idea of Durkheim’s
conception of anomie.
fixing broken windows + on-foot policing to prevent disorder=
maintenance of social norms
Durkheim’s work on anomie suggests that Wilson & Kelling should
expect that individuals’ behaviors and passions to be regulated by the
social norms provided in the environment, thereby prevent more
Philip Zombardo –experiments on vandalism
“vandalism can occur anywhere once communal barriers – the
sense of mutual regard and the obligation of civility – are
lowered by actions that seem to signal that ‘no one cares’” (p.31)
Premise that one of people’s greatest fears is being “bothered
by disorderly people” (p. 30) + conceptual framework that
individuals will conform to societally established norms, if
these norms are signaled within the environment.
Wilson & Kelling utilized first hand
observation, interviews, and surveys to collect data.
• Fear stems from confrontation with incivility, which
leads to avoidance thereby weakening social controls
• Differentiation of “regulars” from “strangers”
Regulars = “decent folk” or those “who knew their place
Strangers = foot patrolman’s jobs “to keep an eye on
strangers” to ensure widely understood rules were
“Persons who broke the informal rules, especially those
who bothered people *…} were arrested for vagrancy.
Noisy teenagers were told to keep quiet.” (p.30)
Key Concepts (cont.)
• Social norms of the environment were defined and
enforced collaboratively – police & “regulars”
“The people of Newark *…+ assign a high value to
public order, and feel relieved and reassured
when the police help them maintain that order”
• Within the community – disorder is perceived to be
sequentially linked to crime
“if a window in building is broken and is left
unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon
be broken*…+ “one unrepaired broken window is
a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more
windows costs nothing” (p. 31)
Conclusion: Police Central to
• “The essence of the police role is maintaining order is to reinforce the
informal control mechanisms of the community itself” (p. 34).
• “We must return to our long abandoned view that the police ought to
protect communities as well as individuals [and recognize] the
importance of maintaining, intact, communities without broken
windows” (p. 38).
Implications of Broken Window
• Extensive application by criminal justice departments in large urban
areas, such as New York City and Albuquerque
• Action research conducted in educational institutions and real estate
• Criticisms: promotes overly aggressive policing (zero tolerance)
(Sridhar), racial and economic biases (Sampson &
Raudenbush, 2004), potentially fallacious relations between correlation
and causality (Thacher, 2004).
Sampson, R. J., & Raudenbush, S. W. (2004). Seeing Disorder: Neighborhood Stigma and the
Social Construction of “Broken Windows”. Social Psychology Quarterly, 67(4), 319-342.
Sridhar, C.R. (13-19). "Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance: Policing Urban Crimes". Economic
and Political Weekly 41 (19): 1841–1843.
Thacher, David. (2004) "Order Maintenance Reconsidered”