Literature Review: Broken Window Theory

The Broken windows theory has become very popular in the late 20th century. This theory holds the premise that city environment may have a considerable influence on the crime rate. In this regard, many specialists (Harcourt, 2001) point out that the environment has a considerable impact on the individual. On the other hand, opponents of the Broken window theory (Deflem, 2006) are quite skeptical about the theory and the premise that physical environment can influence criminal behavior of individuals. Instead, they (Hayward, 2004) argue that the Broken window theory ignores real causes of crimes, such as socioeconomic factors, for instance. Nevertheless, proponents of the theory (Deflem, 2006) insist that individuals cannot avoid the impact of their physical environment to the extent that disordered environment can provoke crimes.

In fact, specialists (Harcourt, 2001) agree that the core of the Broken window theory is the idea that the state and the urban environment may affect crime. At this point, developers of the theory (Siegel, 2003) distinguished three factors affect crime: social norms and conformity, the presence or lack of routine monitoring, social signaling and signal crime. This means that the state and the urban environment is vulnerable to the impact of these three factors. Social norms and conformity implied the existence of a set of social norms in the specific area and the desire of an individual to adapt to these norms to be a part of the community. The presence or lack of routine monitoring is an important factor because monitoring makes individuals aware of the risk of being caught, when they commit crime or after the crime is committed. Finally, social signaling and signal crime implies that an individual can commit a crime, when he/she receives certain signals from his//her environment.

Therefore, supporters of the Broken window theory (Reiner, 2007) argue that, if an individual is in a new, unfamiliar environment, an ordered and clean environment sends a signal that the environment is monitored and, therefore, the criminal behavior will not be tolerated. In contrast, a disordered environment sends a signal that the environment is not monitored, and, therefore, individuals may commit crime. This means that, in the first case, an individual receives positive signals from the society and he/she believes that the area is monitored and under the control. Therefore, the individual prefers to avoid committing a crime. In the second case, an individual observes disorder in the environment that just provokes him/her to commit a crime because the individual believes that the environment is not monitored. Therefore, he/she will not be caught or punished.

In fact, experiments in New York subway and Albuquerque roadways proved the righteousness of the theory because crime rates dropped in the 1990s in these cities, when elements of the Broken window theory were implemented there. The elimination of graffiti and focus on the creation of clean and ordered environment in subways of New York and roadways of Albuquerque contributed to the drop of crime rates in these cities (Felson, 1994).

However, many other cities of the US also faced a decline in crime rates in that time. Therefore, assumptions of proponents of the theory (Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990) concerning its effectiveness may be challenged. In addition, the Broken window theory relates correlation with causality that may lead to fallacy (Skogan, 1990).

Moreover, proponents (Felson, 1004) of the Broken window theory insisted on the low police interference but the low police interference may provoke chaos and rise of crime rates. Obviously, the low police interference increases risks and basically makes the environment non-monitored that may provoke crimes even according to the Broken window theory. Hence, the controversy of the Broken window theory makes the theory a subject to severe criticism.


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