Wilson and Kelling’s article “Broken Windows” is an interesting take on crime prevention and the psychology surrounding it. There take on crime prevention’s strays from the idea of police allocation based on crime rate and the use of foot patrol versus the use of squad car patrol. The thesis offered by Wilson and Kelling in the article “Broken Windows” is that “we must return to our long-abandoned view that the police ought to protect communities as well as individuals” (Wilson 15).
Wilson and Kelling offer many suggestions on how to prevent crime and how to deal with it when it happens. Their analogy using broken windows is a good example of a way to prevent crime. “The sense of mutual regard and the obligations of civility are lowered by actions that seem to signal that no one cares” (Wilson 6). They determine that if it appears as though no one cares then crime similar in nature will occurs much more frequently and to a greater extent. An example of that idea evolving graffiti was illustrated in the article,
“The proliferation of graffiti, even when not obscene, confronts the subway rider with the ‘inescapable knowledge that the environment he must endure for an hour or more a day is uncontrolled and uncontrollable, and that anyone can invade it to do whatever damage and mischief the mind suggests”” (Wilson 7).
The graffiti, in this case, is not dangerous or even necessarily offensive. What remains is the feeling that this is untamed area and subject to those who do not obey the law. This is not a violent crime, nor does it cause anyone direct harm. However, Wilson and Kelling maintain that this is only the beginning or a gateway to more serious and daunting crime. Wilson and Kelling draw the same conclusion about the street panhandler. If they are not dealt with, more serious criminals like muggers and robbers believe they have a better chance getting away with crime in an area where potential victims are being bothered and annoyed by a beggar.
Another suggestion made by the authors is that foot patrol officers have many advantages over that of a patrol car. It was their contention that a policeman on foot may not be as mobile or be able to be reached as easily, but a police officer on foot made those around him or her more comfortable and at ease then one in a car. “The door and the window exclude the approaching citizen; they are a barrier” (Wilson 9). While in a car the police officer looks more menacing, especially to a group of youths. Instead of approaching the youth and his friends at a personal level the cop instead rolls down his window. Wilson and Kelling claim that this action also effects the way they speak to potential “troublemakers”.
Instead of speaking on even terms, they often take too much of an authoritative tone and cause negative reactions by those who are intimidated. “Some officers take advantage of this barrier, perhaps unconsciously, by acting differently than they would on foot” (Wilson 9). This action also separates officers with everyday citizens and possible informants. They claim that it is harder and less natural to talk to an officer in a squad car. “You approach a person on foot more easily, and talk to him more readily than you do a person in a car” (Wilson 9). In Wilson and Kelling’s opinion, foot patrol may not reduce crime rates, but will instead cause police officers to become more familiar with their surroundings. The neighborhood will also be more willing to accept law enforcement and more likely to side with officers as informants.
A quite interesting idea Wilson and Kelling also suggest as a way to reduce crime in residential areas, is the placement of police officers in buildings as residents where crime is known to often occur. They claim that the presence of officers in these residential areas will work in the same way as foot patrol does on the outside. “…the officer likes the additional income, and the residents feel safer” (Wilson 15).