The Importance of the Broken Windows Theory and Community Based Policing in Our Modern Society

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The idea of community based policing and the broken windows theory go hand in hand in this new era of policing. Robert C. Trojanowicz, an early visionary who helped define the community policing movement, described community policing as “… a philosophy of full-service, personalized policing where the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, working in a proactive partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems” (Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux, 1994, 1). This helps promote mutual trust and cooperation between the community and the police officers, at the same time it helps empower neighborhoods in danger of being overwhelmed by crime, drugs, and the general fear of crime.

The broken windows theory, a hypothesis created by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982, determined that if it appears as through no one cares then crime similar in nature will occur much more frequently and to a greater extent. In their article, Wilson and Kelling said “the sense of mutual regard and the obligations of civility are lowered by actions that seem to signal that no one cares” (Wilson and Kelling, 1982, 15). In this paper, I will describe how Wilson and Kelling’s theory has brought about a whole different way of thinking about how we police our communities and how community based policing puts their theory into action.

The thesis offered by Wilson and Kelling is that “we must return to our long- abandoned view that the police ought to protect communities as well as individuals” (Wilson and Kelling, 1982, 15). This view was probably lost during the reform era of government, which started in the 1900’s to combat corruption, along with the move towards the professional image of police work, resulted in the separation of police and community (Kelling and Moore, 5). Instead of the police reacting to crime after the fact, they should try and protect the community and the citizens that live there by attempting to figure out a way of preventing the crimes from occurring. This is basically what the broken windows theory is calling for.

The basis of the article’s title “Broken Windows”, is that if a window is broken in a building and not taken care of, more will appear. They also use an example of evolving graffiti to illustrate this. They said, “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 and Kelling, 1982, 7). The graffiti, in this case, is not dangerous or even necessarily offensive. However, what remains is the feeling that this is a dangerous area and subject to those who do not obey the law.

The spray painting of graffiti is not a violent crime, nor does it really affect the normal citizen, but Wilson and Kelling suggest that this is only a gateway to more serious crimes. Another example used in the article dealt with the vandalism of a car. This example was based on an experiment done by Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, who in 1969 conducted an experiment that tested the broken windows theory.

He arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with its hood up on a street in the Bronx and a comparable automobile on a street in Palo Alto, California. The car in the Bronx was attacked by “vandals” within ten minutes of its “abandonment.” The first to arrive were a family – father, mother, and young son who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours, virtually everything of value had been removed. Then random destruction began windows were smashed, parts torn off, the upholstery ripped. Children began to use the car as a playground. Most of the adult “vandals” were well-dressed, apparently clean-cut whites.


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The Importance of the Broken Windows Theory and Community Based Policing in Our Modern Society. (2023, May 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-importance-of-the-broken-windows-theory-and-community-based-policing-in-our-modern-society/

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