Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

A Critical Analysis of the 'Broken Windows' Policing in New York City and Its Impact: Implications for the Criminal Justice System and the African American Community

Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

A Critical Analysis of the 'Broken Windows' Policing in New York City and Its Impact: Implications for the Criminal Justice System and the African American Community

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Broken Window theory of policing was popularized by the work of Wilson and Kelling (1982), which argued that when community disorder reaches a critical mass, it creates a more serious problem of crime and urban decay. Using the broken window analogy, the authors hypothesize that broken windows in a community depict signs of instability, decay, high crime rate and lack of order and social control. The consequence of this, they claim, is that the neighborhood attracts unlawful and criminal elements from other communities thereby creating a culture of lawlessness. The main notion of this policing strategy is that minor offenses can make way to more serious crimes if allowed to fester. That is, if minor offenders go unchecked, they may up the ante and indulge in more serious crimes. For example, leaving the front lawn unattended suggests to a potential burglar that the home owners are not home. The same logic will be said of not collecting mail from the mail-box or newspapers from the front-door. Under this situation, fear is elevated as perception of disorder increases, creating a social pattern that tears the social fabric of the neighborhood and thus leaves the residents with a feeling of hopelessness, disconnectedness and helplessness in what Emile Durkheim once called a state of "anomie". Hence, the need to "nip it in the bud" using aggressive policing tactics.

The challenge for law enforcement is to establish a more aggressive approach in crime fighting, such as the "broken windows" which brings about full control of communities by instituting prevention measures which are proactive, rather than simply responding in the traditional ways of reacting to calls. According to Kelling and Coles (1996), the "broken window approach is built on four pillars:

1. Putting police in close contact with those who are predisposed to commit crime

2. Projecting high police presence and visibility which has strong deterrence effect on potential criminal elements and perpetrators of crime

3. Enhancing the ability of citizens to take control of their neighborhoods thereby preventing crime

4. Promoting the cooperation of the police and community in fighting crime through an integrated approach.

The broken window policy was first instituted in New York City in 1990 by then Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, under the name "zero-tolerance" policing. In 1993, Mayor Rudy Giuliani chose William Bratton as Police Commissioner and implemented similar policy under a new name - Quality of life and Zero tolerance policing. The main focus of the police was petit crimes such as fare evasion on the subway, littering, graffiti, prostitution, public drinking, nudity in public, as opposed to more serious crimes. Many scholars such as Greene and Pranis (2007); Katz and Webb (2006) and Klein and Maxson (2006) believe that the catalysts for the aggressive policing were a combination of factors including the Reagan domestic policy agenda of the 1980s that deemphasized public assistance programs, and the hostility toward the failed war on poverty by the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration in the 1960s.

Over the years, many cities in the United States copied the New York "broken windows" model but under different names and acronyms, such as "rapid response", "get tough", "stop-and-frisk", "zero tolerance", quality of life", "order maintenance" policing etc. For example, in the late 1990s, Albuquerque, New Mexico introduced the "safe streets" program while Lowell, Massachusetts adopted the "hot spots" technique - all "get tough" policing strategies which strictly mimic the "broken windows" techniques.

Further, the broken windows strategy of policing echoed overseas with the publication of a famous study by Keizer, Lindenberg, and Steg (2008). The authors conducted series of controlled experiments to determine whether the effects of existing visible disorder as characterized by the broken window situations - graffiti, and litter behaviors increased other crimes such as theft. …

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