Print Сite this

Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility

Running Head

This research paper presents an empirical exploration of the merits and feasibility of the Broken Window Theory in a community with a particulate social background. The paper will present experimentations outcomes on the hypothesis that curtailing the proliferation of smaller crimes as held in the core of the focus theoretical and conceptual framework will indeed yield positive results inform reducing crime and inculcating a pro-peace societal culture in communities.

We will write a
custom essay
specifically for you

for only $16.05 $11/page
308 certified writers online
Learn More


The research exercise presented in this perhaps has been conducted to test the conceptual tenets of the broken Window Theory propounded by. The core hypothetical position of the research endeavor is based on the supposition that curbing and curtailing the spread of small crimes is vital for the entire crime-fighting stratagem. Sub hypotheses entail the implementation of small crime-fighting measures as outlined in the core research core theoretical framework will culminate in eh creation of a pro-peace social and societal culture. Experimentations were conducted to establish how subjects behave in a littered bus shelter. The manipulated variable was the condition of the shelter which was subject to subjects as either lean or littered to establish if the condition of the shelter had any direct and established impact on the conduct of the subjects. Results indicated that the frequency of littering is remarkably high in cases where subjects found the shelter littered while also showing the frequency of littering is significantly low when subjects find the shelter clear. The rationale of the testing design was to attest to the notion that minute negative forms of conduct have a ramifying impact. This has substantiated the core tenet of the broken window theory which holds that if uncontrolled; small crimes are likely to lead to more serious forms of crime.


Theoretical background

The Theory of The broken window has been developed from the insights and suppositions by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982 who asserted that efforts targeted at controlling minor disorders could help reduce more serious crime. White James Emery (2001) notes that over the past decades three key areas in the US which are Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles have embraced at least some tenet of the suppositions and theoretical positions of Kelling. This has been through the formulation and implementation of the minor misdemeanors laws.

The broken windows theory addresses the first puzzle of the neighborhood-effects literature in a straightforward and provocative way: it is the variation in disorder in neighborhoods that explains the variation in crime, holding structural disadvantage constant. The real trigger is disorderliness itself. The theory was familiar to sociologists because of its proximity to theories of urban decay and social contagion. Urban sociologists interpreted the broken windows hypothesis through the lens of urban decline: disorderliness, dilapidation, abandonment, and social disorder, such as prostitution, public intoxication, and drug use, reflected and reinforced, in a cyclical manner, declining property values, residential instability, and the gradual decay of the urban neighborhood. A closely related interpretation is suggested by Philip Cook and Kristin Goss’s review of the standard models of ‘social contagion’.

From this contagion perspective, the broken windows phenomenon reflects an information cascade: people with imperfect information about the risks and rewards of criminal activity may infer the net returns to crime from the social environment. Information limitations are at the heart of the information cascade model. Here, the potential criminals do not know the probability of being detected in a neighborhood, but the lack of enforcement of minor crime and disorder fills this void and signals low enforcement. The characteristics of the local physical environment, which are themselves the product of the accumulated series of behaviors of local residents, thus communicate the statistical likelihood of being apprehended. They are a signaling mechanism that feeds into the calculus of whether to commit a crime. “This “contagion” interpretation offers a straightforward explanation of broken windows familiar to most sociologists and economists” (Hier, 2007).

As to the second puzzle concerning the public policy prescriptions. Wilson and Kelling’s original Broken Windows essay itself did not compel a particular policy outcome. From a policy perspective, the broken windows hypothesis is, in principle, consistent with a variety of potential policy levers, ranging from changes in policing to community organizing. Nevertheless, most policymakers seem to have understood the theory as implying what has come to be known as “broken windows policing” also known as “order-maintenance,” “zero-tolerance,” or “quality-of-life” policing. So for instance, in their 2001 study, George Kelling and William Sousa suggest that the most effective way to address disorder and reduce crime is to increase the number of misdemeanor arrests (Feldman, 2006).

“When Wilson and Kelling proposed the theory of broken windows in the early 1980s many academic researchers were skeptical about the ability of police activities to reduce crime” (White, 2005). Since that time, a new body of empirical literature has, in my view convincingly, demonstrated that increased police spending does indeed reduce crime and that targeting police resources against the highest-crime “hot spots” can also help prevent criminal activity. The key scientific and policy question behind the Kelling analysis is thus whether asking police to focus on minor disorder crimes, as in broken windows policing, yields more pronounced reductions in violent crime than does having police focus on violent crimes directly. The analysis provides no empirical evidence to support the view that shifting police towards minor disorder offenses would improve the efficiency of police spending and reduce violent crime.

Get your
100% original paper
on any topic

done in as little as
3 hours
Learn More

Literature Review

According to Wilson and Kelling, the same holds true for neighborhoods and crime. Just as broken windows invite rocks, and dirty sinks get more dishes, so too certain characteristics of neighborhoods attract and promote crime. A neighborhood that is riddled with vandalism, litter, abandoned buildings, and cars signals that no one is taking care of the neighborhood. “A neighborhood that has lots of petty crime, such as public drunkenness, pickpockets, traffic violations, this signals that crime is accepted” (Levine, 2005). In both cases, the neighborhood is sending out a signal that crime is tolerated if not outright accepted. This encourages crime among residents of the neighborhood and it attracts criminals from other neighborhoods as well.

The importance of this theory is its implications for crime prevention. The way to cut down on crime in a given location, according to the broken window theory, is to change its physical and social characteristics. This can be done by repairing buildings, sidewalks, and roads, and fixing anything that makes a neighborhood look run down. It also means enforcing the law for even the smallest infractions. “Police should ticket and/or arrest people for things as small as jaywalking, illegal panhandling, and public disorder. The logic is that by cracking down on small problems, the police are preventing more serious crimes” (Murray, 2002).

Theory of Broken Windows Does Work

The best-known application of broken windows theory occurred in New York City, and depending on who you talk to, it was a smashing success in preventing crime, an irrelevant policy, or an invasion of individuals’ rights. In 1993, Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City-based on his “get tough on crime” platform. “He hired William Bratton as the police chief. Bratton, who was heavily influenced by George Kelling, applied the principles of broken windows theory” (Murray, 2002). Bratton initiated a program of zero-tolerance in which the NYPD cracked down on all sorts of minor infractions, including subway fare dodging, public drinking, urinating in public, and even the squeegee men (people who would wipe the windows of stopped cars and demand payment). “A friend of mine who lived in New York City at that time even saw police telling people they could not sit on milk crates on the sidewalk apparently that was against the law as well” (Short, 2006).

Almost immediately rates of both petty and serious crimes dropped substantially. In the first year alone, “murders were down 19% and car thefts fell by 15%, and crime continued to drop every year for the following ten years” (Short, 2006). So, was this application of broken windows an unqualified success? Some critics say no.

In the same time period, crime dropped significantly in other major cities around the country, cities that had not adopted a broken windows policy. Crime dropped nationwide in the 1990s, and various reasons have been given for this overall crime drop. The crack epidemic of the 1980s was subsiding, and there were fewer people in the 15 to 25 year age group, which accounts for so much crime. As such, the declines seen in New York City did not result from new police policies but rather they would have happened anyway. “Other critics argue that regardless of the effectiveness of broken windows, it was too costly in terms of individual rights” (Levine, 2005). They claim that the police, emboldened by the mandate to enforce even the smallest of laws, frequently crossed over into harassment of individuals, especially racial minorities and the poor. The application of broken windows, with its zeal for reducing crime, produced unacceptable police behavior. Nonetheless, the results in New York City were sufficiently interesting that various police departments around the country have adopted principles of broken windows theory.

The writing’s on the wall

A Place that is covered in graffiti and festooned with rubbish makes people feel uneasy and with good reason, according to a group of researchers in the Netherlands. Keizer and his colleagues at the University of Groningen deliberately created such settings as a part of a series of experiments designed to discover if signs of vandalism, litter, and low-level lawbreaking could change the way people behave. They found that they could, by a lot: doubling the numbers who are prepared to litter and steal.

Dr. Kelling’s theory takes its name from the observation that a few broken windows in an empty building quickly lead to more smashed panes, more vandalism, and eventually to break-ins. The tendency for people to behave in a particular way can be strengthened or weakened depending on what they observe others be doing. This does not necessarily mean that people will copy bad behavior exactly; reaching for a spray can when they see graffiti. “Rather, says Dr. Keizer, it can foster the “violation” of other norms of behavior. It was this effect that his experiments, which have just been published in Science, set out to test” (Feldman, 2006).

We will write a custom
for you!
Get your first paper with
15% OFF
Learn More

His group’s first study was conducted in an alley that is frequently used to park bicycles. As in all of their experiments, the researchers created two conditions: one of order and the other of disorder. In the former, the walls of the alley were freshly painted; in the latter, they were tagged with graffiti (but not elaborately, to avoid the perception that it might be art). In both states, a large sign prohibiting graffiti was put up, so that it would not be missed by anyone who came to collect a bicycle. All the bikes then had a flyer promoting a non-existent sports shop attached to their handlebars. This needed to be removed before a bicycle could be ridden.

When owners returned, their behavior was secretly observed. There were no rubbish bins in the alley, so a cyclist had three choices. He could take the flyer with him, hang it on another bicycle (which the researchers counted as littering) or throw it to the floor. “When the alley contained graffiti, 69% of the riders littered compared with 33% when the walls were clean” (Feldman, 2006). To remove one possible bias that litter encourages more litter, the researchers inconspicuously picked up each castaway flyer. Nor, they say, could the effect be explained by litterers assuming that because the spraying of graffiti had not been prevented, it was also unlikely that they would be caught. Littering, Dr. Keizer observes, is generally tolerated by the police in Groningen.

The other experiments were carried out in a similar way. In one, a temporary fence was used to close off a shortcut to a car park, except for a narrow gap. Two signs were erected, one telling people there was no throughway and the other saying that bicycles must not be left locked to the fence. In the “order” condition (with four bicycles parked nearby, but not locked to the fence) 27% of people were prepared to trespass by stepping through the gap, whereas in the disorder condition (with the four bikes locked to the fence, in violation of the sign) 82% took the short cut.

Nor were the effects limited to visual observation of petty criminal behavior. It is against the law to let off fireworks in the Netherlands for several weeks before New Year’s Eve. So two weeks before the festival the researchers randomly let off firecrackers near a bicycle shed at the main railway station and watched what happened using their flyer technique. “With no fireworks, 48% of people took the flyers with them when they collected their bikes. With fireworks, this fell to 20%” (Levine, 2005).

The most dramatic result, though, was the one that showed a doubling in the number of people who were prepared to steal in a condition or disorder. In this case, an envelope with a €5 ($6) note inside (and the note clearly visible through the address window) was left sticking out of a post box. In a condition of order, 13% of those passing took the envelope (instead of leaving it or pushing it into the box). But if the post box was covered in graffiti, 27% did. Even if the post box had no graffiti on it, but the area around it was littered with paper, orange peels, cigarette butts, and empty cans, 25% still took the envelope. “The researchers’ conclusion is that one example of disorder, like graffiti or littering, can indeed encourage another, like stealing. Dr. Kelling was right. The message for policymakers and police officers is that clearing up graffiti or littering promptly could help fight the spread of crime” (Legates, 2003).

The Sociologic Context

There is a long tradition within socio-legal research of studying visual cues of neighborhood disorder and exploring the relationship between those neighborhood characteristics and deviance. Prompted by a recurring observation of dramatic variations in crime rates across neighborhoods, the tradition grew over decades of research taking seriously the idea that there may be “neighborhood effects” on the production of crime. That is, arrangements in social space may significantly affect human behavior. This research tradition traces importantly to the early Chicago School of sociology – the monographs on neighborhoods and spatial settings, the Jewish ghetto, the Italian “slum,” the Near Northside of Chicago, taxi-dance halls, and brothels and to the later social inter-actionist research of Erving Goff man, especially his study Behavior in Public Places, and others such as Albert Cohen and Jane Jacobs.

One of the most striking findings from the neighborhood effects research comes from the dramatic differences across neighborhoods in rates of crime and delinquency even across neighborhoods with similar concentrations of social disadvantage as measured by average rates of poverty, unemployment, familial and residential instability, and dependence on government benefit programs. Robert Sampson and “Stephen Raudenbush traces the rich intellectual history and the variations over time in neighborhood-effects research in their thorough paper, Systematic Social Observation of Public Spaces” (Greenberg, 2007).

A consideration of the research in this area suggests two lasting puzzles. “The first puzzle focuses on locating sources of variation in crime across neighborhoods and identifies two leading candidates” (Greenberg, 2007). First, differences across areas in crime rates could be due to unobservable individual characteristics related to the residents of the neighborhood, raising the possibility of self-selection on the part of the individuals. Put differently, some neighborhoods may have more crime because they are home to a larger share of crime-prone people, although all of the individual attributes that predispose some people to engage in criminal activity are difficult to measure in social science datasets. A second explanation is that variation across areas in crime rates may be due to differences in social processes and conditions across neighborhoods, including disorderliness or informal mechanisms of social control. The notion of social disorganization pioneered by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay represented one effort to locate the answer to this first puzzle, at least in part, in mechanisms of informal social control and collective action – in identifying an agency of social control that could be disrupted by residential mobility and economic conditions. Sampson, Raudenbush, and Fenton Earls’s Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) research represent another answer focused on informal social processes, more specifically on the notion of “collective efficacy,” which they define as “the linkage of cohesion and mutual trust with shared expectations for intervening in support of neighborhood social control” (Greenberg, 2007).

Need a
100% original paper
written from scratch

by professional
specifically for you?
308 certified writers online
Learn More

A second puzzle focuses on the issue of remedies (Greenberg, 2007). Even if the neighborhood-effects research suggests a causal relationship between, on the one hand, identifiable social processes or neighborhood characteristics and, on the other hand, crime, does the causal explanation offer insight into what can be done to change things in a public policy sense. In this regard, the sociological theories have been relatively quiet, reflecting a general hesitation to move from the positive to the prescriptive.

Research hypotheses

From the conceptual corpus of the foregoing components that have outlined the merits and demerits as well as other attributes and dynamics of the Broken Window Theory, the Broken Window Theory can be tested to establish if the model is by any established thrusts feasible in combating crime and in societies. The Sub-hypothesis leveraged on the core supposition is that the appropriated application theory in societal crime-fighting stratagems will contribute significantly to the creation of more peaceful societies. These variables will be tested in an experimentation simulation which will entail the test methodologies, outcomes, and the discussion of outcomes and their implications.


To meaningfully frame the ideological, theoretical, and conceptual platform for the research into the impact of the production of impact and the feasibility of the broken window theory the researcher to consider research models that will enable the researcher to bring a considerable proportion amount of research detail into perspective. The research thrust will adopt the two salient research theoretical frameworks, the positivist and non-positivist research paradigms. (Barker E: 2003) contends that the positivist theory entails the economic, behavioral, cognitive, motivational/trait/attitudinal, and situational viewpoints. According to the scholar the viewpoints are treated as the conventional perceptions as they came before the crafting of the non-positivist model.

In the views of the scholar, the positivist model which is still the principal framework reinforces the superiority of human reason and stresses that there is one objective reality that can be unearthed by scientific means. As such this design renders the world as an ordered and coherent environment with a well-defined past, present, and future. The tenets of the theory are clearly underpinned by the suppositions of rationalism.

On the other end, the contrasting non-positivist model holds the interpretive and post-modern viewpoints. Tenets of this model entail that the world is the view as s composite social and cultural world contrary to the viewpoints of the positivist paradigm which holds the world in a rationality view that supposes a homogenous social fabric.

Leveraging on the theoretical and principal tenets of largely, non-positivist research theory, this research exercise will provide new perspectives, findings, and insights that will assist in the exploration of the dynamics that characterize their relational link between corn prices (food prices) and the production of corn-based ethanol.

Owing to its merits and scientific thrust in treating quantitative aspects of phenomena quantitative research is widely used in both the natural sciences and social sciences. The employment of the research paradigm spans various disciplines such as physics and biology to sociology and journalism. “It is also used as a way to research different aspects of education. The term quantitative research is most often used in the social sciences in contrast to qualitative research.” Thomas Kuhn (Optic)

Below is an overview of quantitative research presented by Thomas Kuhn (Optic). According to the source quantitative research is generally approached using scientific methods, which include:

  • The creation of frameworks, theories, and hypotheses
  • The generation and development of tools and systems for measurement
  • Experimental regulation and manipulation of research variables
  • Gathering of empirical data
  • Organization and analysis of data
  • Evaluation of collected results

Scholars cited above state that quantitative research is often an iterative systematic process whereby gathered evidence is evaluated, theories and hypotheses tested and some formulated.

Secondary data

The research endeavor will also augment the primary data gathering and evaluations by conducting a secondary data gathering and evaluation thrust. Secondary data gathering draws much from published literature on the subject directly under the concept and scope focus of the research endeavor.

According to Stewart and Kamins (1993), the use of secondary data is advantageous for a researcher since one can already evaluate the suitability of data as it is already in existence, thus, much time can be saved. Before delving into secondary sources of data, an evaluation of potential secondary data is essential as a way of screening resources to establish the relevant sources of information which will provide relevant data germane to fulfilling research scope and objectives. Secondary data will be in form of the nuances drawn from the relevant literature review presented in the preceding sections of this paper.

The testing design is tailored to establish how many times a bus stop shelter will be littered out of the presence of 100 subjects. What is being tested here is the supposition that the number of people who will litter the shelter will be more when the subjects find the shelter already littered than when subjects find the shelter without any litter. The testing for the shelter condition variable will entail the leaning up of the shelter every time gets littered so that the conduct of subjects can be differentiated and evaluated.


The quantitative research thrust will make use of randomly selected subjects (males and females) to carry the research aimed at establishing whether the curtailing and curbing of curtailing of small crimes do have an impact on the eradication of more serious crimes forms. It is also important to mention that subjects were of different age ranges from teenage to adult.


The results have shown that when the bus stop shelter was littered 76% of the subjects dropped some litter around the shelter. The figure is against the comparatively low mark of 37% littering instances when the subjects found the shelter clean.

It is notable that when the shelter was littered 24 subjects did drop any litter, also when the shelter was clean 63% of the subject did not drop any litter.


It is apparent from the results of the experimentations that the broken window theory holds water.

James Q Wilson and George Kelling probably did not expect to trigger a massive policy shift of colossal socio-political consequences when they wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly in 1982 entitled ‘Broken windows: the police and neighborhood safety. When asked in January 2004 whether the broken windows theory had ever been empirically verified, James Q. Wilson reportedly told the New York Times: “People have not understood that this was a speculation” (Greenberg, 2007). The theory was not based on empirical data, Wilson emphasized. “We made an assumption that a deteriorating quality of life caused the crime rate to go up” (Gladwell, 2002). As to whether that assumption is right, Wilson stated: “I still to this day do not know if improving order will or will not reduce crime” (Greenberg, 2007). As Wilson noted in a different interview, “God knows what the truth is. ” Yet understanding the ability of a broken windows policy to affect disorder and crime is important for both legal and scientific purposes. The notion that broken windows policing might reduce crime is plausible because many of the behavioral mechanisms underlying this policing strategy are at least in principle consistent with existing models of social contagion.


  1. Leonard C. “Citizens Without Shelter: Homelessness, Democracy, And Political Exclusion”, Cornell University Press (2006), ISBN: 100801472903
  2. Gladwell, Malcolm “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”, Back Bay Books (2002). ISBN: 100316346624
  3. Hier, Sean and Greenberg, Joshua “The Surveillance Studies Reader”, Open University Press (2007), ISBN: 100335220266
  4. Legates, R. “The City Reader”, Routledge (2003), ISBN: 139780415271721
  5. Levine, Michael “Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards”, Business Plus (2005), ISBN: 100446576786
  6. Murray, James T. and Marla “Broken Windows: Graffiti NYC”, Gingko Press (2002), ISBN: 101584230789
  7. Short, John Rennie “Urban Theory: A Critical Assessment”, Palgrave Macmillan (2006), ISBN: 101403906599
  8. White, James Emery “Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day”, InterVarsity Press (2005), ISBN: 100830833803

Cite this paper

Select style


StudyCorgi. (2022, March 23). Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2022, March 23). Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility.

Work Cited

"Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility." StudyCorgi, 23 Mar. 2022,

* Hyperlink the URL after pasting it to your document

1. StudyCorgi. "Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility." March 23, 2022.


StudyCorgi. "Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility." March 23, 2022.


StudyCorgi. 2022. "Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility." March 23, 2022.


StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Broken Window Theory: An Empirical Exploration of the Merits and Feasibility'. 23 March.

This paper was written and submitted to our database by a student to assist your with your own studies. You are free to use it to write your own assignment, however you must reference it properly.

If you are the original creator of this paper and no longer wish to have it published on StudyCorgi, request the removal.