Broken Windows Policing

Segment Three:

Broken Windows Policing

An Introduction




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Broken windows policing is based upon a commonsensical premise that might be summarized as follows. If a community cracks down on quality of life offenses - rowdiness, loitering, panhandling - in a timely manner, it can prevent them from spiraling into serious criminality. In other words, deal with the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.

Broken windows policing is also touted for being able to produce results at minimal costs. It does not require the establishment of expensive social programs. Rather, it is carried out by police officers who are already on the  force. These articles provide some details about this strategy.

Articles About Broken

Windows Policing

Arnade, Chris. "Bringing Broken-Windows Policing to Wall Street." theatlantic, 7 July, 2015. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Beck, Charlie and Connie Rice. "How Community Policing Can Work." nytimes, 12 August, 2016. Accessed 1 Jan., 2018.

Donald, Heather Mac. "'Broken Windows Policing Does Work.”
nationalreview, 8 June, 2015. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Friedersdorf, Conor. "Applying 'Broken Windows' to the Police." theatlantic, Dec, 2014. Accessed July 13, 2017.

Kelling, George, "Don't Blame My ‘Broken Windows' Theory for Poor Policing." politico . Accessed 13, 2017.

Kirchner, Lawrence."Breaking Down Broken Windows Theory." psmag,7 Jan., 2014. Accessed 13 July, 2017.

This article contains an intriguing statement "disorder does not cause crime; rather, disorder and crime co-exist, and are both caused by the same social and economic factors." That assertion indicates that crime will not decline to any discernible degree until the underlying (social/ economic) challenges that create unrest are mediated, possibly through social programs.

McKee, Adam J. "Broken windows theory." britannica . Accessed 13 July, 2017. 

Murray, David W. and John P. Walters. "'Broken Windows' policing is not broken." foxnews, 5 June, 2015. Accessed 13 July 2017.

Peters, Justin. "Loose Cigarettes Today, Civil Unrest Tomorrow." slate, 5 Dec., 2014. . Accessed 13 July, 2017. 

This article maintains that broken windows has a racist aspect (origin) that virtually cannot be overlooked. 

Wilson, James Q. and George L. Kelling. "Broken Windows." manhattan-institute . Accessed 13 July, 2017. 

This article introduced the concept of broken windows policing to the public. 

Philip Zimbardo. "The Lucifer Effect." sociologyindex, Accessed 13 July, 2017.

In this article Philip Zimbardo talks about an experiment he conducted. He placed abandoned cars in two separate locations: the Bronx (NYC); Palo Alto, California, near the Stanford campus. In the first location, a rough community, the vehicle was almost immediately ransacked.

However, something quite different was conducted in Palo Alto, a very upscale neighborhood. The vehicle was left virtually untouched until he and others broke its windows. At that point, it was completely demolished by residents/ passers-by. His work supports the basic concepts of broken windows policing – if they are left unrepaired broken windows become an invitation to commit serious mayhem virtually anywhere.

What Opponents View as Being the Shortcomings of Broken Windows Policing

Proponents of broken windows policing praise its ability to safeguard communities by eliminating even the appearance of danger/ disarray. But it also has its share of sharp critics who claim, among other things, that it fails to curtail all forms of criminal activity and can end up harming individuals whom it targets. Here are some points these observers have made:


It has been estimated that cybercrime will cost businesses and individuals $2 trillion by 2019, extracting a very heavy toll. Broken windows policing would not be able to prevent these offenses from occurring. It is not designed to do that, being targeted most specifically towards street crime.

Only applies to one neighborhood

Even if broken windows policing does bring down crime rates in a neighborhood that does not necessarily mean it has prevented offenses from being committed elsewhere. It simply means that particular area may have become “safer.” 

Difference between crime rates as they are experienced in a community and reported crime rates

Official crime statistics are not necessarily an accurate accounting of the crimes that are committed in an area; they only represent the offenses that are reported to the authorities. So, these statistics do not always measure the effectiveness of broken windows policing – or, of any other policing strategy for that matter. 


An inner city community might be considered undesirable, as people point to its deteriorating buildings and its high crime rate. Nothing, however, stays the same forever and a decaying neighborhood is no exception to that general rule.

For any number of reasons, more affluent people might begin moving into it, a transformation known, as gentrification. As this process takes hold, housing values in that community might skyrocket. The original residents might be priced out of their homes.

These (more affluent) individuals might begin setting high standards for the neighborhood they now call home; they might expect it to present a pretty face to the world. At that point, broken windows policing might be brought into play as city officials attempt to ensure this community maintains an appealing ambience, attracting ever increasing numbers of families with cash to spend. In criticizing broken windows policing, some observers have pointed to this link between it and gentrification.

Gentrification has been particularly impactful in Brooklyn where brownstones regularly sell for millions of dollars. This rant by film maker Spike Lee expresses his dismay at the transformation of the borough which he calls home.

It should be noted, however, that not everybody views gentrification as being a negative thing that works strongly to the detriment of less affluent individuals. They maintain that it can make a neighborhood more vibrant and strengthen a city’s tax base by boosting the value of its housing stock.

Power Issues

When broken windows policing comes into play, this strong message is being delivered: If you want to spend time in my neighborhood, you better bring your behavior up to my standards. As that warning is voiced, some people feel that they are being prohibited from doing things – playing loud music, hanging out on street corners – that others might find annoying but are not directly harming anybody.


Suspicions seemingly lie at the heart of broken windows policing.  Somebody might be arrested for committing a quality of life offense because the police suspect they will eventually cause more serious disruptions if they are not apprehended.  This arrest might result in their ending up with a criminal record, a black mark that could impede their future employment possibilities.

 Broken Windows in New York City


NYC Subway 70s 


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Broken windows policing has proved highly contentious throughout the entire country. The controversies that it has stirred in NYC have, however, been particularly strong. Observers with an activist bent have accused the police in that city of stopping and frisking people who were not necessarily guilty of anything other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And taking their comments a step further, they have claimed that serious problems have befallen people who found themselves on the losing side of these encounters. These individuals, most typically young minority group men, have ended up with a criminal record that prevented them from finding meaningful employment.

Other observers, however, have viewed these matters from a completely different perspective. They argue that broken windows policing has helped to make NYC more orderly, the safest big city in America. And they have also noted that many of the people arrested as the police cracked down on quality of life offenses have turned out to have warrants out against them for serious crimes. For example, a man arrested for jumping a subway turnstile was discovered to be wanted for attempted murder.

These articles present various opinions as regards broken windows policing in NYC.

Bratton, Bill. "How Broken Windows policing saved New York - and still does." nypost, 30 April, 2015. . Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Bratton, William J. and George L. Kelling. "Why We Need Broken Windows Policing." city-journal, Winter, 2015. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Bouie, Jamelle. "Broken Windows Policing Kills People." slate, 5 August, 2014. Accessed 13 July, 2017.

“Broken windows Theory.” huffingtonpost, 5 August, 2014. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Kelling, George L. "How New York Became Safe: The Full Story." city-journal, Special Issue, 2009. Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Parascandola, Rocco, Fermino, Jennifer, Larry McShane. "NYPD Commisioner Bill Bratton defends 'broken windows' policing, says it works and will stay." nydailynews, 30 April, 2015. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Peters, Justin. "Broken Windows Policing Doesn't Work." slate, 3Dec, 2014. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Roberts, Sam. "Author of 'Broken Windows' Policing Defends His Theory." nytimes, 10 August, 2014. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Sterbenz, Christina.  "How New York City Became Safe Again." businessinsider, 2 Dec, 2014. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Zimring, Franklin E. "How the 'broken windows' strategy saved lives in NYC." nypost, 24 August, 2014. . Accessed 9 March, 2018.

In talking about these matters, however, it should be noted that efforts are now ongoing to replace stop and frisk with a more gentle strategy that has sometimes come to be known as stop, question and frisk. As these articles note, several factors have precipitated these changes: court rulings; the city’s falling crime rate.

Baker, Al. "Street Stops by New York Police Have Plummeted." nytimes, 30 May, 2017. Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Cohen, Shawn and Laura Italiano. "Cops will stop busing turnstile jumpers: source." nypost, 1 Feb., 2018. . Accessed 9 March, 2018.

The Editorial Board. "Reforms Rein In Police Harassment; Now More is Needed.” nytimes, 27 Dec., 2017. Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Mueller, Benjamin. "New York Police Dept. Agrees to Curb Stop-and-Frisk Tactics. nytimes . Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Broken Windows in

San Francisco

“Ohio to San Fransico: Haight Street 1967 (Plate 14)” by Herb Greene. 

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By many accountings, San Francisco is a beautiful city with a glorious bridge that crosses a bay (The Golden Gate Bridge) and fogs that gently roll into it off the Pacific Ocean. But it might be too pretty for its own good; more people than its limited space could possibly accommodate are flocking to it. If nothing else, they want to be bathed in its mild climate.

At least some of the people who have relocated in San Francisco are high tech workers who commute to jobs in nearby Silicon Valley. Paid hefty salaries, they can afford sky high rents and this fact has pushed up housing prices, with many long terms residents being priced out of the city by these increases. In other words, gentrification is in progress.

And has it has progressed, tensions have risen between these affluent professionals (new arrivals) and less affluent (long term) residents. These articles speak to that point.

Burrell, Ian. "Rise in gay homeless people threatens San Francisco's name as gay-friendly mecca." independent, 1 July, 2013. . Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Dougherty, Conor. "San Francisco Ballots Turn Up Anger Over the Technical Divide." nytimes, 1 Nov, 2015. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Hardy, Quentin. "Blending Tech Workers and Locals in San Francisco's Troubled  Mid-Market." nytimes, 17 August, 2015. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Wollan, Malia and David Streitfeld. "Buses for Tech Workers in San Francisco Will Pay Fee." nytimes, 21 Jan., 2014. Accessed 13 July, 2017.

As these articles indicate, many people have found their own “solutions” to the rising rents in San Francisco, making housing affordable on their own admittedly quirky terms.

Beato, Greg. "Communities Come Together to Make Homes More Affordable." nytimes, 3 Nov, 2015. . Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Bowles, Nellie. "Dorm Living for Professionals Comes to San Francisco." nytimes,4 March, 2018. . 9 March, 2018.

Nir, Sarah Maslsin. "Thinking Outside the Box by Moving Into One." nytimes, 13 Oct, 2015. Accessed 13 July, 2017.

But while some people have devised their own strategies for surviving the housing crisis in San Francisco, others are becoming homeless. In some instances, the authorities have found means of pushing the homeless and others out of that urban center. Their strategies which many label nothing other than harassment might be described as having an element of broken windows policing – clean up the place so it looks good for people who can afford it.

San Francisco has always had a reputation for liberal activism and tolerance. During the summer of love (summer, 1967), counter culture types flocked there to celebrate with kindred free spirits. So, the harassment of the homeless, as described in these articles, might viewed as being a repudiation of its mellowed tradition. 

Keys, Scott. "San Francisco Could Make It Illegal For Homeless People To Sleep In Parks At Night." thinkprogress, 22 Oct, 2013. Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Klein, Andrew. San Francisco Homeless Advocates to Public Transit Police: "Stop Criminalizing Homelessness." truth-out, 20 Nov., 2014. Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Krause, David. "Homeless Forced From Market Street.” truth-out, 8 May, 2014. Web. Accessed 13 July, 2017.

Lyons, Jarrett. "Bay Area start-up deploys robots to harass homeless." salon, 13 Dec., 2017. . Accessed 9 March, 2018.

"One-Legged Homeless Black Man Brutalized by San Francisco Police." melanoidnation . Accessed 9 March, 2018.

San Francisco Police Steal Property of Homeless People (Video). copblock Accessed 9 March, 2018.

Wood, Daniel. "San Francisco's Homeless Plan is under Fire Program's Backers Cite 4,000 Arrests for 'Quality-of-Life Nuisance Offenses' and a Drop in the Crime Rate, but Critics Say Chronic Homeless and Minorities Are Being Harassed." questia . Accessed 13 July, 2017.


Outline for the Paper on

Broken Windows Policing

This exam should be at least 850 words in length. Focus laser-like on the topic at hand. Your writing should be concise but clear. Details are essential and examples are always welcomed. Don’t be shy about expressing your opinions. You should present a list of works cited that provides essential information about the sources you utilized in completing this assignment.

In completing your third written assignment, you should respond to these questions, presenting some basic information about broken windows policing. 

What major arguments have been forwarded in support of broken windows policing?

What steps do proponents of this strategy maintain should be taken to reduce criminality in a community?

Who first proposed this theory?

What previous research did these individuals point to in substantiating their theory? 

Could enacting broken windows policing help the authorities to stabilize a neighborhood without having to enact (expensive) social programs?

Might this fact make it a good fit for municipalities that have tight budgets? 

Could certain groups be targeted as broken windows policing is being enforced?

Looking back in history, have other policing strategies also targeted certain groups?

Could being apprehended by the police as they crack down on quality of life crimes have a negative impact upon somebody’s future (job opportunities)?

Does broken windows policing impose a certain mode of behavior on people, resulting in individuals being apprehended for conduct that might be distracting but is not directly criminal?

What policing strategies do you personally think could prove more impactful than is broken windows?

Could a version of broken windows policing prove effective in schools, possibly even working to prevent a tragedy (school shooting)?

Do you think that broken windows policing might benefit your community, making it safer and granting residents a higher quality of life?

Model Paper

Here is an abbreviated model essay for the paper on broken windows. As you obviously realize, you should not copy this paper, but you can use it as a guide to ensure you properly understand how this assignment might be completed.

Background on Broken Windows Policing

The theory behind “broken windows” policing is pretty straightforward and could be summarized as follows: Panhandling, loitering rowdiness and other quality of life offenses might appear to be mere annoyances, not something that can physically harm anybody. However, unless these offenses are curtailed, they might escalate into serious criminality; a community could sink below a tipping point into depletion.

James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling first introduced the public to broken windows policing in an (Atlanticarticle entitled “Broken Windows.” Their words have resonated for decades after this piece was first published, arousing considerable controversy from all sides.

In noting that qualify of life offenses can spiral into serious crime if they are allowed to continue unabated, Wilson and Kelling relied upon research findings compiled by Philip Zimbardo. He placed an abandoned car in Palo Alto, California, home to Stanford University and a very upscale community.

The vehicle simply stood there, unharmed until some of its windows were broken. At that point, the car was completely demolished, most likely by community residents. Their destructiveness was interpreted as being an indication serious criminality can occur in any community if broken windows go unrepaired.

Weaknesses of Broken Windows Policing

Broken windows policing is based upon the premise that cracking down on quality of life offenses will prevent serious criminality from gaining a foothold in a neighborhood. And proponents of that strategy who talk in these terms clearly do have a point. A well maintained neighborhood does not invite mayhem while the opposite might be said about a community that looks in disarray. But broken windows policing does appear to have some serious drawbacks and limitations that might be outlined as follows.

Power Could Be Abused

When broken windows policing is put into play, some important questions jump to the fore.  Who determines what behavior is unacceptable and should be strongly controlled, expunged from the community. Does the community as a whole make these determinations?

Or, do police make their own decisions about these matters? Could the police abuse their power? Could they harass people who are not engaging in criminality but whose behavior might be disquieting to others? Are certain groups targeted when this type of vigilance comes into play?

The answers to these questions have real world significance because if somebody is targeted and then, subsequently, arrested for a minor (quality of life) offense they could end up with a criminal record. This black mark might follow them throughout their life, impeding their chances of ever finding a job - economic security.

A few paragraphs about NYC (stop and frisk) would be inserted at this point. It would talk about the stop and frisk policy which has been ongoing in that city.

The Link Between Gentrification and

Broken Windows Policing

Gentrification occurs when, for whatever reasons, more affluent people move into a neighborhood that was previously considered “undesirable.” As this transformation begins to take hold, many long-term residents might be pushed out of the area, a fact that has made some observers strongly critical of this process.

As upscale folks relocate in a community, they might demand that it become cleaner, safer and generally more aesthetically pleasing.  In answering these demands, local authorities/ developers might begin a cleanup campaign – their version of broken windows policing – as they attempt to make the neighborhood more appealing, attracting an ever increasing numbers of affluent individuals. Consequently, a link might exist between broken windows policing and gentrification.

A few paragraphs about San Francisco would be inserted at this point in the paper. That city has been experiencing what might be termed a crisis as tensions rise between highly-paid tech industry workers and less affluent residents.

Nothing New

In theory, broken windows policing targets virtually anybody who commits a quality of life offense, a tough stance that is justified by the need to prevent minor offenses from escalating into serious criminality. However, critics of this policing strategy maintain that it unfairly targets minority group members. Some observers have even gone so far as to claim that it was specifically designed to serve that purpose.

These are serious accusation. However, these same claims have been launched against other policing strategies. This historical perspective speaks to this point which purported to make communities more orderly and safer.

During 1971, then President Richard Nixon announced that his administration was initiating a war on drugs. As he made that announcement, he stressed that strong measures were needed to protect the American public against the negative impact drugs could have upon their lives.

However, even people who were on the top echelon of this administration have come to acknowledge that a more secretive motive was responsible for government officials launching this effort. John Ehrlichman, who was Nixon’s chief domestic advisor and subsequently served 18 months in prison for his central role in the Watergate scandal stated bluntly that:

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

My Neighborhood

I live in Cleveland Heights. And, at least to my thinking, broken windows policing is already being practiced in this community in ways that are not always helpful. Namely, the police are fast to ticket people for parking and other minor violations. However, the suburb might benefit if the police spent more time getting out of their cars and actually communicate with the broad range of people who call this suburb home.