Broken Windows Essay

The study poses three key questions: To what degree does disorder contribute to the ongoing decline of a neighborhood? And what are the major pathways that connect disorder to neighborhood decline and, ultimately, to crime?To get at neighborhood disorder, the study uses unique “big data” consisting of more than one million Boston area 911 and 311 dispatches by location and neighborhood between 20.published a path-breaking essay that introduced the theory of “broken windows” to a broad audience. Wilson and George Kelling, advocated for a fundamental shift in law enforcement: away from simply apprehending criminals and toward mitigating the visual symbols of urban disorder like loitering, public drunkenness, panhandlers, “squeegee men,” run-down buildings, and litter- and graffiti-strewn neighborhoods.

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The diagram below shows a model of the connections between these factors based on a statistical analysis of the related data.

Here we see that public social disorder (panhandlers, drunks, and loud disturbances) can lead to public violence (fights not involving guns), then to gun violence, and, ultimately, to homicide.

The strongest and most salient connections appear to run from public violence on the one hand and private violence on the other to guns and, ultimately, to homicide rates.

Guns have a substantial feedback loop to private conflict, private conflict loops back to public social disorder, and public violence loops back to public social disorder as well.

The authors used the 911 data to create four basic categories of neighborhood social disorder: panhandlers, drunks, and loud disturbances which signal public social disorder; public violence like fights (but which do not involve guns); private conflict like domestic violence and landlord-tenant trouble; and gun violence.

They used the 311 data to identify two types of neighborhood physical disorder: private neglect, involving nuisances such as rodents in buildings, illegal rooming, or parking on lawns; and what they call public denigration, such as graffiti or the improper disposal of trash.

Ultimately, their study suggests that private conflict itself, not visual cues of neighborhood decay, is the key factor in neighborhood disorder and crime.

This private conflict is different from the drunks and panhandlers associated with broken windows theory—it tends to operate less through visual cues and more by clearing the neighborhood of positive influences.

Private conflict also loops back slightly to private neglect.

The authors’ key findings provide little support for the claim of broken windows theory that visual cues of neighborhood decay precipitate disorder and crime.


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