Sunday, December 07, 2008

First Criminology Test of Broken Window Theory Supports Connection between Deterioration and Anti-Social Behavior

Dutch researchers are the first to conduct experiments of the "Broken Window Theory," first proposed in 1982 and used by various city administrations (most notably by Rudy Giuliani in New York City in the 1990s).  The researchers found connections between deteriorating neighborhood conditions (broken windows, litter, graffiti) and anti-social behavior (more litter, trespassing, vandalism, and stealing).  They did not find evidence of a connection between deterioration and violent crimes, which is a more contentious claim.

The Dutch secretly observed higher numbers of experiment subjects throw unwanted fliers on the ground in an "disordered" alley than subjects did in a clean, ordered alley. Over 80% of experiment subjects trespassed through a posted no trespass area in a disordered conditions, while less than 30% trespassed in clean, ordered conditions.  In a test involving money in an envelope visibly sticking out of a mailbox, only 13% of subjects in clean, ordered conditions took the money instead of pushing it into the box; in disordered conditions a quarter of subjects stole the money.

The Dutch tests are very helpful for neighborhood leaders who are trying to draw a connection between vandalism and structural deterioration in their communities and the growth of anti-social behavior and petty crimes.  These findings support quick and direct action to stop deterioration and to prevent vandalism. Hopefully this study is a tool that we can use here to sway more coordinated responses to blight from the Mayor's Office, Metro Codes, Public Works, the Police, and perhaps the District Attorney's Office rapidly.

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