According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), crime rate has been on the increase in the USA since 2014. All offenses categorized as violent crimes, which include rape, non-negligent manslaughter and murder, robbery, aggravated assault, and others, have increased in many states and cities in the country. For instance, the number of rape cases increased by 9.6% between 2014 and 2015, murders increased by 6.2%, robbery offenses increased by 0.3%, while aggravated assaults increased by 2.3% (NeighborhoodScout.com, 2016). In addition, over the past few weeks, we have experienced serious crimes such as the gay bar shootings in Orlando, the Brownsville rape case where a teen was brutally raped by five men, and the five armed robberies that took place in Las Vegas neighborhood within four hours (NeighborhoodScout.com, 2016). All these increased crimes pose a challenge to the police department as well as the criminal justice department in relation to the techniques to prevent them. Various crime policy scholars, such as George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, as well as specialists such as former Los Angeles Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton, argued that paying attention to miniature offenses such as prostitution, aggressive panhandling, and graffiti can help strengthen communities, reduce fear, and prevent major crimes (Thompson, 2015). This led to the development of Broken Windows Theory. The theory derived the name from the example of a house with a few broken windows. It asserts that if the windows are not repaired, then it is common and easy for vandals to break few more windows, with time they shall break all the windows, and eventually they may even break into the building (Thompson, 2015). Therefore, this paper evaluates the available literature and information concerning the application and efficiency of the broken windows theory in prevention of the increasing number of major crimes within the U.S. neighborhoods. Specifically, it assesses the areas or neighborhoods in which it was applied to help reduce crimes in USA, and how it can be applied in the U.S to help curb the increasing menace of crimes.
Broken Windows Theory Application
A major challenge and problem facing the criminal justice system as well as the country as a whole is the increased crimes in the neighborhoods and cities. The criminal justice department as well as the government faces a lot of challenges in developing policies and methods that can be used to prevent offenses such as murder, rape, robbery, assault, among other major crimes committed within the country. A major theory that has been applied in some cities and neighborhoods as a strategy to prevent major crimes is the broken windows theory. As stated, the theory was developed by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, and also applied by various practitioners such as William J. Bratton, the former New York Police Commissioner. Bratton applied the strategy of broken windows theory to prevent major crimes in New York (Fulda, 2010). The theory was based on the approach of Zero-Tolerance, which meant prevention of minor crimes within the neighborhood. Arrests were increased for minor offenses, such as vandalism, toll-jumping, graffiti scribers, petty drug dealers, and public drinking as a strategy of preventing major offenses. The zero tolerance approach was based on four concepts, which include effective tactics, rapid deployment of resources and personnel, accurate and timely intelligence, and relentless assessment and follow up. Concisely, introduction of the broken windows theory resulted in decreased severe offenses. Precisely, murder and negligent homicide cases reduced by 60%, forcible rape cases dropped by 12.4%, while burglary declined by 45.7%, which saw the total felony complains reduce by 44% in New York (Fulda, 2010). Majority of the people in New York supported the approach by the police department of preventing minor offenses as a strategy to control major offenses. Mayor Rudy Giuliani acknowledged that this reduction in major crimes was as a result of the introduction of the zero-tolerance concept, which was derived from the broken windows theory. Additionally, a significant number of U.S. states and other countries embraced the concept of reducing minor crimes.
However, the concept of broken windows was not perceived by some individuals as an effective way of preventing crimes in neighborhoods. Many critics described the approach as a way of promoting misconduct and abuse of force within the police department (Gau & Pratt, 2010). After the implementation of the zero-tolerance strategy in New York, many complaints were filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) for police misconduct, brutality, and abuse of force. However, after a serious analysis of the complaints, it was established that they mainly originated from the areas with a high prevalence of minor offenses, particularly those inhabited by African Americans and Latinos. Researches had indicated that the African American communities and Latino residents had high likeliness of engaging in crime and other minor offenses, which justified the reason for the increased complaints from these areas. Additionally, other critics stated that the decline in the rate of major offenses, such as murder, forced rape, and robbery was as a result of implementation of incarceration policy. The critics argued that the perpetrators of these offenses were convicted in prisons, which led to the reduction of perpetrators within the neighborhoods. Additionally, they stated that the potential perpetrators avoided engagement in crimes because of the fear of imprisonment and other harsh penal policies. Furthermore, some argued that the approach by Bratton was unfair because it was mainly directed towards the poor communities and areas (Fulda, 2010).
Therefore, it is clear that the broken windows theory is a controversial issue among many people. The concept has been applied in some states and countries and also criticized and rejected in others. Therefore, it is important to focus on the analysis of the broken windows theory and its effectiveness in reducing major crimes in the U.S. neighborhoods.
Pros of Broken Windows Theory
Maintaining order is one of the basic factors involved in ensuring safety within neighborhoods and cities. The concept of broken windows is based on the same notion of order (Lombardo & Lough, 2007). It is not necessarily a must for a person to be violent to bother other people against their wishes. One of the greatest fears of most people is sudden violent attack by strangers. Attacks by strangers is a common thing in most large cities, for instance Newark. Nonetheless, it is not a must that the attack be violent to instill fear in cities; even non-violent issues such as panhandling, public drinking, rowdy loitering, prostitution, and other petty crimes cause fear among many people. If these petty crimes go untouched, it is easy for the perpetrators to develop their behavior into severe crimes. Additionally, it is common for disorderly neighborhoods to offer a perfect habitat for major crime perpetrators because it becomes hard to track them once they mingle with the minor crime perpetrators (Thompson, 2015). Hence, implementation of broken windows theory can be an effective way of preventing disorder and subsequent minor crimes such vandalism, prostitution, and panhandling. According to Kelling, one of the approaches towards maintaining order in neighborhoods is the use of foot-patrol officers. The officers are mandated to prevent any unruly or disorderly behaviors on the streets. This is implemented by allowing the police officers to question or frisk any suspect, forbidding public drinking and begging at public places, and discouraging noise making and rowdy behaviors on the streets. The patrol police should be empowered to arrest individuals who fail to comply with the legal issues.
Additionally, it is a common knowledge that disorder is interlinked, in a developmental sequence, with crime. Various police officers and psychologists support the claim that if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, all the other windows will eventually be broken. This claim is true and applies to both nice neighborhoods (secure) as well as run-down ones. Window breaking does not necessarily happen on a large scale because not all inhabitants of an area are window-breakers; some are window-lovers (Thompson, 2015). Therefore, one unrepaired window signals lack of care, which means that breaking more windows costs nothing. This is evident according to Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist who tested the broken window theory by leaving two automobiles on two different streets (Gau & Pratt, 2010). One of the vehicles, which he left on a street in Bronx had no license plates and also its hood was damaged. The comparable vehicle was left in Palo Alto, California. The vehicle left on Bronx Street was destroyed by vandals after a few minutes of its abandonment. The first people to destroy the car were a family; that is father, mother, and son. In less than 24 hours, almost the whole car was destroyed and almost all valuable parts removed. According to Zimbardo, most of the vandals were well dressed adults, who appeared to be respectable. The car left in Palo Alto remained untouched for almost a week, until when Zimbardo came with a sledgehammer and destroyed part of it. Within a few minutes, passersby started joining him. In a few hours the car was utterly destroyed and turned upside down. Also, the vandals in Palo Alto appeared to be respectable individuals. This is the same way that lack of attention and control of minor crimes can lead to serious offenses. Once individuals realize that no one cares, they can take advantage of the situation and get involved in actions they are not aware of the consequences or benefits. Therefore, if minor crimes remain uncontrolled, more and more individuals become used to it, which increases their risk of getting involved in major crimes (Gau & Pratt, 2010).
Furthermore, implementation of broken windows theory can help reduce prevalence of major offenses within cities and neighborhoods. True to the saying practice makes perfect, continued engagement in minor offenses such as vandalism increases a persons chances of becoming a robber or engaging in other major offenses. A person gains interest in something after getting used to it, which therefore means that if minor practices such as vandalism are not prevented they lead to more serious offenses (Gau & Pratt, 2010). Additionally, if individuals understand that no one cares about the minor offenses, they gain confidence of engaging in serious offenses. Moreover, if the police are involved in constant prevention of minute offenses, they even scare and discourage potential felony crime perpetrators. Frisking and questioning of those caught in small offenses also increases the chances of arresting those planning to undertake major crimes such as murder and robbery. Prevention of minor crimes by constant engagement of police officers in the neighborhoods and cities can help alleviate major crimes (Gau & Pratt, 2010).
Cons of Broken Windows Theory
A number of issues have been raised concerning the applicability and feasibility of implementing broken windows theory as a way of preventing crimes within neighborhoods. One of the factors is the concept of increasing fear in neighborhoods. Some skeptics state that increased police patrol and arrests in cities increases some peoples fear (Lombardo & Lough, 2007). They state that this increased fear turn the people into enemies of the police, as a result of constant confrontation. Others state that, fear of crime is an ephemeral issue to deserve much attention within neighborhoods. However, what these critics do not understan...
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