Saturday, November 22, 2008

Graffiti Triggers Crime & Littering, Study Shows

By Jeanna Bryner, Live MSNBC
The mere presence of graffiti doubles the number of people littering and stealing in a neighborhood, new research suggests.

The results, which are detailed in the Nov. 21 issue of the journal Science, support and expand on the so-called broken windows theory, which forms the backbone of many crime prevention programs in major cities such as New York.

The theory suggests that signs of disorder, such as broken windows, graffiti and litter, can open the door to individuals breaking other social norms and rules. In New York's "Quality of Life Campaign," adopted in the mid-1990s, city filth, including graffiti, street litter and signs of vandalism, were removed. And petty crime rates did drop. Continue Reading


  1. The article by Andy Coghlan at includes a more complete discussion with Kees Keizer:

    The researchers conclude that one type of antisocial behaviour leads to others, because people's sense of social obligation to others is eroded. "When people think they can get away with it because other people already have, they do," says Keizer.

    ...The trick, says Keizer, is to persuade citizens that other people in their own community will suffer if they fail to observe norms of responsible behaviour.

    "You're calling on people's obligations to others rather than saying: 'Don't do this'," he says.

    Keizer says that the research is the first to explain and demonstrate experimentally the "broken windows theory", but he adds that it would be a mistake to see it as vindication of "zero-tolerance" policies, like those deployed to clean up New York in the mid-1990s.

    Zero-tolerance policies can be counterproductive, he says, because people simply see them as declaration of war and carry on offending.

    Geraldine Pettersson, a consultant in London who co-authored a 2003 report on graffiti for the UK Department of Transport agreed. "You make it sound like a battle, and it becomes a challenge to them," she says.

    Interesting read. Forgetting the gang signs/symbols type for a moment (since we know that not all taggers are gangbangers) how could we appeal to a tagger who considers himself a "graf artist" to have more of a sense of social obligation to the neighborhood?

  2. Correlation != Causation.

  3. "...The trick, says Keizer, is to persuade citizens that other people in their own community will suffer if they fail to observe norms of responsible behaviour."

    Ah ha! The solution to the Dearborn grocers problem :)

  4. Again, I ask my Uptown friends, when walking your dog, or walking to the train or bus... take out your cell phone when you see graffiti and call 311... PLEASE

    Always ask for a case number, even if you do not have the chance to write it down. This ensures it was done. Obviously, if you can write it down and track it, please do

    BUT PLEASE USE 311 LIBERALLY WHEN YOU SEE GRAFITTI.. it takes 30 seconds and makes a HUGE difference...THANKS

  5. I agree 100% that 'signs' of deterioration, might motivate others to do the same. Whether it be gang markings, begging, public urination, car vandalism, etc.
    While it might seem noble on the surface, our Alderman embraces and/or turns a blind eye to conditions that accelerate criminal behavior.
    How? By ignoring the majority of tax-paying, law-abiding residents who simply want to live in a community that is fair and safe.
    It is irresponsible, on her part, to continue to make Uptown her own 'social science project'.
    So much damage has been done.

    And 311 does work....hopefully the Dearborn Grocer fence is built soon.

  6. hmm..i was under the impression there was another reason for crime and litter..good to know it is graffiti..

  7. hmm..i was under the impression there was another reason for crime and litter..good to know it is graffiti..

    they didn't say that graffiti was the REASON for crime and litter, they said it "opens the door for it", meaning they acknowledge it already exists but the presence of graffiti in a neighborhood lets the perpetrators of those acts know it's ok to do the other stuff (crime, littering, etc.) there since no one apparently cares. Big difference.

  8. The Power of Context

    Gladwell's third principal is the power of context, the notion that epidemics are sensitive to the context, or the time and place, in which they occur. In a compelling example of how during the 1990's the crime rate in New York City dropped precipitously and without explanation, Gladwell points to something called the Broken Windows theory, theory of two criminologists based upon the notion that, "if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will bee broke, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a a signal that anything goes."

  9. Kenny,

    You bring up a good question.

    One way is to create art that the neighborhood can respect -- and TALK to the potential probelms to prevent them.

    Real life example -- the mural behind Unique Thrift Store.

    Uptown Baptist Church's Art Director, Brian Bakke, had organized kids from his church to help design the mural. Then he went to gang leaders, graffitti artists -- people in the neighborhood who might potentially tag it. He got them to agree to respect it. And they actually told others to not harm it.

    Some didn't get the message, and got angry when the walls were first whitewashed. But Brian happened to have the mural sketches there, and when they saw what the mural was going to be, they agreed to protect it.

    I can e-mail you Brian's account of the story (it's about 4 pages long -- he's a bit longwinded ;)