Monday, February 9, 2009

Breakthrough On 'Broken Windows'

By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Boston Globe Staff
photo by Brenda Bond

LOWELL - The year was 2005 and Lowell was being turned into a real life crime-fighting laboratory.

Researchers, working with police, identified 34 crime hot spots. In half of them, authorities set to work - clearing trash from the sidewalks, fixing street lights, and sending loiterers scurrying. Abandoned buildings were secured, businesses forced to meet code, and more arrests made for misdemeanors. Mental health services and homeless aid referrals expanded.

In the remaining hot spots, normal policing and services continued.

Then researchers from Harvard and Suffolk University sat back and watched, meticulously recording criminal incidents in each of the hot spots.

The results, just now circulating in law enforcement circles, are striking: A 20 percent plunge in calls to police from the parts of town that received extra attention. It is seen as strong scientific evidence that the long-debated "broken windows" theory really works - that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior, and that fixing them can help prevent crime. Continue Reading


  1. I'm from Massachussetts and know Lowell pretty well. I used to go there, three hours from my home, several times a month. It was never a town known for it's pristine condition. It was a town of thuggery and trash. It was strongly associated with graffitti, prostitution and lots and lots of drugs. But the architecture was so beautiful. Very similar to Uptown. I wonder if that's why I love this neighborhood so much.

  2. Nice post.

    Chicago leaders would never go for this. Why create creative solutions to the problems that plague our city? There is no money involved in it. If crime and blighted housing are a thing of the past, then Helen and Richard's friends loose out.

    Imagine the leaders of Chicago taking a fresh approach to crime and poverty. Imagine if they really wanted to emancipate their voting blocks from the strains of a system designed to keep them there.

  3. The theory suggests that a disorderly environment sends a message that no one is in charge, thus increasing fear, weakening community controls, and inviting criminal behavior.


  4. I wouldn't be, in the least bit, surprised to learn JPUSA, COURAJ, Ron, et al are behind all the new non-gang tagging going on. It keeps the neighborhood trashy and the "evil condo-owners" at bay.

  5. In regards to the chances of bringing a "broken windows" policy to Uptown through the Chicago Police at the behest of the present political leadership.

    Good luck.

    "Broken windows" theory of law enforcement works. It's been nearly impossible to bring it to neighborhoods without the blessing of the top of the political food chain. Guiliani supported it. It was big reason why he was elected. The machine will never go for it.

  6. I don't want to look as I might get "internet cooties", but doesn't Helen Shiller's website link to some stories that are negative regarding "Broken Windows" arguments?

    By the way I've been following said arguments since the early 80's when James Q Wilson started to write about it. Broken Windows is no longer a theory. It has been proven again and again.

    Like the silly arguments against "evolution" the opposition to Broken Windows is based more on ideology than truth.

    There are legitimate discussions regarding HOW much of an influence Broken Windows style policing and social policy would have on reducing crime. There can be no legitimate argument that it doesn't have an influence.

  7. Shiller links to UofC law professor Bernard Harcourt. Harcourt is the primary antagonist for Broken Windows theory.

    The Globe piece references Harcourt's reaction to the Lowell case. He actually thinks Lowell is interesting.

    In other words, perhaps his book against Broken Windows may require an updated paper back version.

  8. Chicago already adopted the "Broken Windows" theory years ago. It's called CAPS and it involves Community Policing, 311 calls, beat meetings, court advocacy, Clean and Green etc..........

    But it takes community involvement to make it work.

  9. Chicago has NOT adopted Broken Windows style policing.

    It has adopted aspects of it, but our lovely Mayor and many aldercritters purposefully give short shrift to community policing because they see it as a potential community "power center".

    Can't have any restless natives in the wards, they might start something dangerous like a blog or something.

    NYPD Diaspora.

    The city needs to hire a real police leader who understands urban issues and worked as a cop, not an FBI agent. Broken Windows policing, along with police accountability can have a drastic effect on crime rates.

    Milwaukee got a new police chief last year with experience running medium sized departments on the East Coast. They have experienced a significant drop in the crime rate.

    We got an FBI agent whose main claim to fame was being number two in the FBI Internal Affairs Unit and trying to force out a whistleblower FBI agent who highlighted FBI mistakes regarding the 9/11 attacks.

    Our crime rate went up.

    I wonder why?

  10. But it takes community involvement to make it work.

    Helps if the alderman supports all of that, as well.

    Y'know ...? Showing up to meetings; speaking out when people are gunned down in front of her office.

    Silly crap like that.

  11. This article had a little bit for everyone who reads and comments on this blog. In support of those who think that cleaning up Uptown is simply good for everyone, there seems to be good evidence that reducing disorder might work to reduce crime. (If nothing else, it can make people who participate in clean up days and such feel part of a community!!!!) And, in support of the views of our Copwatch friends, there seems to be evidence that misdemeanor arrests don't have much of a positive effect on reducing crime. Any former New Yorkers out there will remember that was one of the criticisms of Guiliani's approach: hardcore law enforcement that some felt unfairly targeted vulnerable groups.

    Wouldn't it be nice if this article caused people to find some common ground for Uptown? What the heck. I WILL start holding my breath!