link 'broken windows' policing
with drop in serious crime
There is a significant link between targeting minor crime and a
drop in serious crime, even when community factors such as unemployment
and the number of young people are considered, according to a study
from the California Institute for County Government at California
State University, Sacramento.
The study, "Does 'Broken Windows' Law Enforcement Reduce Serious
Crime?" examined all California counties from 1989 to 2000.
It found for the first time a generalizealble statistical tie between
so-called "broken windows" policing and a drop in felony
property crime while also controlling for so many social and economic
factors. It's also one of the few studies to look at the strategy
on a large scale, rather than a neighborhood or community level.
Broken windows policing assumes that serious crime can be reduced
by strongly enforcing minor crimes such as graffiti, property damage,
prostitution, public drunkenness and the like. It has been the subject
of heated debate, with many police agencies adopting it and critics
charging it leads to police harassment.
Previous studies have tended to focus on single jurisdictions, and
haven't been able to discount numerous other possible factors when
they discovered drops in serious crime.
This new study compared both misdemeanor arrests and misdemeanor
charges filed to the overall number of arrests and charges. More
misdemeanor arrests and charges were taken to indicate a local law
enforcement tendency to engage in broken window policing. That tendency
was then compared to the felony property crime rate to see if a
"We've tested the spirit of the broken windows theory, and
we've found a relationship between targeting misdemeanors and reducing
serious crime," says John L. Worrall, the CSU San Bernardino
criminal justice professor who authored the study.
Worrall cautions that the focus of this study was finding a statistical
link between enforcing minor crimes and a drop in serious crime.
So it doesn't conclusively prove a cause and effect relationship,
and it doesn't estimate how much of a drop in crime is seen when
a community pursues a broken windows strategy.
"What makes this study unique is all the other factors we controlled
for, and that even after we did that we still found a strong statistical
relationship between broken windows policing and a reduction in
serious crime," Worrall says. "This is by no means the
last word on the broken window theory, but it is an important contribution."
The study controlled for a number of other factors known to influence
the serious crime rate, including: 1) deterrence - the probability
of being arrested for a property crime and the percentage of people
currently in custody, 2) economics - the per-capita welfare and
unemployment rates, and 3) demographics.
More information is available by contacting John Worrall at (909)
880-7741 or Matthew Newman, director of the California Institute
for County Government, at (916) 324-0796. The report is available
online at the institute's website at www.cicg.org.
Additional media assistance is available by contacting CSUS public
affairs at (916) 278-6156.