Tuesday, February 24, 2009

One Broken Windows Tactic Can Be An Overarching Strategy

Research conducted by Harvard and Suffolk universities in Lowell MA and reported in the Boston Globe demonstrates yet again that the “Broken Windows” approach to crime reduction works.

The approach put forward in a 1982 Atlantic Monthly piece by James Q. Wilson, a political scientist then at Harvard, and George Kelling, a criminologist now at Rutgers, is a theory that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior and that fixing them can help prevent crime.

Another way to put it is that minor crime creates a sense of lawlessness behind which major criminals feel invulnerable and emboldened.

But this time, the analysis quantifies which of the Broken Windows techniques actually work the best, Is it removing trash, curbing loitering, fixing windows and street lights, securing abandoned buildings, enforcing commercial codes, arresting misdemeanants, or intensifying social services?

The answer, according to the Globe report of the findings, “fixing up the physical environment was very effective, misdemeanor arrests less so and boosting social services apparently had no impact.”

Durham has talked about Broken Windows for more than a decade and dabbled here and there with various elements.

But it seems to me, rather than just deploying it sporadically or in trouble spots, that Durham’s should adopt Broken Windows as an overarching strategy with:

· Intense trash and litter pick up and sweeping
· Intense business and housing code enforcement
· Intense removal or rehab of abandoned buildings and graffiti removal
· Intense fixing of pot holes and better street lights
· Intense repair or upkeep of right a ways, planting and beautification

“Intense” is the operative word because years of cut-backs will need to be restored to even come close to best practice levels. Too often “appearance” is an easy mark for budget cuts because it can be dismissed as “superficial.” But as the research is showing, appearance is a predictor of success in very serious areas.

We’d get better bang for the buck with a multi-outcome strategy that reduces crime, improves property values and increases tax base to pay for itself.

It is all based on the observations that people maintain order when their environment is orderly. When the physical environment looks like no one cares or is in charge, people care less. When it appears the physical environment is well cared for and maintained, negative activities decrease and positive activities increase.

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