The theory was introduced by Wilson & Kelling (2017) through their article that was named
“The police and neighborhood safety Broken Windows.” The broken windows theory is a
criminological theory that states that the fact that there are visible signs of a crime, civil disorder,
and antisocial behavior creates an urban environment that will encourage further crime and
disorder, which includes the occurrence of more serious crimes. According to the theory, the
policing methods that are used by the law enforcement agencies targeting the minor crimes such
as fare evasion, public drinking, and vandalism helps in the prevention of more serious crimes by
helping create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness. The theory was founded by social
scientists and was introduced in the year 1982.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani and police commissioner William Bratton popularized the theory in the
1990s who borrowed the policing policies that they use for maintaining law and order from some
aspects of the theory. The impact of applying the theory was felt because there was a decline in
the cases of the crimes that occurred in the city. However, critics argue that other factors caused
the decline in crime. The Broken windows theory has become a subject of debate both in the
social sciences and in the public sphere as people keep on discussing how useful it is in dealing
with crime in the society (Wilson & Kelling, 2017).
The application of the Broken Windows Theory in policing has been blamed for controversial
police practices such as the use of the "stop-and-frisk" strategy by the NYPD that has violated
the rights of many people in the city. It led to the development of the question of whether the
actions of the police are supposed to be scrutinized as a way of making sure that the employees
are safe as they work in the organization. In response to the arguments that the people help with
regards to the controversial nature of applying the Broken Windows theory, Bratton and Kelling
said that it should not be treated as zealotry or zero-tolerance against crime rather the police
officers are supposed to be given the necessary training that will ensure that they are using the
theory in the best way possible for the benefit of the society as a whole (Kelling & Bratton,
The police and the social psychologists agree that in the case where one window breaks and the
necessary measures are not taken to repair, then the other windows will also break. This is
interpreted as crime may become rampant if it is dealt with early enough to prevent the
incidences of the matter becoming more serious. Breaking of windows does not have to occur on
a large scale because some areas are inhabited by people who love their windows.
The same can be used to explain the fact that not all the people take delight in breaking the rules
and laws that have been put in in a given society. It, therefore, means that some people will be
keen to obey the rules that have been put in place in society. The police and the social scientists
agree that the fact that there is a broken window means that no one cares meaning that the
society where there are no efforts to deal with a crime means that the people do not care about
the occurrence of crime and the effect that it has in the lives of the people. Breaking one window
means that no one cares, and there will be much apparent loss when more windows are broken
(Kelling & Bratton, 2019).
The Broken Window theory received more attention and was widely cited by several researchers
who wrote some articles about the topic. The theory was cited in a book addressing criminology
and urban sociology titled Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our
Communities that was written by George L. Kelling and Catharine Coles. The book is based on
the Broken Window theory and tends to develop the argument in greater detail. It addresses the
theory relating it to how the theory relates to crime and the strategies that have been put in place
by the necessary authorities to deal with crime. According to the author, the best way of
preventing vandalism is to address the problems when they are small and manageable as opposed
to waiting for the problems to be bigger and complex. That means that when one window is
broken, it should be repaired immediately as a way of preventing more breakages. When a
sidewalk is cleaned regularly then the tendency to litter it will be unlikely. It, therefore, addresses
the fact that the problems are less likely to escalate in the case where they are dealt with
immediately they are noted (Kelling & Coles, 1997).
Oscar Newman also contributed to the fight against crime through the introduction of the
defensible space theory in the year 1972 in his book named Defensible Space. He noted that
though the work of the police was important when it comes to the prevention of crime, it ness not
a sure way of maintaining a safe city meaning that there is more to be done to ensure that the
people in the society are safe from crime and any other form of avoidable danger.
According to Newman, people tend to protect the spaces that are very dear to them. That is the
area that they have invested in because they know the number of losses that they may go through
in the case where such areas that they have invested in gets attacked or invaded. A good example
is that people will guard their houses as much as they can because it is where they live, and they
understand the loss that they may go through in the case where such areas are messed up by the
According to Newman, people will have a sense of belonging to such areas. Broken windows
and vandalism are then prevalent because people do not care about the damages that may occur
in such areas. The community has to invest some money and time to ensure that the windows
are safe after they have installed and repaired them. In criminology, it is important to say that the
society has a role of ensuring that the laws are put in place that will guide the people on how they
are supposed to lead their lives and should also put measures in place to ensure that the people in
the society keep the laws.
The fact that the community does not care about the broken windows means that they are less
concerned about the important issues in society. Concerning how many times the windows are
broken, society needs to come up with ways of keeping it safe even though many dangers are
associated with it. According to Newman, the people in the society have accepted the disorder of
having crime in the society because they have allowed the broken windows to be exposed and
display vulnerability and lack of strength (Newman, 1972).
Malcolm Gladwell also contributed to the Broken Window Theory in his book titled The Tipping
Point, where he relates the theory to the reality of the situation in New York. The theory,
therefore, makes two major claims concerning crime. The first claim is the fact that further petty
crime and low-level anti-social behavior is deterred. Tie the second claim is that the deterrence
of the petty crimes helps in the prevention of the major crimes. The criticism that has been made
with regards to the theory tends to focus on the second claim because a good number of the
people do not agree that the prevention of the smaller types of crime could prevent the cases of
major crimes in the society.
Three factors dictate how the averment may affect crime, and they include social norms and
conformity, social signaling and signal crime as well as the presence or lack of routine. Social
norms are not known in the anonymous urban environment. The individuals living in such cities
then take time to assess the individuals will take a keen look at the signals in the environment as
to the social norms and the risk of being caught violating these norms. One of the signals that
give the people an insight on the way they are supposed to behave is the general appearance of
the given area.
In the Broken Windows Theory, the appearance of the environment will give the people in that
particular society a clue of how the place is supposed to look and what they are not supposed to
do. For instance, people will be reluctant to disorganize an environment that is organized.
People will also be reluctant to commit crimes in an environment where criminal activities are
not tolerated. On the other hand, a disorganized society is likely to undergo further
disorganization, and a society that tends to commit a crime will be full of criminals. A
disorganized city or a city that is full of crime therefore sends a signal that the area is not well
monitored hence the criminals can carry out their criminal activity without the fear of being
punished, In a nutshell, a city or a society that is not monitored makes the people thrive in
impunity which is not a good thing to do (Gladwell, 2019).
According to the Broken Mirror Theory, the landscape communicates to the people in a given
society. A broken window, therefore, transmits the message that the society lacks the necessary
control measures that are meant to prevent crime in the society meaning that it is not able to
defend itself from criminal invasion.
The theory noted that that the most important thing is not the mirror that is broken but rather the
message that the broken mirror sends to the people in the society. It is a symbol of the fact that
society is defenseless and vulnerable. It also means that society is lacking cohesiveness among
the people that are living within. The more cohesive neighborhoods are good at fixing the
broken windows and making sure that society is safe from any criminal invasion that could come
up. The people in such societies tend to assert social responsibilities on themselves hence
making sure that they have control over the space where they live. The theory not only looks at
the environment but also assesses the behavior of human beings and the effect that the latter has
on the former.
The broken windows theory explains how people interact with their geographical space. The
unwanted people may come to society and change the culture of the people significantly, and in
so doing, the behavior and the lives of the people may change completely. On the other hand, it
can be seen as space that shapes the people and influences or restricts their day to day activities
Informal social controls
According to Garland (2001), many people claim that the use of informal social controls can be
effective in the reduction of unruly behavior. He notes that community policing measures are
important in the realization of the informal social controls that are used in the elimination of the
instances of crime in society.
The use of informal social controls has proved to be one of the most important ways of dealing
with crime in society and showing the people that crime cannot be tolerated. It involves the use
of the citizens in dealing with the crime as opposed to the overreliance on the security services
that are provided by the state. The methods have demonstrated the “get tough” attitude by the
proactive citizens in society and express a sense of the fact that disorder in the society will not be
Wilson and Kelling (2019) notes that there are two groups of people in the society that are
involved in the maintenance of law and order in the society that is vigilantes and watchmen
meaning that the people in the society can be used in dealing with insecurities in the society apart
from the security forces that have been put in place by the government. The US adopted the
policing strategies that were used by the European nations in the old times, and at that time it
was normal for a given society or a country to have informal social control and this gave rise to
the contemporary social policing that has helped a big deal in the maintenance of law and order
in the society.
According to Wilcox et al. (2004), the improper use of land may be the cause of disorder in
society. The size of the public land is directly proportional to the susceptibility of society to
criminal deviance. It, therefore, means that when the size of the community land is bigger, then
there is a likelihood of the people in the society fight over the available land. The non-residential
areas that include businesses may play an important role in informal social control through
effective communication, supervision, surveillance, and intervention. More strangers that are
occupying public land causes disorder in society. Jane Jacobs was one of the pioneers that came
up with the concept of Broken Windows. She wrote a book that is titled The Death and Life of
Great American Cities talks about the contributions made by both the residents and the non-
residents in the maintenance of law and order in the society, which includes dealing with the
many crimes that are committed in the society.
Many residents in society today think that it is not their responsibility for the maintenance of law
and order in society. According to Wilson and Kelling (2019), some members of the community
may not help the people who require help not because they are not concerned, or they are selfish
but rather because there are no structures in place that make them concerned about the security of
the people in the society. Many people think that it is the role of the security forces to provide
security services in society, and the members of the general public should not take part in the
process. Moreover, some people are reluctant to go to harm’s way depending on the intensity of
danger that is before them. The people in society perceive the dangers differently.
Application of the Broken Mirror theory in the society today
The broken mirror theory can be applied today to fight the causes of crime and insecurity in
society. Keizer, Lindenberg & Steg (2008) carried out a series of controlled experiments that
were aimed at assessing the effect of the visible disorder on the increase of the other types of
crime in the society. In their study, they selected an urban center in which they prepared two
different ways at different times. One way was full of the litter with graffiti whereas the other
was clean and orderly.
The researchers then monitored the two ways secretly to identify how the people who followed
the ways behaved. They were keen to see the extent to which violations occurred in two ways.
The observations that they made were in support of the Broken Mirror theory, and that is to mean
that the disorder in the society was likely to cause more cases of crime in the society. The way
that was neat and clean continued to be clean, and the people who passed through the way were
keen to ensure that the way remained clean throughout.
On the other hand, the disorder in the other way, encouraged the people to commit more wrongs
as they used the way because of the presence of the disorder that was already available. The
broken windows theory is also applied in the real estate industry in society today. An estate that
has high standards of order and hygiene has a higher value compared to the one that has broken
windows and has some disorder. The people who live in the estates that are well managed are
likely to take care of the establishments and maintain the order. On the other hand, the people
that live in the estates that have the disorder are likely to commit other crimes such as theft. By
reducing the disorder in the community, a good environment is created for the people in such a
way that it is safe for the people to live in for the benefit of the whole society (Keizer,
Lindenberg & Steg, 2008).
In conclusion, the Broken Mirror theory is important in the society because it helps maintain law
and order in society. The theory has both advantages and disadvantages that are supposed to be
weighed accordingly so that the necessary authorities can decide to make sure that they apply it
in society today. The past studies have shown that the theory is true and may be used in the
reduction of the causes of crime in society.
As shown above, the application of the theory may bring more harm because the people in the
society may tend to take the law in their own hands, and in so doing, they may victimize the
other people in the society. The impact of applying the theory was felt because there was a
decline in the cases of the crimes that occurred in the city. However, critics argue that other
factors caused the decline in crime. The broken windows theory explains how people interact
with their geographical space. The unwanted people may come to society and change the culture
of the people significantly and in so doing the behavior and the lives of the people may change
completely. On the other hand, it can be seen as space that shapes the people and influences or
restricts their day to day activities.
Garland, D. (2004). Beyond the culture of control. A critical review of international social and
political philosophy, 7(2), 160-189.
Gladwell, M. (2019). The tipping point. Mondial.
Kelling, G. L., & Coles, C. M. (1997). Fixing broken windows: Restoring order and reducing
crime in our communities. Simon and Schuster.
Kelling, G. L., & Bratton, W. J. (2019, June 18). Why We Need Broken Windows Policing.
Retrieved from https://www.city-journal.org/html/why-we-need-broken-windows-
Newman, O. (1972). Defensible space (p. 264). New York: Macmillan.
Wilcox, P., Quisenberry, N., Cabrera, D. T., & Jones, S. (2004). Busy places and broken
windows? Toward defining the role of physical structure and process in community
crime models. Sociological Quarterly, 45(2), 185-207.
Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. L. (2017). The police and neighborhood safety Broken
Windows. Social, Ecological and Environmental Theories of Crime, 169-178.