Monday, September 23, 2013

The Broken Windows Theory

According to Wikipedia: The broken windows theory is a criminological theory of the norm-setting and signalling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.
The back wall of the St Kilda Police Station
The theory was introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. Since then it has been subject to great debate both within the social sciences and in the public sphere. The theory has been used as a motivation for several reforms in criminal policy. The broken windows theory has received support from several empirical studies and has also been the subject of criticism. If you've read the studies you'll see that the Broken Windows Theory of law seems to work - in some jurisdictions - at reducing crime. If you crack down on the little things the atmosphere improves and criminals become more furtive and reluctant. If you let the little things slide then deviancy gets defined down and criminal activity becomes more prevalent. 
I live in St Kilda which is a part of Melbourne that used to be notorious for drug dealing, prostitution and assaults. As the neighbourhood has gentrified these crimes have certainly diminished but they haven't gone away completely. Our next door neighbour - a 68 year old nurse who works the nightshift in a mental hospital - was burgaled a few months back, our car has been broken into several times and most seriously of all: a prostitute was murdered round the corner from us in July. 
The photograph to the right is of the back wall of St Kilda Police Station. They clearly either don't believe in The Broken Windows Theory or they're just too lazy to do anything about the graffiti on their place of work. I don't know how you feel but I think it's crazy that the St Kilda Police are allowing their police station to be tagged like this. The message it gives out to the general public is one of surrender - we can't even control the wall of our own police station so no wonder you're on your own out there on the streets. It also sends a message to the pimps, drug dealers, vandals and gangbangers of Balaclava and St Kilda: this street belongs to you, not us. The prostitute who was murdered in late July was dragged off Carlisle Street two hundred metres from the police station and then beaten to death on Greeves Street. Perhaps if the St Kilda Police would remove the graffiti from the police station walls it would prove to the criminals that they can keep their own house in order and these potential offenders wouldn't then feel that they have the tacit permission of the St Kilda police to commit their crimes. Perhaps.