Is 'Broken Windows' A Root Cause Of Fatal Shootings?

Download Audio

Following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown — unarmed black men who were killed during confrontations with white police officers — there's been a lot of soul searching about policing and race. It's happening in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and here in Boston.

Some are pointing to a policing theory first written about in a 1982 issue of The Atlantic called "broken windows" as one of the root causes of such fatal shootings.

The theory suggests that tending to smaller crimes, such as vandalism, can make people feel safer and deter crime. The authors, George Kelling and James Wilson, explained:

[D]isorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (It has always been fun.)

But several critics have said broken windows has done significant harm to communities of color.


Derrick Jackson, columnist for the Op-Ed section of The Boston Globe. He tweets @GlobeJackson.

Brenda Bond, associate professor of public administration at Suffolk University and co-author of a study in Lowell which supports "broken windows" theory.


The Boston Globe: ‘Broken Windows,’ Broken Policy

  • "The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and others at the hands of police demonstrate that the 'broken windows' theory of policing doesn’t work and should be eliminated."

This article was originally published on January 05, 2015.

This segment aired on January 5, 2015.


More from Radio Boston

Listen Live