Campus: CSU Sacramento -- August 5, 2002
Researchers 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,
The study, “Does ‘Broken Windows’ Law Enforcement
Reduce Serious Crime?” examined all California counties from 1989
It found for the first time a generalizeable 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 link existed.
“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.