Criminology: Broken Window Theory Explained

In criminology, the broken windows theory is based on the 1982 work of political scientist Dr. James Q. Wilson and American criminologist Dr. George L. Kelling. Wilson and Kelling (1982) theory implies that a closely monitored neighborhood that has a “zero tolerance” for petty crimes, creates a climate or order, safety, and lawfulness that prevents more serious crime from occurring.

Theory to Practice

When the broken windows theory was introduced, it changed policing strategies and tactics. Unlike most other criminology theories that develop over long periods, the broken windows theory was immediately adopted by law enforcement. The broken window theory helped establish new law enforcement policies with little to no cost involved in its implementation.

In the 1994, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton used the broken windows theory to initiate an aggressive enforcement campaign to reduce the escalating crime rate in the city. The policy introduced by Commissioner Bratton was the quality of life initiative based on the broken windows theory.

When Commissioner Bratton left office just two short years later, the crime rate had reduced in New York City. The NYPD reported a reduction in felony crimes by 40% and the city homicide rate had dropped by 50% in just two years of the quality of life initiative being in place.

Broken Window Theory – Criminology

Controversial Policing Strategies From The Broken Window Theory

The broken windows theory of policing that has created a “zero tolerance” policy for minor crimes has been highly controversial in major urban areas such as New York City and Washington, DC.

Many community leaders in urban areas have argued that the broken window theory is racist in nature because of the strategies used such as the “Stop & Frisk” tactics in poor minority neighborhoods.

About the Author

Mark Bond


Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.