The early 1980’s saw the rise of two functionally different, but conceptually related policing theories: Broken Windows and Community Policing. Though these two theories take different forms in practice, they both stem from the same fundamental concept that law enforcement officers must have an active presence within their communities in order to reduce major crime. There is little data available comparing the effectiveness of the policing strategies born from these theories, but we can discuss their differences in concept and practice.
The Broken Windows theory was introduced in 1982 in an article written by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The name “broken windows” is based on a metaphor that the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy describes below:
“the model focuses on the importance of disorder (e.g., broken windows) in generating and sustaining more serious crime. Disorder is not directly linked to serious crime; instead, disorder leads to increased fear and withdrawal from residents, which then allows more serious crime to move in because of decreased levels of informal social control.”
The Broken Windows theory was initially and most notably put into practice by the NYPD, but has also been a fundamental theory for building policing strategies for law enforcement agencies across the country. The policies developed based on Broken Windows typically involve officers becoming more prevalent in troubled communities with the intentions of restoring order and reducing fear of major crime among residents.
The Community Policing theory became popular around the same time that Broken Windows was introduced to the law enforcement community. The theory behind Community Policing is most accurately described by the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented-Policing Services (COPS) below:
“Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.”
Community Policing and Broken Windows differ in practice in that Community Policing encourages officers to interact with residents in a non-law enforcement capacity and foster positive relationships with members of the community, whereas Broken Windows often involves issuing citations for minor offenses to discourage more serious criminal activity.
Learn more about Community Policing.
Discover how Everbridge Nixle can help your agency connect with residents here.