Sunday, February 08, 2009

Clean up your street

Boston Globe: "Breakthrough on 'broken windows' - In Lowell experiment, crime linked to conditions". First, a review of the "broken windows" theory and how a sense of order (or disorder) is linked to crime:

The broken windows theory was first put forth in a 1982 Atlantic article by James Q. Wilson, a political scientist then at Harvard, and George L. Kelling, a criminologist. The theory suggests that a disorderly environment sends a message that no one is in charge, thus increasing fear, weakening community controls, and inviting criminal behavior. It further maintains that stopping minor offenses and restoring greater order can prevent serious crime.
A year-long experiment in Lowell, Massachusetts indicates the effect is real:

Researchers, working with police, identified 34 crime hot spots. In half of them, authorities set to work - clearing trash from the sidewalks, fixing street lights, and sending loiterers scurrying. Abandoned buildings were secured, businesses forced to meet code, and more arrests made for misdemeanors. Mental health services and homeless aid referrals expanded.

In the remaining hot spots, normal policing and services continued.

Then researchers from Harvard and Suffolk University sat back and watched, meticulously recording criminal incidents in each of the hot spots.

The results, just now circulating in law enforcement circles, are striking: A 20 percent plunge in calls to police from the parts of town that received extra attention. It is seen as strong scientific evidence that the long-debated "broken windows" theory really works - that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior, and that fixing them can help prevent crime.
Remember how they laughed at Rudy Giuliani for chasing away the windshield cleaners at every corner of New York City? Well, he was right. Now cut your lawn, America.

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