More than 35 years ago, researchers theorized that graffiti, abandoned buildings, panhandling, and other signs of disorder in neighborhoods create an environment that leads people to commit more crime.
In the “broken windows theory,” as it has come to be known, such characteristics convey the message that these places aren’t monitored and crime will go unpunished. The theory has led police to crack down on minor crimes with the idea that this will prevent more serious crimes and inspired research on how disorder affects people’s health.
Now, Northeastern researchers say they have debunked the “broken windows theory.” In research published in the Annual Review of Criminology and inSocial Science & Medicine, they have found that disorder in a neighborhood doesn’t cause people to break the law, commit more crimes, have a lower opinion of their neighborhoods, or participate in dangerous or unhealthy behavior.
“The body of evidence for the broken windows theory does not stand, in terms of how disorder impacts individuals,” said Daniel T. O’Brien, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern.