The Public Interest

Broken windows reconsidered

Eli Lehrer

Summer 2002

THE 1990s marked the greatest period of crime reduction in American history: Crime rates declined in 47 out of 50 states and in about 190 of the biggest 220 cities. In the popular press much credit for this turn of events has gone to a policing strategy known as “broken windows.” Broken windows is a new name for the old idea that police must fight not only overt criminal acts such as murder, robbery, and rape but also disorderly actions such as drinking, graffiti scrawling, and aggressive panhandling. Advocates of the broken-windows approach argue that high levels of disorder create an environment in which criminals, noticing that authorities fail to respond to smaller crimes, assume that more serious crimes will go unpunished as well.

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