Research Boosts Broken Windows Theory

Brenda Bond


The law enforcement field is taking note of the research efforts of Brenda J. Bond, assistant professor of Public Management, who is co-author of a journal article documenting significant crime drops in focused areas of Lowell where law enforcement problem-solving, public works and code enforcement had been brought to bear.

The long-debated “broken windows” theory of social behavior argues that crime is linked to physical and social disorder in a community.  

In Lowell, this disorder took the form of trash-strewn streets, broken street lights, abandoned buildings, public drinking and loitering. In the course of the randomized research study, officials cleaned up half of the neighborhoods plagued by these sorts of problems. Researchers then monitored the results and found that there were 20 percent fewer calls to police from the spruced-up areas compared to areas receiving traditional police response. 

 “This study is critical in that it not only supports the theoretical aspects of Wilson & Kelling’s ‘Broken Windows’ theory, but it generates valuable knowledge that police practitioners can adopt as part of their policing strategies,” said Bond. “Moreover, the study shows that engagement of non-public-safety services is critical to crime reduction. By building on the work of my colleague, Dr. Braga, the results of this experiment will inform police strategy for years to come.”

Bond served as co-author of the research article, in the journal Criminology (8/09), with Anthony Braga of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The Boston Globe wrote about the study and its outcome in its Feb. 8 edition, with a follow-up editorial on Feb. 13, 2009.

Before and after photos above show one of the Lowell neighborhoods that police officers focused on as part of their problem-solving efforts. Trash was cleaned up, and the neighborhood saw a reduction of crime with no significant increase in crime in the surrounding neighborhoods.

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