Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another Broken Windows Study

Saw this linked at Schneier's.

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.


Many police departments across the country already use elements of the broken windows theory, or focus on crime hot spots. The Lowell experiment offers guidance on what seems to work best. Cleaning up the physical environment was very effective; misdemeanor arrests less so, and boosting social services had no apparent impact.

Funny thing is I always wonder where the crime went. Some no doubt just didn't happen, but there is some that would move somewhere else. I've yet to see any data that shows what happens in adjacent neighborhoods or cities. There are several people in Schneier's comments who wonder the same thing.

I don't doubt that there is some effect. I just would like to know what really happens in a broader region. If you move the bad crime down the road, you haven't fixed anything, you just changed the victim.

This hits pretty close to home since a lot of Lowell crime problems seem to leak up over the boarder to around where I live. Lowell has cleaned up a lot, but they still have higher crime rates than we do here in NH. Nashua is a lot lower, and even Manchester has lower crime in most categories.

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