The Truth About the Broken Window Theory

In criminology, the broken windows theory states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.

MYTH: The Broken Window Theory has been debunked.

REALITY: It has neither been debunked nor 100% proven. The left has made it a routine to say the Broken Window Theory has been debunked, but this is not the case. What the left does is conveniently cherry-pick studies that disprove the Broken Window Theory, without ever mentioning the various studies that do prove it. Some studies conclude that the Broken Window Theory is false, but what’s important to mention these studies are contradicted by various other studies. If both studies prove it and disprove it, then which one is correct?

Well, it’s important to mention that several of the more controlled and reliable studies, done on the subject, support the Broken Window Theory. One thing the Broken Window Theory deniers did get right is that many of the past studies failed to directly connect environmental disorder to an increase in crime; but the newer, more controlled, studies help make this connection. It’s important to mention that the Broken Window Theory is incredibly difficult to test for. Many factors affect crime rates. Often the results can be manipulated by other factors. That’s why controlled studies are so reliable because they minimize the number of factors that can influence the results.

In addition, not only do studies show that a disordered environment leads to more crime, but other studies show that cleaning a disordered environment leads to less crime.

Lastly, strategies implemented by police departments, that are based on the “Broken Window Theory”, have been extremely effective at reducing crime.

If the Broken Window Theory has been debunked, then how coming cleaning up an area results in a reduction of crime? How come police strategies, based on the Broken Window Theory, reduce crime? How come multiple controlled studies have proven the Broken Window Theory correct?

There are major contradictions to the notion that the Broken Window Theory has been debunked. To claim that it has been debunked is either misleading or outright false.

Below I go over the controlled studies done on the subject; as well as a meta-analysis, additional studies, and real-world examples.


A controlled study conducted by a team of researchers at Groningen found that individuals were twice as likely to steal if they were placed in a condition of disorder.

The research team placed envelopes full of visible cash partially inside mailboxes. The envelope full of cash was left protruding from the mailbox so that anyone passing by would be able to see the cash inside. The researchers discreetly watched, without anyone realizing they were being observed. The researchers discovered that individuals were significantly less likely to steal the money if there was no sign of disorder, like graffiti or litter, near the mailbox.


A controlled study conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard University and Suffolk University found that cleaning up the physical environment leads to a reduction in police calls.

The researchers identified 34 “crime hot spots” in Lowell, Massachusetts. In half of the locations, authorities picked up trash and litter, enforced building codes, repaired streetlights, and discouraged loiterers. The other half of the 34 “crime hot spots” remained unchanged. The research team found the areas that reduced physical disorder saw a 20% reduction in calls to the police.

What makes this study and the Netherlands study so important is that these are some of the most controlled studies on the subject.


A meta-analysis found that disorder policing, a police strategy built off the broken window theory, results in “consistent crime reduction effects across a variety of violent, property, drug, and disorder outcome measures”.


A 2020 study titled “An Empirical Application of “Broken Windows” and Related Theories In Healthcare”

A 2018 study titled “Busy Streets Theory: The Effects of Community-engaged Greening on Violence”

A 2018 study titled “Citywide cluster randomized trial to restore blighted vacant land and its effects on violence, crime, and fear”

A 2019 study titled “The Effects of Physical, Social, and Housing Disorder on Neighborhood Crime: A Contemporary Test of Broken Windows Theory”

Albuquerque Police Departments Safe Streets 1997 Program Report

A 2013-2014 Environmental Quality Survey in England


It’s common sense that civil disorder leads to more crime. One example would be the George Floyd riots. During the George Floyd riots, the places that had some of the most damage also had significant increases in all other types of crime.

Another example, during the riots, of the civil disorder leading to more crime was the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP). During the George Floyd riots, CHOP was a 6 block area in Seattle that acted as an autonomous zone/cop-free zone. Crime significantly increased in a very short period. Seattle saw a staggering 525 percent spike in crime as a result of the violence that swept through the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone, according to Democrat Mayor Jenny Durkan.


Keizer, K; Lindenberg, S; Steg, L (2008). “The Spreading of Disorder” (PDF). Science. 322 (5908): 1681–1685. Bibcode:2008Sci…322.1681K. doi:10.1126/science.1161405. PMID 19023045. S2CID 7881039.

“Can the can”. The Economist. 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2008-11-24.

“Research Boosts Broken Windows”. Suffolk University. Archived from the original on 2009-06-29. Retrieved 2009-02-20.

Johnson, Carolyn Y (2009-02-08). “Breakthrough on ‘broken windows’”. The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2009-02-11. Retrieved 2009-02-20.

Braga, Anthony A.; Welsh, Brandon C.; Schnell, Cory (June 4, 2015). “Can Policing Disorder Reduce Crime? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. 52 (4): 567–588. doi:10.1177/0022427815576576. S2CID 76653190.

Ellis, L.A., Churruca, K., Tran, Y. et al. An empirical application of “broken windows” and related theories in healthcare: examining disorder, patient safety, staff outcomes, and collective efficacy in hospitals. BMC Health Serv Res 20, 1123 (2020).

Braga, A. A., Turchan, B., Papachristos, A. V., & Hureau, D. M. (2019). Hot spots policing of small geographic areas effects on crime. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 15(3).

Braga, Anthony A. 2005. “Hot Spots Policing and Crime Prevention: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 1:317–42.

Braga, Anthony A. 2006. “The Crime Prevention Value of Hot Spots Policing.” Psicothema 18(3):630–37.

Braga, Anthony A. 2007. “The Effects of Hot Spots Policing on Crime.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 1.

Braga, Anthony A., Andrew V. Papachristos, and David M. Hureau. 2012. “The Effects of Hot Spots Policing on Crime: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 8(1):1–96.

Over 300 people facing federal charges for crimes committed during nationwide demonstrations. The United States Department of Justice. (2021, April 13). Retrieved August 3, 2022, from

Heinze, J. E., Krusky‐Morey, A., Vagi, K. J., Reischl, T. M., Franzen, S., Pruett, N. K., Cunningham, R. M., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2018). Busy streets theory: The effects of community‐engaged greening on violence. American Journal of Community Psychology, 62(1-2), 101–109.

Piza, E., & Connealy, N. T. (2022). The Effect of the Seattle Police-Free CHOP Zone on Crime: A Microsynthetic Control Evaluation. CrimRxiv. Retrieved from

Eustachewich, L. (2020, July 2). Seattle sees 525 percent spike in crime thanks to chop: Mayor Durkan. New York Post. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from
Berger , M. W. (2018, March 8). Cleaning up vacant lots makes neighborhoods safer. Penn Today. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from,noise%20complaints%20and%20illegal%20dumping.

Ceraiti, M. K. (2015, June 9). Cleaner streets may be Safer Streets. The World Bank. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from

Kane, A. (2014, November 14). Litter ‘associated with increases in crime’. Resource Magazine. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from

Salesses P, Schechtner K, Hidalgo CA (2013) The Collaborative Image of The City: Mapping the Inequality of Urban Perception. PLoS ONE 8(7): e68400. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068400

How surprising neighborhood factors like trees & trash impact crime rates. ezLandlordForms. (2015, April 3). Retrieved August 4, 2022, from, where%20they%20are%20not%20present.%E2%80%9D

Konkel, R. H., Ratkowski, D., & Tapp, S. N. (2019). The effects of physical, social, and housing disorder on neighborhood crime: A contemporary test of broken windows theory. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 8(12), 583.

Coghlan, A. (2008, November 21). Graffiti and litter lead to more street crime. New Scientist. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from

The Results of the Albuquerque Police Departments Safe Streets 1997 Program. U.S. Department of Transportation. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2022, from

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: