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Irony of Broken Windows Policing: A Micro-Place Study of the Relationship Between Disorder, Focused Police Crackdowns and Fear of Crime

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 36 Issue: 6 Dated: November/December 2008 Pages: 503-512
Date Published
November 2008
10 pages

This study examined the relationship between disorder and fear of crime in the context of the broken windows hypothesis.


Results provide evidence for the broken windows policing hypothesis that disorder leads to fear of crime. Examining fear of crime among citizens at a micro-place unit of analysis revealed that higher levels of both perceived social disorder and observed physical disorder led to significantly higher levels of fear of crime. It should be noted that those living in an area that received the extra police presence also reported higher levels of fear. Results suggest that reductions in fear of crime brought about by police targeting of disorder may be largely offset in areas with moderate amounts of disorder, and at least partially offset in areas with severe levels of disorder, by the extra police presence itself causing residents to be more fearful. The findings do not lead to a conclusion that broken windows policing approaches will inevitably fail in their efforts to reduce fear of crime, but rather suggest the importance of how broken windows policing programs should be implemented. Such programs should be geared not only to reduce disorder, but also to prevent increases in citizen fear that may accompany crackdowns and other intensive enforcement effort associated with broken windows policing. Key to the effectiveness of broken windows policing is the need for police to gain legitimacy by communicating with citizens in order to explain their efforts. Data were collected from 733 individual citizens who were included in the post-intervention resident interviews survey and police emergency data provided by the Planning and Research Bureau of the Jersey City Police Department. Figure, tables, notes, and references

Date Published: November 1, 2008