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Scientific Proof for Broken Windows Theory?

One of the intriguing stories in the book The Tipping Pointwas New York City’s war on crime in 1990s that used a “broken windows” theory of crime. The theory states that tolerance for minor crimes like graffiti and fare jumping create an environment where people feel free to commit more serious crimes. For whatever reasons, and broken window enforcement seems plausible to me, New York’s crime dropped more steeping other other metropolitan areas during this campaign.

This week, an entry in the 13th Floor blog from Governing Magazine mentions a controlled experiment in the Netherlands that tested the broken windows theory. The results were dramatic:

The most dramatic result, though, was an experiment that showed a doubling in the number of people who would steal when the condition of an area was disorderly:

In this case an envelope with a €5 ($6) note inside (and the note clearly visible through the address window) was left sticking out of a post box. In a condition of order, 13% of those passing took the envelope (instead of leaving it or pushing it into the box). But if the post box was covered in graffiti, 27% did. Even if the post box had no graffiti on it, but the area around it was littered with paper, orange peel, cigarette butts and empty cans, 25% still took the envelope.

Little things mean a lot. Think about that. And pick up after yourself. You could be taking a bit out of crime.

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