Research Questions ‘Broken Windows’ as Crime Indicator


The “broken windows” crime theory suggests that acts of public disorder in neighborhoods—graffiti, litter, and abandoned homes—can encourage future crime there. But new research led by Northeastern University assistant professor Daniel T. O’Brien based on government data sheds light on the factors that predict crime in urban neighborhoods, reports The researchers found that private conflict may be a stronger predictor of in a community.

“Our research suggests that the broken windows model doesn’t effectively capture the origins of crime in a neighborhood,” O’Brien said. “What’s happening is that violent crime is bubbling out from the social dynamics of the community, out from these private conflicts that already exist, and then is escalating and spilling into public spaces.” He analyzed data collected from more than a million calls to 911 and the non-emergency 311 number in Boston in 2011 and 2012. His primary findings: Private conflict was the strongest leading indicator of crime, predicting increases in social disorder, public violence, guns, and even physical disorder in privately owned spaces. Physical and social forms of public disorder were weakly predictive of future violence and disorder, if at all.

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