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"Broken windows" theory tested in Lowell, MA

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Good article in the Boston Globe providing compelling evidence from Lowell, MA that shows a strong connection between the condition of one's physical environment and crime. In the case of Lowell, the city worked to improve conditions in 17 out of 34 areas identified as crime hot spots in 2005. The results: a 20% plunge in calls to police from the parts of town that received extra attention:

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachus...broken_windows/

From the article:

Bernard Harcourt, a professor of law and political science at the University of Chicago who has been critical of broken windows policing method, called the Lowell experiment fascinating because it showed that changing the nature of a place had a stronger effect on crime than misdemeanor arrests.

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This earlier study makes an important finding which is that so-called 'collective efficacy' is the most important determinant in crime. Collective efficacy is best described as neighborhood cohesion, communication and shared responsibilty.

Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy

Robert J. Sampson, Stephen W. Raudenbush, Felton Earls

It is hypothesized that collective efficacy, defined as social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good, is linked to reduced violence. This hypothesis was tested on a 1995 survey of 8782 residents of 343 neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois. Multilevel analyses showed that a measure of collective efficacy yields a high between-neighborhood reliability and is negatively associated with variations in violence, when individual-level characteristics, measurement error, and prior violence are controlled. Associations of concentrated disadvantage and residential instability with violence are largely mediated by collective efficacy. [My emphasis.]

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This earlier study makes an important finding which is that so-called 'collective efficacy' is the most important determinant in crime. Collective efficacy is best described as neighborhood cohesion, communication and shared responsibilty.

This article by Harcourt in the Boston Review spells out a lot of his criticisms of this policing technique. He quotes many studies by Sampson and various partners, although not this specific one.

Much of the criticism of this technique has to do with the fact that before the technique is implemented, there is very little police presence in these areas. It is very difficult to ascertain if the aggressive technique is really any better than simply increasing police presence, as happens with community policing. Statistically, cops on the beat is roughly equivalent to cops on the beat arresting everybody in sight for petty crap.

Last thought: I think a "broken windows" approach would be a bad fit for a progressive city like Providence. My relatives DID NOT like the approach in New York and, despite 9/11, Rudy Giuliani is neither well-liked nor well-thought-of by most New Yorkers. For Lowell, maybe it can do some good. Interesting to see.

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The morning of September 11th we were all gleefully counting the minutes until the end of the Guiliani Administration. It was a Primary Election day. We all forgot for a minute that he was a putz. Then he ran for President and the whole country realized that he was a putz.

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