Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Broken Windows

For all but seven years of my adult life, I have been involved in law enforcement; of the seven where I was not, two were college right out of high school, and five were a hiatus after being really burned out in 1998.  During the first nearly nine years of law enforcement, the theory of "Community Policing" was beginning to take hold.  This was more of a proactive style of law enforcement, where the officers were more visible and encouraged to get to know residents in order to build trust.  

It was a bit reminiscent of the old TV show flatfoots walking a beat.  That was the general idea anyway.  Part of the impetus towards this style of law enforcement came from the realm of the social sciences.  Let's face it, law enforcement is a large mix of sociology and psychology.  The main push, came from the Broken Window theory.  The broken windows theory was first introduced by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, in an article titled "Broken Windows" and which appeared in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.   The title comes from the following example:
"Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars."
Generalized: broken windows lead to other crimes.  Once it appears no one cares for the state of the area, the crime rate generally rises.

NOTE:  I am NOT a sociologist/criminologist/psychologist.  I was/am in law enforcement.  That is it.

I was reminded of this theory-which I first read in a Social Psychology class in 1989-several times recently.  Author Malcolm Gladwell speaks of it in his book The Tipping Point, and James Q. Wilson, one of the authors of the article, died March 2, 2012, and I remember hearing that announcement.

Anyway, I can understand the general sentiment of the theory, and it received a lot of support for quite a while.  It lead to neighborhood watch movements and community improvements in many places.  I cannot provide statistics as to whether or not the crime rates lowered when people began taking care of their communities and fixing the broken windows, but I can see an analogy between this theory and part of my daily Proverbs reading from today:

Proverbs 25:28 (MSG)
"A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out."
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The person without self-control, once that first window breaks out, can start down the slippery slope of further and deeper (sin is sin, just speaking metaphorically here) sins in their life.  Telling one lie can lead to murder.  (Remember: life and death is in the power of the tongue Proverbs 18:21)

We should work on self-control, primarily by asking God to lead us daily in the steps we should take and by filling our minds and heart with the Word.

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