Challenging broken window theory

does broken window theory accurately indicate the reason for crime rate in society

Challenging broken window theory

Researches are challenging the traditional broken window theory. It says that acts of public disorder such as graffiti, litter, and abandoned homes encourage future crime. Now research led by Northeastern University’s assistant professor, Daniel T. O’Brien has shed light on the factors that predict crime in an urban neighbourhood. One of the prominently found facts in the research is that private conflict may be a stronger predictor of crime in a community.


The broken window theory does not effectively capture the origin or the reason behind the crime. 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.” Researchers are showcasing how Big Data can be used to advance the study of neighbourhood dynamics. Further how it can help in mitigating the crime rate in the area.


Using the 911 and non-emergency calls to 311 data, the researchers found six measures to public disorder, which were public violence not involving guns, domestic violence and other private conflicts, gun violence, and private neglect in neighbourhoods, and public denigration in neighbourhoods. Further, they examined the connections between the six factors. The result was that private conflict was the leading indicator of crime. The physical and social forms of disorder was weakly predictive of future violence. Public denigration had no predictive power, and the link from public social disorder to later public violence was half the magnitude of the reverse pathway from violence to social disorder.


O’Brien says that the data sets that were crucial in the studies will be the focus of his Big Data course at the university for the students. The graduates and undergraduates will learn how to analyse large data sets by pursuing group research projects focused on specific city resources and services. With the data sets collected, the methodology becomes a tool for reliability and  the continuous analyses of the city.


The research noted that the study did not demonstrate causality. It could not find the reason  why the private conflict was such a stronger indicator of crime than private neglect and public denigration.


Soumya Pandey

Soumya Pandey

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