The Issues Of Criminal Behavior In Communities Criminology Essay

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Throughout the article, Kelling and Wilson attempt to shed light on the issues of criminal behaviour within close knit communities, and the ways in which governments are taking action to try and reduce escalating anti-social behaviour stemming from small-scale neglect.

The article is a discussion about the effectiveness of policing, as a measure of crime control, and the effectiveness of the crime prevention methods that have been tried and tested throughout the years. The article has a particular focus around the 'broken window' theory proposed by both authors.

The 'broken window' theory illustrates how the lack of public order in society, if not 'fixed' or maintained, can manifest itself through the festering of unsolicited behaviour such as vandalism, robbery and gang warfare which, if left, will lead to even greater, more violent crimes being committed, such as murder and terrorism. This is highlighted through the re-telling of a case study conducted by social psychologist, Philip Zimbardo. In his study, 'Zimbardo abandoned two motor vehicles, without license plates, one in a street in the Bronx, Manhattan and one in a street in Palo Alto, California. The cars were monitored during the remainder of the day to see what the results of the abandonment would have. In the Bronx, within ten minutes of the car being parked and left in the street, it became subject to vandalism.' Zimbardo recorded how 'the first to arrive were a family-father, mother, and young son-who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours, virtually everything of value had been removed. Then random destruction began--windows were smashed, parts torn off, upholstery ripped. Children began to use the car as a playground. Most of the adult "vandals" were well-dressed, apparently clean-cut whites. The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon, passersby were joining in. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed. Again, the "vandals" appeared to be primarily respectable whites. [1] '

The findings from Zimbardo's study have led Kelling and Wilson to argue that this behaviour can, and is, being replicated in communities today and is the source of what can ultimately destroy public order within society. However in conducting his study, Zimbardo, observed from a scientific standpoint whereas Kelling and Wilson, concerned with policing and crime control, write from a prescriptive standpoint rather than psychological.

Kelling and Wilson prescribe the broken window theory as the biggest shift in policing focus from major crimes to small nuisances; such as littering, vagrancy, teenage gangs, panhandlers and drunk and disorderly behaviour. [2] We are told that it is from these small beginnings that crime breeds. By suppressing these small-scale disruptions on the streets, we are able to extinguish crime before it develops. As illustrated by the authors, 'serious street crime flourishes in areas in which disorderly behaviour goes unchecked. The unchecked panhandler is, in effect, the first broken window.' [3] 

Yet after reading the article, one comes back to the same question; does the broken window theory actually work? Do petty disruptions to society really lead to the downfall of public order to greater, more violent crimes? From the beginning of the article, it is apparent that the seed of doubt is firmly planted against the suggested 'broken windows' theory.

Kelling and Wilson go on to discuss the various forms of policing and security that were implemented throughout history and how we now have a uniformed force of people who are trained to deal with criminal behaviour. In particular, the authors discuss a study that was conducted, called the Police Foundation, whereby police patrolled by foot instead of in cars. The study was conducted to investigate the effects that police foot patrolling had on the rates of crime. Many people spoke of how they felt by having uniformed police officers walking the streets. They said they felt that by having police officers out of patrol cars and on the beat (foot patrol) made them easier to approach. Residents felt that the accessibility to the police was a benefit to the community as residents were able to speak to officers and make them aware about their concerns or worries within the neighbourhood, something that was not often done due to the physical barrier that a patrol car had between the law enforcers and the citizens of Newark. Conclusively, it was found that by substituting the use of patrol cars and having officers on the beat, had no statistical effect on crime. Although crime had not gone up, neither had the rates come down. Unsurprisingly however, it was concluded that the citizens of Newark, who were residents in the areas where foot-patrols were being carried out, felt a greater sense of security in comparison to other neighbourhoods. The question that is further raised here is how can a community be deemed "safer" when there is no hard evidence of a reduction in crime?

Firstly we need to understand what it is about certain criminal behaviour that frightens people. In the majority of cases people are often frightened by the violence and abrupt nature of such attacks. But what most people fail to take note of is the fear that is sourced from the behaviour of disorderly people. Therefore can it be said that some people are afraid of crime and others are afraid of disorder? [4] If this is the case then it is also fair to say that what societies' feel is safe does not correspond to the reality of what is truly safe, as dismissed in the article. [5] So then how are we meant to measure the "safety" of our societies without the use of statistics? According to Kelling and Wilson, the answer is the satisfaction felt by those who have experienced policing, on foot, in their neighbourhood. Take note that the authors do not come back to answer this question nor develop it further, instead they delve into discussion addressing the ways in which fear is instilled in people as a result of disorderly behaviour. In short, they assure the reader that by taking away disorder will automatically diminish crime. This is clearly not the case as evident from the results of the Newark study, despite the unaffected crime rates.

What exactly Kelling and Wilson mean by the word "safety" is essentially the key question henceforth. The article suggests that their primary concern is with disorder rather than danger and the perceived threats of emerging crime rather than the initiation of crime.

Contrary to the apparent contradictions and misconceptions mentioned in the article, the amount of detail that Kelling and Wilson go into; by utilizing case studies and referencing theorists and other professionals, in relation to the topics of policing and neighbourhood safety, they engage the reader with the material. Positively speaking, they entice the reader to question the effectiveness of street policing in our own neighbourhoods and consider our own emotions in relation to the level of crime in our communities. On the other hand, the authors fail to provide an answer to the question raised in the initial part of the article and instead resolve the situation by placing censure on the police services; stating that they should be and are held responsible for the welfare of community safety. The reason being that the authority their uniform possesses, in the eyes of society, has a far greater impact on communities of people than just a group of ordinary civilians trying to impose order in the public domain. They state that 'the police officer's uniform singles him out as a person who must accept responsibility if asked. [6] ' They go on to spell out the methods in which security services can alter their services by implementing new strategies to help maintain public order. For example, by having patrol officers on public transport travelling around amongst the general public, they could help to control and enforce rules regarding smoking in public places, inappropriate behaviour and general well being of the community.

Although not explicitly answered, the article delivers to its readers, questions that arise when considering ways in which criminal behaviour is initiated and how it is extinguished. The information is interesting and detailed, captivating the reader's interest from the on-set. The theory proposed is, in itself, logical if not intriguing. The development of community policing today, in relation to the suggestions provided by Kelling and Wilson, marks just how far policing has developed and improved over the years reclaiming the reader's faith in the policing system.