Opinions and Legal Insights

Broken window theory in India

Broken window theory in India written by Pooja Ganesh student of SASTRA Deemed University

Introduction

The need for reform in society should start from an individual. The broken window theory is a metaphor popularly used in the field of criminology and psychology. If a disorder in an environment is not taken care of, then such disorder will lead to disasters. Small and petty crimes are the ones that pave the way to heinous crimes. Such small crimes should not be untended or neglected. Minor problems have to be confronted by the people in the society to know their duties and responsibility to the environment. In an urban environment, few visible signs of crimes should be taken as a huge concern because these types of anti-social behavior may encourage further serious crime. This theory was introduced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982.

The field study

Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist, initiated a field study in 1969. He wanted to analyze the behavior of people living in a different type of environment. He abandoned two cars in two different places. One place is where people are very poor and a crime-ridden place in New York City. The other place is an affluent place in California. These two cars were parked without a license plate and with their hoods up. In New York City, within a few minutes, a passerby started vandalizing the car. He stripped the car and broke into its parts. The car was destroyed. But in California, the car remained untouched for many days. So Zimbardo took another unusual step in analyzing this study. He took a sledgehammer and smashed the car which was left untouched. After a few minutes, a passerby ripped the car into pieces as it was done in New York. This study demonstrates a few things, those are:
• If petty crimes are neglected, then it will lead to serious crime.
• If one person initiates an act of offense, then others will also be misled by it. As we can see, the car in California was left untouched but when one person has already damaged the car, then it will be set as an example for others to copy the same thing.
• When a disorder is prevented at the initial stage, then it will bring order and lawfulness into society.
George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, after 13 years of this field study, wrote the article for the Atlantic based on this theory of broken window. They believed that the findings of these studies can be applied on a larger scale, to the entire society. This theory was popularized in New York City by the policing policies formed by William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 20th century. They felt that applying this theory in the real-life has led to a decrease in the crime rate. They introduced serious punishment for petty crimes also. Bratton and Kelling strongly believe that this theory should not be given zero tolerance effect, but this method requires careful training and supervision.

Socio-legal cause

The relationship with the neighborhood deviates from the behavior of a person. The deviation in characteristics occurs when a person is influenced by the neighborhood where he lives. The effects of a neighborhood can be observed in the production of crime. A neighborhood with a high rate of poverty, unemployment, and instability tends to cause a high crime rate. One of the reasons for this unobservable individual character deviation. If one person misbehaves, then he has to be observed and actions to prevent crime should be taken. But people usually don’t observe or ignore such disorders in their neighborhood. The social process and condition vary from each area, this leads to social disorganization. The only solution to this problem is to take up informal social control in hand to prevent such crimes. There is a link between disorder and criminal activity if one increases then the other one also increases with it. When a person’s disorder behavior increases then the criminal activity will also increase with it. This is a kind of developmental sequence. Minor-social disorders are:
• Littering
• Loitering
Public drinking or drug use
• panhandling
• prostitution
• Abandoned car or building
These type of minor issues are signals for a serious issue which may occur. If there are littered sidewalks in the neighborhood, then it should be taken care of at the initial stage itself. Strict legal punishments should be given to the wrongdoers to prevent serious crimes. The broken window theory says that if one window which is broken, is left unrepaired, then it invited other windows to break with it. In the end, all the windows break, in the same way, the minor disorder left without notice will leave the community vulnerable to crime. The neighborhood area will become vulnerable to criminal invasion. Any variation in the disorder of the neighborhood will explain the variation in crime in that area. The contagion perceptive explains the broken window theory clearly. If one person is infected then it becomes contagious and spreads all over his area. Every person in the neighborhood should be observed, and if any disorder in behavior occurs, then strict legal action should be taken to prevent serious crimes.

Social controls

The social control in broken window theory is an effective strategy to restrict deviation informally. The informal way of policing measures is way more effective than legal sanctions. Any disorderly conduct is given no tolerance effect.
This type of control helps in maintaining order. There are four steps to impose these controls, those are:
• Surveillance
• Communication
• Supervision
• Intervention
First, the whole area should be observed, any deviation or disorderly behavior has to be communicated and supervised. Many people feel that regulating their area is not their duty or responsibility. Due to lack of concern, some people don’t help and they ignore such deviation that occurs in their residents. Wilson and Kelling believe that “community involvement” will help in bringing difference and it can be a key to the maintenance of order in society.

Zero tolerance

Sometimes broken window theory is described as zero-tolerance policing. They say that these policies impose a rigid standard on the behavior of people from diverse cultures. But it not like that, it is a discretionary practice that requires training and supervisions in communities and the neighborhoods where they live, to ensure order and maintenance. They argue that police should give lenient punishment to minor offenders. The goal is that the punishment given should prevent them from committing the offense in the future.

Broken window theory in India

Till now India has not implemented the broken window theory. With the high population, high crime rate, they have not taken a step to control the deviation of behavior in people. The social disorder in India can be easily prevented b thus theory. To stop a bigger crime, first, the small crimes which are easily visible have to be taken care of. But in India, it takes a lot of hard work to implement this theory. There is a huge cultural variation in our country. Social awareness among people should be spread to control the crime rate.

Problems in broken window theory

Every coin has another side, the same way, there are few disadvantages of broken window theory. This theory always considers the poor and homeless as disorderly people. They judge people by their clothes and the way of their living. Homeless people are always tagged as criminals. Socio-economic condition is taken as the only reason for the cause of crime. This mentality of the people cannot be changed. This is not a permanent solution to the crime rate. It can be only used for temporary purposes. Every person who does disordered behavior is considered a criminal. The whole purpose of presumption will not apply in the future, it is only for a short period of time. The theory discriminates against the minority communities in the society, there is resumption that the crime is committed by people belonging to the minority community. The zero-tolerance policy will increase the rate of people in jail, and they will be tagged as criminals in society even though they have committed petty crimes.

Conclusion

We can conclude that broken window theory is the best tool to control crime rates because it solves the issue when it is in the initial stage. A deviation in the behavior of a person is noticed and corrected at the beginning itself, so this prevents him from doing the same offense again. The zero-tolerance policy pressurizes the people to behave in a good way. The contagious behavior in the neighborhood can be stopped by applying this theory. It would be the best alternative in India to reduce crime rates. The only need is “community involvement” in society to implement this theory successfully.

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