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Breaking Away From Broken Windows: Baltimore Neighborhoods and the Nationwide Fight Against Crime, Grime, Fear, and Decline

NCJ Number
Date Published
404 pages

This book uses data on recent Baltimore (Maryland) crime-reduction efforts to attack the "broken windows" thesis, which is the currently popular notion that by reducing or eliminating superficial signs of disorder (dilapidated buildings, graffiti, uncivil behavior by teenagers, etc.), urban police departments can make significant and lasting reductions in crime.


The author examines three ways that "urban life" is eroded: through increasing neighborhood crime, through decreasing neighborhood quality, and by affecting residents' views about their neighborhood and their neighborhood safety. The statistical models that examine these outcomes draw on three broad areas of empirical and theoretical work: new urban sociology, human ecology, and views about neighborhood quality and safety. Specific chapters describe the work and theorizing in each of these areas in detail. The author argues that the measures for reducing urban crime touted in the "broken windows" thesis, while useful, are only a partial solution to neighborhood crime. The data from Baltimore's crime-reduction efforts support a materialist view, i.e., changes in levels of physical decay, superficial social disorder, and racial composition do not lead to more crime, but economic decline does increase crime rates. The book contends that the Baltimore example shows that in order to make real, long-term crime reductions, urban politicians, businesses, and community leaders must cooperate to improve the economic fortunes of those living in high-crime areas. 18 tables, 17 figures, chapter notes and references, and a subject index

Date Published: January 1, 2001