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Broken Windows Theory & You by Mark Hatmaker

Today let’s have a look at a partially-discredited theory of crime-prevention that was proposed to work on the large-scale (cities, etc.)

We’ll discuss the aspects that did and do, indeed, work.

We’ll briefly ponder the unintended consequences of following “broken windows” to the extreme.

Then we’ll wind this whole thing down discussing how the “broken windows theory” can work in your life, both in self-protection and the mundane aspects with none of the negative unintended consequences, unless you dig randomly stopping and searching yourself, then it’s a win-win.

Let’s start with, what exactly is the “broken windows theory”?


In 1982, social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling start the ball rolling with a paper titled “Broken Windows: Police and Neighborhood Safety.

In precis, Wilson and Keller postulated that by increasing focus, or policing of small crimes (vandalism, public intoxication, toll-jumping, and the like) there would be a decrease not only in these petty crimes but also in major crimes.

The “broken windows” of their research paper’s title points to the fact that neighborhoods with high incidences of broken windows and other such vandalism are also signals of higher crime areas. This is a no-brainer as this is basic signaling 101.

We are not surprised by such observations, and lest anyone is skeptical that broken windows may or may not signal something I offer the following thought experiment.

You are alone in an unfamiliar city, walking back to your hotel. You are confronted with a choice of routes.

One shows neatly parked cars, freshly painted building fronts, well-maintained landscape, bright tasteful curtains in unbroken windows.

On the other route, we see a car on blocks with broken windows, graffiti on walls, and an over-turned trashcan.

Which route back to the hotel do you choose?

Exactly.

Now, at this point we simply see confirmation of broken windows as a signal to something, but what? Why would we assume the evidence of vandalism is also evidence of crimes a bit beyond.

Wilson and Kelling demonstrated an interesting linkage between petty crime (and I hate using that word, as to the property owner “petty” still means loss of time, money, and peace of mind) and more egregious crimes.

It seems that habitual petty crime committers are following Pareto’s Principle, that is 80% of ALL crimes are being committed by 20% of the “lawbreakers.” In other words, most of the damage in the world is done by some very busy perpetrators. Those with no compunction about randomly damaging property or toll-jumping also showed a higher likelihood of committing other crimes.

Keep in mind the link is not 100% causal, meaning that every kid with a spray paint can caught tagging a building is not necessarily destined to commit a major crime but… it does mean that that petty-crime signaler does show a far far higher likelihood of something more dire or damaging in the future than the kid we see pushing the broom in the supermarket.

Broken Windows Theory found that greater vigilance on the small reaped large-scale rewards.

Now, where this went awry had nothing to do with Wilson or Kelling, it was more a case of overreach or prior restraint. Some police departments moved from cracking down on petty criminals to attempting to stop petty crimes before they occurred—and prevention is always a great idea, but the distasteful tactics of stop and frisk and, in some cases, overzealous profiling took a solidly researched idea and moved it to something akin to the “precrime” storyline of the film “Minority Report” based on the Phillip K. Dick story.

Lest, any of my brothers in blue think I have simplified, and I have, I’m on your side — bad guys should be stopped — thank you. But, also, the constitution is pretty sweet, too.

Let’s take this to an area where we can probably all agree, and extract some personal utility out of the “broken windows” theory.

I’ve been doing this martial arts, self-protection thing for years upon years and I don’t think my estimation is off-base when I say most every self-defense class I’ve witnessed, self-protection tome I’ve slogged through, “How to be Safe & Kick-Ass” article I’ve ever read begins in SHTF territory.

There is indeed a place for SHTF tactics, but jumping to there from the beginning and perhaps, too often, gives far too little weight to all the wee tactics and observations we could be making along the way. Tactics and observations that might render all this SHTF side of things a bit less than useless (if we’re lucky, that is.)

I think we can all agree that locking doors, a worthy alarm system, well-lighted entrances on a home in a “good” area are all more useful than being slack in these areas and spending all your time on working dry fire “Clear the home” drills each weekend.

Locking doors, good lighting, using the wisdom of real estate agents everywhere of “Location, location, location” is essentially exercising “Broken Windows” strategy.

Take care of the small things and the large will often take care of themselves.

Let’s run a brief and admittedly incomplete checklist of personal “Broken Windows” tactics and see how many we adhere to:

  • Eyes up and off phones, aware of surroundings when in public.
  • Ear buds out, taking in the sounds of what’s around when out and about.
  • Scanning each new environment for alternate exits and less than savory types.
  • Paying attention to gut feelings and leaving locations before your gut has a chance to be right or wrong.
  • Realizing that never losing your keys, always having your personal items squared away and good to go is just as important, if not more, than that emergency weapon you’ve got tucked away somewhere.

You get the idea, policing ourselves for the small habits will prepare us for greater vigilance if ever needed. Always jumping to SHTF is akin to skipping the purchase of the small kitchen fire extinguisher for a chance grease fire, and rather opting for your own fire truck if the house should ever goes up in a blaze.

Take care of your leaky faucets, your creaky doors, your broken windows before they bring the whole house down.

Click here for more self defense instruction from Mark Hatmaker

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41 thoughts on “Broken Windows Theory & You by Mark Hatmaker”

  1. Great story that will help a lot of people they just have to read it Thank you for your service and thanks for the lesson.

  2. All-Righty Then.
    Having lived in cities for the past 35+ years and not always in “good” neighborhoods all of this is more of an instinctual reaction or should I say, “Trained response”?
    Good basic advice..simply…PAY ATTENTION…Consider broad scenarios, then throw a bit of “bad moon” in for good measure. No plan EVER goes as planned. If it did you can bet I’d plan out buying a winning lottery ticket….right now.

  3. This must be taken seriously and put to practice, things only get better as you run the drill.You will thank your self and the ones around you will undoubtly appreciate of what you do. Now be the judge and start at your house and family. I for my part Thank you very much…..

  4. Love your article. I see from the list there is a couple things I need to get in the habit of doing. Like listening to my gut feeling a little bit better seems like everytime I don’t listen to it something happens. And I need to look for exits more in my surroundings. Thank you for all the insightful information love it

  5. Well said. This is the same thread of open quarters fighting before closed quarters fighting.
    Thank you so much for grounding our training in the little things we can do before it comes to that.

  6. My theory is a bit different, but kinda the same. SHTF, there is social unrest, looters, rioters, all the fun stuff. I go at this in more of a micromanagement view. Looters are slowly walking down your block, a house looks like it may have potential….. You’ve put plywood over your windows though so they think ‘Oh sh*t, someone’s already looted here and probably got the good stuff.’ And they walk on. Oh chew toys for a big dog in the front yard is a good touch too-a deterrent. I use a trip wire with tin cans also, it tells me when it’s time to shoot someone.

  7. Well said my friend. I live in a cyclone area checking the roof screws and moving loose objects and talking to neighbours are a great defence

  8. Good advice! Life can be fun, but there is always the chance element of chaos imbedded in every situation. Paying attention and asking yourself the “what if?” questions is absolutely necessary to avoid trouble, and walking into telephone poles while texting! lol,…but seriously…

  9. Hello! What is Canadian? The new Canadian needs to see (not just looking) in the confusion and to hear the noise, with being receptive at the same time! Empathy, a deep understanding of emotions, body language, oh…yea!!, along with one’s self talk goin on, a fellow Canadian emerges that conveys to other people to having something in common with the person or groups before you! Right in front of you! Feeling life, love, and laughter, also, Long-life, happiness, prosper, or yes even, clever, classy, and confident. Yes, we are world class people!!!

  10. Yous always give very good tips,,I like the stuff I get of yous,,keep it coming,,thank you for the messages I get from yous,,..

  11. Makes good sense to have situational awareness everywhere you go. The old “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies here. Paying attention to the small thinks helps you avoid the big things before they materialize. It just blows me away to see all these folks walking along with their heads down, totally engrossed with their phones. No way to avoid the quicksand if you don’t see it. It just cries out for all to hear, “choose me, I won’t see it coming and am an easy victim.”

  12. Always love the insight. Enjoy learning the “uncommon” common sense, that is always lacking these days. Great article. Thank you.

  13. Fine example; BUT you are trying to sell me too many items. example “free items” . are’n t free shipping and handling are
    pretty close to paying for them. Just my opinion

  14. I agree totally Bob, every time i go out it’s a risk assessment if the risk is more than 41percent i seriously think about whether the journey is worth it.

  15. What I tend to think about is whenever politicians decide to renovate an area, is where will the poorest people go? Where will the homeless go and in which shadows and dark holes will they stash themselves and their collected property at night or in the day when they are trying to wash clothes or make repairs or to inspect scavenged items? The homeless are treated almost like criminals while criminals are seen as neglected, down on their luck souls who need our help.

    And on the flip side, bleeding heart liberals cry for the homeless (yet in reality despise their presence) and claim they are not being helped, but their idea of help is to force them into a program and get them working again, to make them productive people who fit into our society. Except when they say create shelters they always want those shelters to be located someplace else. They want them away from their homes and schools and neighborhoods. Just like people who cry about dirty streets and yet don’t want any dumps sites or waste management facilities close to their areas where they work and play. And they don’t like to recycle either as they’re too important and busy to do so.

    I see this as working backwards like adopting out unwanted dogs, yet nobody even suggests limiting the excessive breeding that takes place in this country. The rights of morons to breed supersedes the rights of the animals. We bury our heads because we see adoption drives as fixing the problem yet many dogs, cats, rabbits, etc are euthanized as that is somehow less offensive than legal actions such as restrictions or licensing.

    And when it comes to self defense, we can’t be armed or fight back because the self righteous, morally perfect, bleeding hearts say we have to remain civilized and nice people don’t have weapons or learn to fight. Therefore the criminal and savage elements can hurt us and be protected under the law and us potential victims have to prove we were in the right to even be outside or in our homes (basically breathing) when the scumbags come to kill us. There needs to be a few lines drawn and eyes need to be open as to who is in need, who causes trouble and whose right are being infringed upon to create real solutions so that people don’t have to always be on the lookout just to walk from their car to the grocery store. And nobody should ever go to jail for trying to defend themselves.

  16. Father Thomas Brennan was the head of the Philosophy Department at Notre Dame University back in the ’50s, 60’s etc. I was good friends with his nephew in high school and we would chat from time to time. On one of these occasions he told me he had something he wanted to share with me: “Wherever you go — there you are.” Now, being young and inexperienced in the ways of life I thought this to be a part of Father Tom’s comical wisdom. He was pretty adept at throwing out short gems of wisdom — most of which had allegorical meanings. But this one caught me completely by surprise and I spent some time thinking about it. Needless to say, that pearl of wisdom has served me well through the years. I know, it sounds like someone merely stating the obvious — until you put it into practice. It wasn’t so much finding yourself in the present as it was how you got there. I took his adage and added a little something of my own: Wherever you go — there you are… and you had better have a good reason for being there! Observe, stay alert, and try to be prepared for any and all unexpected circumstances. I can’t tell you how many times his advice has served me well. It is, I believe, akin to your “broken windows” theme. Try and make the right choices but be prepared for the worst.
    I thought your article both informative and well written. Nice job.

  17. Mark good to know that there stil are guys like youaround cause I tell you ive grown up in urban sf ca.back in the day it was rough but we were tough but I tell you now that what were dealing with now calls for human unity on a global scale because what were coming up against has no amd i.mean NO love for us what so ever.and if.we dont wake up by yesterday all the tricks and the weapons wont mean jack didly i speak the truth here when i say whay is already here is no joke and they.want.it all and some of our own have betrayed us for love of money and power!!!!! Get the word out its the only way the media belongs to them and soon our planet GOD BLESS

  18. I have PTSD from Vietnam and I’m aware of my surroundings at all times. I look behind doors and sit with my back against the wall. When I’m driving ,I scan the area to make sure nobody’s sneaking up to me. So I understand about the Broken Windows Theory. It’s almost the same as walking through a bad neighbor hood.

  19. I agree. Far to many people i see walk and drive around as though nothing is going to happen to them. Getting use to petty crime is rediculous. If it was ok it would not be a crime. Everything is backwards today. The Bible does say that this must come to pass so it will have to happen, but where zen ends, asskicking begins. Bless you and keep aware.

  20. I have done a lot of work for remodelers over the years and I’ve done some work for real estate agents and it was always and sometimes good areas and half the time in bad areas and yes you’re right about the broken windows concept I like the fact that you brought this forward so everybody else can know what to look for keep up the good work

  21. This is full of a whole lot of good ideas and I wholeheartedly agree with it I have worked for a lot of Realtors in the past doing electrical and remodeling and you’re right I’ve worked in some pretty bad neighborhoods doing electrical work for remodelers coming for real estate agents