Applying the Broken Windows Theory to Domestic Violence and Gangs

In my Public Administration class the other day, we were reviewing a case that played a role in the lead up to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passing in 1994. Reading about a man killing a woman when he was supposed to be in jail is heartbreaking. The case leads us to believe that bureaucracy played a role in the man not being in jail when he was supposed to be. I hear that argument, but I think it’s weaker than it lets on.

Anyway, during the ensuing discussion of this case (as viewed through the lens of Max Weber and bureaucracy), I was reminded of the broken windows theory:

The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

Meaning, if a window is broken, instead of waiting for months to fix it, fix it right away. In this way, it demonstrates to the surrounding area that this community is a place that takes care of itself — and by extension — isn’t a breeding ground for crime and unsightly behavior. The broken windows theory — on its own — doesn’t really apply to bureaucracy and VAWA. Remember that Mayor Giuliani made a big push in NYC to implement this theory. My thought was: why don’t we apply the principles of the broken windows theory to an order of magnitude above broken windows?

To expand: another reason offered as to why the man in the case above was able to kills his ex-girlfriend was because the authorities were busy focusing on the gangbangers. So, to apply the broken windows theory: focus on the domestic violence cases or those crimes that are perceived to be as lower priority than gangbangers and maybe the gangbanging will take care of itself? I want to emphasize that I’m not judging as to which is more important (gangbangers or domestic violence), but in the way that the priority is given to the gangbangers, I wonder if instances of domestic violence (or similar crimes) were focused on, would that then cut off the “supply” of those people who join gangs?

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