THE EDITOR: I would like to introduce a theory that has significant traction in reducing levels of crime and which is based on the broken windows theory.
This theory was first introduced by social scientists James Q Wilson and George L Kelling in an article titled “Broken Windows” in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.
The title comes from the following example: Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.
What this suggests is that if you allow the seeds of petty crime to grow and blossom it will develop into something greater, and then there will be a snowballing effect into more and more serious crime.
This theory was critically tested in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. William Bratton, the head of the New York City Transit Police, targeted graffiti on subways, ensuring that all subway cars were continuously cleaned of all markings. Bratton described Kelling as his “intellectual mentor” and implemented zero tolerance of fare-dodging, easier arrestee processing methods and background checks on all those arrested.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the hero of 9/11, and his police commissioner Howard Safir also adopted the strategy more widely in New York City after Giuliani’s election in 1993, under the rubrics of “zero tolerance” and “quality of life.” Giuliani’s zero-tolerance roll-out was part of an interlocking set of wider reforms, crucial parts of which had been underway since 1985.
Giuliani had the police more strictly enforce the law against subway fare evasion, public drinking, urination, and the “squeegee men” who had been wiping windshields of stopped cars and demanding payment.
According to the 2001 study of crime trends in New York by George Kelling and William Sousa, rates of both petty and serious crime fell suddenly and significantly, and continued to drop for the following ten years.
The lesson from this theory is that you need to pay attention to the small details. The Colour Me Orange programme in TT followed the same pattern.
According to the goals and objectives of this programme, participants in the project perform refurbishment and repair work at HDC sites in which they live around the country.
Initially the programme was to employ 2,000 youths over a three-month period . The employed youths were to carry out the rehabilitation and refurbishment of HDC rental communities, and address the backlog of repairs that have been outstanding in rental properties across Trinidad.
Now consider closely what was mentioned about the broken window theory.
Isn’t this a clear application of this proven and successful crime reduction tool? Isn’t this a case of literally fixing our own broken windows?
By improving and enhancing the environment where the participants live, it is envisaged that there will be an increase in civic pride and social responsibility.
This programme is not a welfare programme. In fact, participants of the programme have to undergo mandatory practical courses to enhance their skill sets.
It is time to put aside partisan politics and focus on what works in the best interest of TT by preparing for a better tomorrow today.