‘Broken windows’ policing beats a broken society

Whenever gun control advocates cite next week’s school shooting as an argument for gun control, gun rights advocates often respond by citing the fact that more people will be shot next weekend in Chicago than in most gun massacres.

This is both a good and bad argument: like people who argue that more people are killed by car crashes than terrorism, they’re kind of missing the point. But, they are also right: “ordinary” gun violence is out of control in supposedly “gun-free” cities.

So, what is to be done about this problem? Here, no innovation is necessary, because we already know what works, although, as with so many reasonable things these days, there is formidable moralistic liberal opposition. The solution is prevention, and that means broken windows policing.

“Broken windows” is a type of zero-tolerance policing which involve enforcing general public order: rousting beggars and loiterers, moving on groups of noisy young people. The name comes from the idea that, if you allow visible signs of disorder like broken windows to proliferate, it sends the message that general law-breaking will be tolerated. Japan is a famously low-crime nation. Western tourists soon learn that even such behaviour as not using designated seating in public parks is quickly discouraged by police.

The effectiveness of broken windows policing has been borne out by science[:]

Academic critics and the press…challenged the idea that allowing disorder to fester invites more lawbreaking. In 2007, sociologists in the Netherlands constructed an elegant series of experiments to test the hypothesis. The social scientists defaced discrete urban locations with graffiti and litter and created other signs of public-norm violation. In every case, passersby were far more likely themselves to litter, trespass, and disregard other social rules in the disorderly environment than in the orderly one. They were twice as likely to steal a stamped envelope visibly containing cash from a mailbox that was covered with graffiti than from a mailbox that was pristine…

There is ample evidence that, insofar as police do not do or stop doing broken windows policing, crime is high or increases.

Needless to say, broken windows is hated by “progressive” types, because it goes against the grain of some of their most cherished beliefs. Especially the fantasy that criminals are somehow not responsible for their own bad behaviour.

There are more than a few blacks who, resenting their group’s lesser overall social status, do not want to accept group disparities in crime rates, who do not want to face the consequences of human action. To some extent, that is understandable…[but] the politically incorrect reality is that, at only about 4 percent of the population, black men under 40 commit more than half of all homicides, and are disproportionately represented in violent crime generally.

Nor can poverty, the common liberal explanation (motivated by blind pity), account for this…though poverty is correlated to crime, poverty does not cause crime, because people do have free will and choose to do what they do.

The “poverty causes crime” narrative is also defied by the hard data showing that, at all socio-economic levels, black males are far more likely to be criminals than other groups.

The problem, though, is that this virtue is hindered by the delusions and class interests of genteel liberals. For rather than realizing that some people just need to change their lives, and to be told to change their lives, these wrongheaded moralists constantly read discrimination into contexts where it does not exist, and condescendingly treat others as nothing but passive victims of poverty, as if to be poor were an intrinsically criminal or degenerate condition.

It doesn’t help that “liberal” academics, even criminologists, are almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the comfortable middle-class. Most of them simply have no real-world experience of crime and poverty, or the criminals they romanticise and excuse.

George Orwell said in a letter of October 1938: “What sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen”.