Theory of Broken Windows
Article 38 of the Constitution of India makes provisions for making India a welfare state. The social and economic development of the country is the basic function of the welfare state. The social structure and economy will collapse if the crime rate is not checked. Hence, the welfare state becomes a dream far from reality. For this reason, state officials must significantly reduce, if not eradicate, crime. The theory of broken windows first gained popularity in a 1982 article by James Q. Wilson and Geoge L. Kelling that was published in the Atlantic Monthly. It implies that having visible signs of criminal activity, antisocial behavior, and general disorder makes cities more likely to have serious crimes and other types of criminal activity.
In some areas, the police started conducting foot patrols, and it was examined five years later. The analysis showed that this program did not lower crime rates, but the population living in the areas that are patrolled on foot compared to places where there was no such foot patrol, felt safer. This effect occurred owing to the preservation of public order in these specific locations. Most social psychologists and law enforcement officials agreed that if one window in a building is broken and not fixed, the rest will soon follow. This can happen in both wealthy and underdeveloped areas. While some neighbourhoods are home to committed window breakers. While there are window lovers in other neighbourhoods, it is not necessarily common for window breaking to occur on a large scale. Instead, one broken window that is not fixed sends the message that no one is concerned, making it easy to break more windows.
This measure is used by the police throughout the whole world to curb crime. The major function of the police is to decrease crime. When the police have a suspicion about any person who can become a threat to public order or maintenance or is working against the law of the land, then police use this measure to prevent him from disrupting the law and order and hence the window which might have been broken if the power of preventive detention may have not used is still in its place.
This power of arrest for preventive detention is often misused by a police officer and is a major concern concerning corruption in the police. One of the main causes of police corruption, according to the National Police Commission’s Third Report on the quality of arrests made by the Indian Police, is the ability to make arrests. According to the report, 43.2% of the money spent on maintaining jails was attributable to unjustified police action, and generally speaking, close to 60% of arrests were either unnecessary or unjustified. The following was noted by the said Commission on page 31 of its Third Report-
“From the perspective of crime prevention, it is obvious that a significant portion of the arrests were related to very minor prosecutions, and as a result, they cannot be viewed as being particularly necessary. Unnecessary expenses for the upkeep of the detained individuals and are still in custody have been incurred. It was estimated that during the aforementioned period, only those prisoners whose arrest ultimately wasn’t necessary accounted for 43.2% of the costs in the associated jails.”
The prosecution has the utmost duty, along with the defence counsel and Judge or Magistrate that no crime shall go unpunished and, at the same time, no innocent shall be punished.
In both measures, if anything goes against the law, then crime rate is to be increased.
- If A has committed an offence and is tried for that offence, but the prosecution did not prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, then the accused has found a loophole to commit a crime that goes unpunished, and hence a general view occurs in his mind to commit further crime.
This illustration has the support of a Supreme Court Judgment in Dhananjoy Chatterjee alias Dhana vs. State of West Bengal, in which it was noted that- Some criminals are sentenced harshly, while others are sentenced differently for virtually the same crime, and a disturbingly substantial number of criminals go unpunished, encouraging the criminal and, in the end, undermining justice by undermining the system’s legitimacy.
Madhya Pradesh High Court in Miss x (victim) vs. Santosh Sharma and others noted the effect of the environment on the crime rate. The High court described in paragraph 33 of this judgment that in a society where trappings of ignorance, feud pattern of society, and poor sex ratio make the life of female worse when she experiences such street harassment as it is a threat of real sexual violation that women experience while going to school, college or job.
In para 34 of the said judgment, the High Court emphasized that crime and order are strongly interrelated and the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication shall be aware of the theory of broken windows, which influences police, law enforcement, and courts to target minor disorders to reduce the occurrence of more serious crimes.
In para 44 of the mentioned judgment, M.P. High court makes it clear that Investigation, prosecution, and adjudication shall re-synchronize and connect the theory of broken windows with the prevalent theory of Marginal Deterrence to address the growing threat of crimes against women and, if possible consider strict enforcement of law and order over minor offences, particularly those that may lead to major and heinous crimes.
Support of the theory
Crime prevails more in areas where the police seldom visit, while an area regularly patrolled by the police becomes a center of administration with almost no crime committed by any person. When it is analyzed that there are certain areas where the crime rate is significantly higher, frequent patrols by the police will help to curb the offence. Education also plays an important role in decreasing crime rate in such areas as the theory suggests, that where the environment of a particular area affects crime rate, developing that area in terms of socially habitable fabric will decrease crime rate.
The fundamental right to practice a profession is not an exception to this theory. The courts rightly observed the effect of the environment on the crime rate. The below-mentioned cases in this segment will make this point clear.
The State of Bombay vs. R.M.D. Chamarbaugwala – This Court stated in this case that gambling could not be promoted to the nature of trade, commerce, or intercourse and be made the subject of a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(g). Likewise, in this scenario, dance bars have a detrimental effect on families, women, and adolescents, and have increased crime rates in addition to the trafficking and exploitation of women.
Khoday Distilleries Ltd. and Others vs. State of Karnataka and Others – The Court stated that trafficking in women, slaves, or counterfeit currency, as well as showing or publishing sexually explicit or obscene books and films are not fundamental rights since such practices are nasty and destructive. The following observations were relied on:
“The reasonable interpretation of the phrase “the right to practice any profession or carry on any occupation, trade, or business” is “the right to practice any line of work or carry on any profession, trade, or business that can be legitimately practiced in a progressive society and is not repugnant to the generally accepted moral standards of that society.”
Children, where there is lawlessness, grow up contrary to law. If education is provided along with community policing and economic and social aid by the state will inculcate law-abiding citizens in the area. The important fact on which the theory of broken windows is based is that if a window is broken and it is not repaired, then soon all the neighboring windows to that window will get broken, and slowly all the windows of the building will get broken and that building will collapse. Similarly, the theory is applicable in society. If a crime goes unpunished or an area is concerned with minor offences & no cognizance is made of that offence, then the minor crimes will take the form of a major and serious crime within a limited time. Lawlessness will prevail and the rule of law will lose its roots.
The members of the society have to report the offence that happened in their presence or that they know has happened along with any evidence and testimony as required by the court as this will help to repair that window that was broken by the criminal. The motive behind the theory of broken windows is to recognize the effect of the environment on crime rate. Certainly, it affects crime rate. The provisions for habitual offenders come into this category along with history sheeters.
Criticism of the theory
The theory is criticized on the ground that it did not reduce crime rate but only fools society that crime is curbed on the false ground of community policing. The original article and proposer of such theory also accounted explanation for such analysis that areas, where community policing was done, were less prone to the offences.
The second criticism is that if an offender is punished for minor crimes and convicted and sent to jail, he will be released as a criminal to commit major crimes, since now he has a connection in jails with criminals having serious crimes on their names. This statement is practical and is not an assumption. This theory also lose its effect on the example that if a child is punished for minor faults, he becomes either-
- Frightened to confess what he had committed, or
- used to such punishment and has no effect of it on his mind.
In both the cases, the child has become ready to commit serious mistakes. This is also one of the reasons why it is necessary to hear the prosecution and defense on the sentence to the accused after trial and conviction is done by taking into account the contention of the defense and prosecution. There are a plethora of articles in which poverty is called a reason for the increasing crime rate. This may be true to an extent but one should know that poverty does not make serious criminals like dacoity, murder, rapes, waging war, sedition etc; but only theft of certain articles of food and clothing when required. This statement is not to be taken as supporting minor crimes. But when poverty is coupled with no education or education against the morals of society, the chances of major crimes become immense. So what is required is the right type of education in the poverty-ridden areas.
This is true that environment and crime rate are directly proportional with some exceptions. So when the environment of the society is progressive with economic and social justice, definitely major crimes be reduced, if not minor crimes. There is no straight jacket formula to reduce crime rate but improving the environment of the society will definitely help the citizens to move ahead in their life without doing any crime.
The Article on the theory of Broken Windows also gave an example in which a man buy two cars and kept one of them in a grey area of society while the other in a progressive area of society. After a week, the car in the grey area was totally aimed at ruins while the car in the other area was untouched. The man then hammered the car in the progressive society and soon the habitants and the passerby came to attack that car which was hammered.
This shows that the environment as well as policing affect the crime rate. For the car in the grey area was ruined for no reason. Secondly, the car in the other area waited for the first attack and when it found the first attack, it was then turned into ruins. If in the second area, patrolling by the police may have been done, then the fate of that car may have been changed and it might be protected. For the grey area, only policing will do nothing, firstly the state has to change the environment of that area. Make the citizens educated, provide them economic and social security, and then we can assume that policing will curb crime rate in the particular region.
Community policing is required to end the lawlessness in a developed society so that minor crimes do not turn into major crimes. But where the society itself is the source of crime, what would we expect coming out of it? Once the environment is changed from negative to positive, crimes are reduced. No person wants to be called a criminal. No criminal wants his child to become a criminal. Unless a positive environment is developed in such areas, the crime rate is hard to be checked. For reducing white-collar crimes, moral education is required to be given and this means whatever people earn should be through legal ways.
- https://police.py.gov.in/Police%20Commission%20reports/3rd%20Police%20Commission%20report.pdf paragraph 22.23
- Dhananjoy Chatterjee alias Dhana vs. State of West Bengal, (1994) 1 Crimes 319
- Criminal Appeal No. 6326 of 2019
- The State of Bombay vs. R.M.D. Chamarbaugwala, (1957) AIR(SC) 699
- Khoday Distilleries Ltd. and Others vs. State of Karnataka and Others, (1995) 1 SCC 574
This article is written by Somnath Sharma, a law graduate.