The broken window theory was first introduced in a 1982 article by James Wilson and George Kelling. A successful strategy for preventing vandalism is to address the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows, paint over the graffiti within a short time and the tendency is for the problems are less likely to escalate.
In an interesting experiment, an automobile was parked in a neighborhood and left. It was discovered that the automobile was more quickly vandalized if a window on the parked automobile was broken than if the automobile was left undamaged. The message sent by the broken window was, “Nobody cares — other acts of vandalism are OK.”
Sheriff’s Reserve Sgt. Foster Mayo has written about the Broken Window theory in some of his crime prevention articles, and when I was teaching Introduction to Criminal Justice at North Idaho College the broken window theory was something that we would discuss as a class.
Recently in Boundary County we have had some “broken window” events with graffiti being spray painted on buildings, signs and roadway barriers. This destructive act by a few is not only criminal but shows a poor reflection on our County and all the positive and good things that are county and people represent.
The good out of this “Broken window” is the community involvement in saying and showing that we do not want this and will not tolerate it in Boundary County. I heard from a retired couple and a young family that both went out and painted over the graffiti after making sure that it had been reported and documented first for our criminal investigation. We have also had both City and County crews that are quick to try and get graffiti removed as soon as possible.
Graffiti is only one of the things for a “broken window,” others can include litter thrown out on the roadway, actual broken windows and run-down buildings. That is why we have the Sheriff’s Labor program picking up trash alongside the roads along with the volunteer groups that have adopted a section of roadway. By keeping the roadways clear of trash helps send the message not to throw your trash out of the window. I am sure we have all driven through cities or areas where the sides of the roads are cluttered with trash and the message that you get is nobody cares.
Let’s continue to not tolerate the disrespectful criminal acts of vandalism. Law enforcement is actively investigating the recent acts of vandalism and it is our desire to bring those responsible to justice where they can be held accountable for their actions. As a community if you have information about vandalism or other crimes please share it with law enforcement, help us “fix” some of these “broken windows” before they grow into larger problems.
I am reminded of the broken window theory every time I drive down Main Street and see the broken windows in the vacant building next to city hall and think of the message it sends to those passing through our town.
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Dave Kramer is the Sheriff of Boundary County.