Let’s fix those broken windows

The academic broken windows theory proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling dates back to 1982 and essentially uses broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighbourhoods. This theory states that maintaining, monitoring and policing urban environments to prevent petty crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and drunk and disorderly behaviour, creates an atmosphere of order and lawfulness and prevents more serious crime.

This ‘broken windows’ approach was thrust into the international spotlight during the 1990s as crime rates in New York City dropped dramatically when violent crime declined by more than 56 percent. This reduction in the crime rate was realised as a result of then Mayor, Rudi Giuliani’s, aggressive policing of lower-level crimes. Giuliani told the press in 1998, “Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other.”

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that we live in a semi-lawless society and that various petty crimes are overseen on a daily basis. This from the stop street at the primary school that is apparently invisible and the total disregard for the traffic light at the dam wall, to the illegal after-hours alcohol sales and inebriated under-aged drivers on the R511 early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, to the rapid deforestation of the area.

Complaining on Facebook certainly draws attention to all of the illegal, criminal and downright unfair practices in town. The problem is though that many of the perpetrators are probably not even members of the various CPF groups or community pages and will never hear or see any of the numerous posts and will remain oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

This begs the question: what impact will it have on this community if petty crimes and misdemeanours are addressed and punished? Will it send a message to everyone, from the stop street skippers to the ruthless tree fellers and drunk drivers, that the broken windows are being fixed and that their behaviour will no longer be tolerated? And more importantly, would it prompt each and every one of us to take a long, hard, honest look at ourselves and ask whether our own behaviour is really beyond reproach?

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