Broken Windows and Observable Cues

Dealing with America’s rising tide of crime ain’t rocket surgery.

The rising tide of violence in public spaces, like the gunplay outside the Nationals baseball game in DC is not a function of availability of guns, a bad economy, or allegedly racist police.

What it is though, is entirely predictable.

It is simply a breakdown the system of informal social control based on a sense of propriety of self-governance, a breakdown brought on by the message sent by the American left in positions of authority that society is responsible for crime, not the individual, and some crime is not punishable because that punishment would be a violation of social justice.

It says that both obeying laws and getting prosecuted for not obeying them is not a matter of equal application of those laws, it is an arbitrary and capricious process governed by the whims of the apparatchiks and the nomenklatura.

Only certain people, mostly white conservatives, are subject to having the book thrown at them. If you are a black BLM rioter or a white ANTIFA anarchist, you can burn down entire sections of your downtown, set up your own “autonomous zones” and murder Trump supporters and you will escape prosecution, if you are a grandmother who wants your government to answer questions about monkey business during the 2020 election and trespass into the Capitol (even if the Capitol Police let you in); the FBI will hunt you down and raid your house at 6 AM with a fully kitted SWAT team and a CNN broadcast truck and you may sit in solitary for months before you see a judge.

This is the message being sent by the Soros funded DA’s across the land and one condoned by the White House. To these two groups, crime is a political matter, not a matter of law, a civil society or societal cohesion.

This all gets back to the “broken windows” theory.

This theory proposes that visible signs of disorder and misbehavior in an environment encourage further disorder and misbehavior.

First suggested in by 1982 by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling, this theory drew on earlier research by Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo, arguing that no matter the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood (how rich or poor), one broken window would soon lead to many more windows being broken. Zimbardo noted: “One unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.”

Wilson and Kelling noted that unpunished (ignored) disorder begats more disorder and increases levels of fear among citizens, leading them to withdraw from the community and decrease participation in informal social control.

Starting in the mid-1990s, this theory became the prime crime-fighting tactic used by Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, his Police Commissioner, that lead historic drop in crime experienced in New York City, taking the streets from the criminals, and returning the streets to New York’s citizens. Bratton pushed the police to go after minor crimes like turnstile jumping, jaywalking, loitering, graffiti and others that had previously been ignored as “too small” to prosecute.

Giuliani backed this process by directing the city prosecutors to charge and prosecute these crimes, and in doing so, sent the message to the criminals that breaking the law, any law, would result in arrest and prosecution.

Maybe it seems trivial to arrest people for jaywalking and something like this could not possibly matter, but it is not. These are things that matter to the general public. They notice as do the criminals themselves. “Broken windows” works due to a behavioral principle called “observable cues”.

When a person faces a new or different situation, they seek to define it so that they can understand it. In many cases people search for and find enough information to process the information and place it in a context that allows them to manage or understand. In the cases where there is simply not enough information, people look for “observable cues” to help define and understand.

A common example used as a teaching tool in business schools is the McDonald’s restaurant parking lot case.

McDonald’s managers are trained as a matter of process to keep the restaurant parking lots and store fronts clean, litter free and neat. Why would anyone care what the parking lots look like? Well, while the consumer cannot see into the restaurant as they drive by, they can see the parking lot. A clean parking lot becomes a proxy for the inside of the restaurant – a clean kitchen, clean restrooms, and a clean eating area. The observable cue of a clean parking lot registers in the mind of the hungry driver that this is likely to be a clean place with safe food. The same goes for the opposite. If the outside is dirty, trash filled and unkempt, we extrapolate that the inside is likely to be the same.

These are generalizations to be sure – but that does not make them wrong.

When society sees criminals being arrested and prosecuted, even for so called “minor” crimes, when they see them being held in custody rather than being released to the streets, they have a reason to believe those cues mean that order is important, and crime will be punished. Clean streets, those free of broken windows, equal safety in the mind of the public.

Conversely, when crimes are ignored, as the Soros DA’s have been doing, major crimes or gang units are disbanded, when perpetrators are booked and immediately released to the street or police departments are “defunded”, the observable cue both criminals and the public see is that it is open season on law-abiding citizens.

The same situation is in play at the border enforcing immigration law reduces illegal immigration, refusing to enforce it increases it. Broken windows, broken border.

In both situations, crime goes up – and not just in quantity, but in quality as well. Ignoring the enforcement of minor crimes leads criminals to push the envelope to find which crimes are “serious” enough to be punished and predictably, the severity of the crime increases until it reaches a tipping point.

The adage that you get what you expect, and if you do not expect much, you will not get much, is very applicable here. It ain’t rocket surgery, but it seems beyond the capacity of the American left and Democrat mayors and politicians to get and it is a fact that things will not get better for the American public until they are gone.

Talk Amongst Yourselves:

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