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Posted: September 4th, 2023

Book Review: Illusion of order

Book Review: Illusion of order, the false promise of broken windows policing by Harcourt.
This book challenges the ‘broken window’ principle of crime. The theory argues that by permitting wrongdoings, for instance, allowing vagrancy and loitering to go unpunished offers a pathway that later leads to more severe crimes. In the United States and other world nations, the theory highly revolutionizes policing, and places emphasis on policies that aggressively administer misdemeanor laws and a crackdown on offensive conducts. As the book illustrates, the model of the broken window policing was first described in an article by Wilson and Kelling in 1982 . The model addressed the significance of disorders like broken windows into sustaining or generating more lethal crimes. As Wilson and Kelling illustrate, even though a disorder may not directly link to serious crimes, they raise fear among residents, after which they withdraw, and serious misconducts and crimes creep in due to reduced levels of informal public control2. Therefore, emphatic policing on less serious crimes and disorders in such cases helps to curb withdrawals and reduce or eliminate fear among residents.
Harcourt argues that although the broken window theory has been in existence for thirty years now, the problem is that its verification has never been empirical. He states that the currently available data suggests that the theory is false. Harcourt continues to say that, the principle has conceptual foundation on unexamined categories of disorderly people and law abiders, and of disorders or orders that have no fundamental authenticity, and independent of methods that the society use to punish.
The book explains how the new crime maintenance approach was embraced by the criminal justice, policymakers, reformers, and in academics throughout the world regardless of its flaws, absence of empirical support, and contribution to increased aggressive detention of thousands of citizens. It also explains a new approach and a more thoughtful vision that the criminal justice should approach. Some aspects of broken window theory exist in populous cities in the United States, for example, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. However, the book notes that little is still known concerning the effects of this policing technique.
Harcourt identified in the re-analysis data that there is no substantial relationship between misdemeanor and serious crimes. Therefore, he clearly points out that his research refutes the broken windows theory and that no link exists between serious crimes and disorder. In addition to re-examining Wilson and Kelling hypothesis and the independent research of the crime data obtained from New York for the duration of 1989 to 1998, Harcourt presents a result from a social experiment known as Moving to Opportunity (MTO) conducted in five cities3. These cities were Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston and Baltimore, and these tests were more rigorous to give a clear hypothesis of the broken window theory. Under this program, about 4,800 crime vulnerable low-income families were given house vouchers to relocate to areas with less disorderly and disadvantaged communities.
The test result of the social experiment from the five test cities proved that there was no support that a simple first order or disorder activities would automatically cause crimes. Harcourt, therefore, disputed the disorder-to-crime relationship as Wilson and Kelling hypothesized in 20014. He uses the result to strongly argue against the broken window policing as an optimal way to reduce crime.
The author admits that there is some harm as a result of the disorderly conduct. For instance, Harcourt acknowledges that devaluation, and property damage due to public littering, urination, and graffiti patching destroy the aesthetic beauty and causes environmental harm5. He says that loitering, homelessness and aggressive panhandling have drastic commercial repercussions in the shopping areas. He, however, points out that dealing with these acts does not require police to employ aggressive misdemeanor arrests, but instead place high surveillance as a measure to deal with these acts.
In Harcourt’s view, the broken window approach to policing leads to more damage than benefits. The harms pointed out include subjection of many people to the torment of criminal justice systems, increased complaints against sheriffs, minority suffering the consequences, stereotyping of the Blacks criminality, and failure of the system delegates to clearly distinguish what order or disorder entails6. Harcourt ends by bringing a point that in many cases, one man’s order is another’s disorder, and the judgments due to broken window theory are likely to be wrong.

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