Cover image for Illusion of order : the false promise of broken windows policing
Illusion of order : the false promise of broken windows policing
Harcourt, Bernard E., 1963-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 294 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


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HV6025 .H297 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This book challenges the broken-windows theory of crime, which argues that permitting minor misdemeanours, such as loitering and vagrancy, to go unpunished only encourages more serious crime. The theory has revolutionized policing in the United States and abroad, with its emphasis on policies that crack down on disorderly conduct and aggressively enforce misdemeanour laws.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

For the past couple of decades, many police departments throughout the United States have utilized the order-maintenance approach. This method of policing has been directly influenced by the well-known "broken windows" theory, which can be traced to James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. Their theory suggests that if minor forms of disorder, such as graffiti, litter, panhandling, and prostitution, are left unattended, the neighborhood will decline and more serious criminal activity emerges. Examples of this type of policing include New York City Mayor Giuliani's crackdown on "quality-of-life offenses" and Chicago's antigang loitering ordinance. The order-maintenance approach has received favorable attention in the popular press, scholarly journals, public circles, and academia. Here, Harcourt (law, Univ. of Arizona) challenges the validity of the "broken windows" technique, brilliantly critiquing existing data and offering alternative reasons for the seemingly successful results of this type of law enforcement. Harcourt presents a "wake-up" call to all those who blindly accept the "broken windows" approach to policing. Highly recommended for all criminology and social science collections. Tim Delaney, Canisius Coll., Buffalo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A 1982 article by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling introduced the concept of a "broken windows" approach to combating crime: i.e., tolerating litterers, loiterers, and disorderly minor offenders promotes an environment fostering more serious crime. Harcourt (law, Univ. of Arizona) exhaustively analyzes the claim that this approach to policing urban neighborhoods merits a significant measure of credit for the decline in crime rates and the improvement in the quality of urban life. He finds an absence of convincing evidence to support claims on its behalf, and explores some reasons for the credit given to it. Many other factors are identified that may more plausibly explain the changes noted. Furthermore, Harcourt exposes some of the harmful consequences of the policies emanating out of the "broken windows" approach for especially vulnerable constituencies. This book sometimes reads like a dissertation, and the core argument could be quite effectively presented in a journal article. Some constructive suggestions for an alternative approach to the problem of conventional crime are offered. Upper-division undergraduates and above. D. O. Friedrichs University of Scranton

Table of Contents

1 Punishment and Criminal Justice at the Turn of Century
2 The Order-Maintenance Approach
Part I Empirical Critique
3 The Broken Windows Theory
4 Policing Strategies and Methodology
Part II Theoretical Critique
5 On Disorderly, Disreputable, or Unpredictable People
6 The Implications of Subject Creation
Part III Rhetorical Critique
7 The Turn to Harm as Justification
Part IV Rethinking Punishment and Criminal Justice
8 An Alternative Vision
9 Toward a New Mode of Political Analysis