Changing public consciousness about the nature of violent crime is crucial to undermining the appeal of the broken windows paradigm. The notion that public disorder drives criminality can seem an intuitive approach to public safety. But if people understand that most serious violence circles specific interpersonal group dynamics in structurally disadvantaged communities, order maintenance policing seems more like what study after study shows it is: an unnecessary evil.
That doesn’t mean there’s no connection between the condition of the built environment and crime: Some kinds of place-based interventions, such as cleaning and converting vacant land, for example, do appear to increase public safety. But those projects don’t use arrests or stops to fix broken windows. Stopping violent crime means addressing the risks and needs of those most likely to be involved in it. Now that we have clear evidence of the extraordinary concentration of that risk in American cities, we can and should follow those facts, not a theory that’s only ever been just that.