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Litter and graffiti lead to more serious crime

Will minor crimes occuring within a community, such as litter or graffiti, result in more serious criminal activity? For example, will people steal money from an envelope protruding from a postbox if there is litter on the ground or graffiti on the postbox?

According to a recent study there is a link; people are likely to engage in crime, and more serious crime, when the environment has signs of vandalism or disorder.  The study details a set of six experiments which show that when there is litter or graffiti present people are more likely to steal money or transgress other laws.  What the findings illustrate is that the surroundings can shape criminal activity within a community.

The experiment is the first of its kind to show a causal link for the Broken Window Theory (BWT) of Wilson and Kelly.  The BWT states that removing signs of minor crime will have a larger effect on crime rates because the triggers will be gone.  Malcolm Gladwell calls this the tipping point - when people make small changes such as cleaning up the neighborhood or putting up no littering signs for example, there will be an overall tipping point towards less crime in the community.  You can access the full article here


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