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Quality-of-Life Policing: Do Offenders Get the Message?

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2002
31 pages
Publication Series
The "fixing broken windows" theory argues that visible disorder in a community breeds crime; this study assessed one aspect of the "broken windows" line of reasoning, i.e., that quality-of-life (QOL) policing, which emphasizes the control of minor misbehaviors that are highly visible, sends a message to offenders that QOL misbehaviors will not be tolerated.
In the 1990's, the New York City Police Department increased patrols and the enforcement of laws against QOL offenses. Targeted offenses included fare-beating, aggressive panhandling, graffiti writing, and sleeping on public benches. In the past, police would have tended to ignore these minor offenses or use a mild intervention. Beginning in the mid-1990's the police targeted these QOL behaviors for arrest. In order to test the deterrence effectiveness of such a policy, this study interviewed 539 arrestees in 1999. All of the study participants were asked a series of questions on QOL offending, regardless of whether or not they had been arrested for QOL violations. They were asked whether they perceived that police were targeting the behavior for warnings, tickets, or arrest; whether they had engaged in the behavior during the past year; if so, whether they had reduced or stopped such behavior during the previous 6 months; and if so, the reason for the reduction in the behavior. The study found that almost all of the arrestees were aware that police were targeting various QOL offenses for arrest. Among those active in the specified QOL misbehaviors, about half reported that they had severely cut back or stopped their involvement in the behaviors in the past 6 months; approximately half had not. Those who reduced their proscribed QOL behaviors cited general police presence as the most important factor, suggesting that for them QOL policing was effective as a general deterrent. 6 tables and 44 references

Date Published: June 1, 2002