The Impact of Population Caps on Community Policing

David P. Weiss, Claremont Graduate University
Eric A. Helland, Claremont McKenna College

In a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article, James Q. Wilson and George Kelling introduced the concepts of "broken windows" and community policing. These concepts posit that if petty crimes and acts of delinquency (such as graffiti or vandalized windows) are not addressed, they will develop into larger, more serious criminal behaviors. Put in other terms, a neighbohood left unkept portrays an uncaring attitude--an attitude which leads to the erosion of the neighborhood, and thus toward greater crime. These concepts, then, were a burgeoning philosophical response to the issue of rising crime rates. We test the broken windows hypothesis using the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) database for the 3,141 counties located in the U.S. The UCR data is merged with the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) National Survey of Jails database, which contains information on court-ordered jail population caps. The analysis covers the period of 1977 through 1992. We then examine the impact of court orders on the arrest rates for petty crimes. Using court orders as our instrument for the severity of punishment for petty crimes, we estimate the impact of a court order on UCR index crimes, and thus, indirectly, the impact on the strategy of community policing.

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Updated 05/20/2006