The “broken windows” theory of crime, dating back to an article in The Atlantic from 1982 and more recently popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point and Rudy Giuliani (mayor, NYC), suggests that signs of petty crime, like littering and broken windows, trigger further criminal behaviour.
Now, recent research is starting to suggest that the theory is correct.
Keiser thinks that it’s unlikely that people inferred a reduced police presence by the presence of litter or graffiti – certainly, litter is generally tolerated by the police [in the area where the research was undertaken]. Instead, he thinks that one transgression was actually fostering another. This isn’t a simple case of imitation – littering doesn’t just beget littering. Keiser’s idea is that seeing the breakdown of one social norm makes it easier to ignore others, by weakening our general resolve to act appropriately and strengthening our temptations to act in our own self-interest.