Broken Windows Theory, Opportunity Theory and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Comparative Essay

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In order to explain what this project consists of, it was divided into five sections which are introduction, methodology, literature review, findings and discussion and conclusion. Theories were also used to correlate with the data that was collected. Broken Windows theory, Opportunity theory and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design were in fact the theories used. Besides the writing of this report a crime map was designed using Geographic Information System. Geographic Information system or for short GIS is one of the many existing software used today for mapping out crime. The function of crime mapping has a very important role in the processes of deterring crime and policing. By collecting geographical related data about a particular area, a simple map can be turned into a three-dimensional visual of the data obtained. In this process there are many stages for example collecting data, observation and evaluation. This geographically related information can also be used to investigate the areas where crime related problems are occurring and any other problematic issues related to law enforcement.

Section 8 was chosen for the purpose of this research study. This area is very busy and popular with both locals and foreigners due to the many shopping complexes such as Marks and Spencers and also the Embassy shopping Complex. This part of Valletta also contains multiple high-end jewellery stores, restaurants, churches and many residential and abandoned houses. The streets that were part of this section include Santa Lucia’s Street, West Street, Old Theatre Street, Republic Street, Old Mint Street, Old Bakery Street, Saint Paul Street and Merchant Street. Observation was the method used to gather data so as to gain first-hand knowledge about the area. In fact the observations took place on the 18th of December 2018 and on the 4th of January 2019. On both of these days the area was visited in the morning and the evening.

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Before the visits each member of the group took on the role of either the offender, policy maker or enforcer. This was done so as to get the viewpoint from three different sides and so be able to gather insight from three different perspectives.

Moreover, during the visits to Valletta each student evaluated and noted crime prone locations, activities which may attract or generate crime, hotspots and surveillance technologies which help to reduce crime. Therefore, the area was properly monitored and evaluated so as to gather knowledge on areas of poor lighting and street lights which were actually working. The number of CCTV’s and their position was also noted down while also taking into consideration the alarm systems which were present. During each visit care was also taken to record human traffic that occurred in that area. This included the number of people who passed by in that area to carry out their daily routine activities such as curriers, shoppers and workers. Moreover, the housing residents and shops were also of an interest especially as these are targets for crime therefore they were observed carefully. Photographs were also taken so as to provide clear evidence of the findings.

After all of the evidence was taken and jotted down a crime map was designed using the Geographic Information System software. This type of software allows one to build a map so as to understand better patterns of crime (Chainey & Ratcliffe, 2005). Points and polygons were the type of geometry so as to display the findings. Points were in fact used to mark the areas where CCTV’s were present. Moreover points of different colour were also used to display the working street lights. Polygons of different size were created so as to show the streets with areas of poor lighting. Pink points were used to represent the CCTV’s while green points were used to represent working street lights. Blue polygons were used to display the poorly lit areas. Therefore through this map one can get a clear picture of which [image: ]areas are considered to be monitored and surveilled whilst also indicating which areas need better security and lighting as they are prone to crime.

During the observation period of this project, where several rounds around the sector were made at different times of the day, one of the things that could mainly be observed is the mixture of modernized and old buildings. The areas were mainly residential however there were also a large quantity of shops in the middle and eastern side which also included: Republic Street and Merchant street as well.

One theory that could be heavily applied to the situation found would be the Broken Windows Theory. Developed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling (1982), this theory implies that something as simple as a broken window on a building is a signal of abandonment and disregard towards property. The Broken Windows Theory mainly started being used throughout the 1990s and is still very influential in the 21st Century. James Q. Wilson and George Kelling had used a different approach to law enforcement scholars and police, who tended to focus on serious crimes, mainly concerning those that are more consequential to the victim such as murder, robbery and rape. However, they viewed the serious crimes as the final result of a longer chain of events, theorizing that crime emerges from a particular ‘disorder’ and if that disorder is eliminated, than serious crime could be eliminated within the neighborhood. This theory goes hand in hand with the fact that the older houses in that area are more prone to theft due to a lack of security measures such as CCTV and also a very low police presence in most of these areas. Quite a large number of houses looked to be abandoned due to the large amount of dust that had become collected on doors and windows and also due to being broken in particular places where they would not be visible at a first glance, however with some it was confirmed that there are people still residing in these houses. Another risk factor that could arise due to this is all these factors could be a signal that an elderly person or someone that could have a hard time defending themselves are living within that house, therefore making them an easy target.

Another theory that is to be considered as it was widely viewed is the Opportunity Theory. Cook (1986) summarizes the central assumption of criminal opportunity theory: as “An increase in the net payoff per unit of effort on the part of the criminal will, other things being equal, increase the overall volume of property crime. Denial of this proposition is tantamount to claiming that potential criminals as a group are unresponsive to economic incentives—that they are fundamentally different from everyone else, if indeed there is any- one who can be excluded from the ‘potential criminal’ category.”)

One thing that was widely viewed, especially in the areas where there were shops and restaurants, was the fact that many doors (houses, shops, garages, shop storage…) were left open and unattended for a substantial amount of time, with some storage spaces being seen open various times, meaning that any offender with the intent of hitting a certain location could easily observed and broken into without much notice.

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) demonstrates that supervision or natural surveillance is one of the most important factors that decrease crime within residential areas. . This theory is widely accepted in several international contexts, it has also widespread applications across varying micro-environments: including residential areas, commercial areas such as shopping centres, public transportation hubs, car parks and sports stadiums and more (Crowe 2000). Reynald (2009) showed that depending on which dimensions of territoriality are operationalized and measured—whether it is signs of ownership such as property signs and decorations, or physical and symbolic barriers designed to delineate private property from (semi) public space—its relationship with property crime can be incongruous. In addition, some dimensions of territoriality—such as the presence of real and symbolic barriers—have the potential to conflict with surveillance opportunities by potentially obscuring lines of sight, thereby creating rather than blocking opportunities for crime

After countless observations and investigations of our assigned sector which was the area between these four streets: Triq Marsamxett, Triq Santa Lucija, Triq Lvant and Triq it-Teatru. These three topics have been especially focused on: Lighting, security and cameras or CCTV. Some theories that would be integrated in these findings would be: Broken Windows Theory, Opportunity Theory and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Theory (CPTED).

Broken Window Theory was speculated to be used in the sector that we had been assigned. This theory explains that an area where signs or evidence is seen that a crime had occurred, for example: broken windows, that area would give off an impression that it is an abandoned area or that if an individual commits a crime it goes unnoticed by the authorities thus if an individual comes through and commits a crime, then it is more likely to not be noticed due to that individual not being the only individual who had committed a crime in that particular area. Therefore, if police officers were to investigate it would definitely not be easy to try and connect the dots between the evidence left with a particular crime that had been committed. An example would be if a particular building that has been abandoned for quite a long period of time if individuals who have lived nearby would be alienated through social engineering by their own neighbours thus if something occurs it would not be reported. Another example would be when a CCTV camera is old and it is clear as day that the camera is not functioning and an offender might steal it or vandalize it due to simple negligence. Unfortunately there were a number of these cases in our sector that we had bee assigned to.

Opportunity Theory was also thought that it could be used in our findings. A simple definition of this particular theory would be that the way an offender would think in a logical way of thinking in order to see if by committing a particular crime on that opportunistic individual who would be the offender’s target, to see if the risk would be worth taking when being compared to the reward of committing the crime. An example where this might be possible would be a street where a residential building has a resident with a high chance that the individual is an elderly would still have the very old mentality where they would leave their doors wide open. [image: 49525685_300308087286297_978679113814376448_n]Unfortunately, during our observations we have found two separate cases, both of these cases where noticed on a different visit and the residents were both elderly individuals. This would be a great opportunity for an offender with a low risk and a high reward. Another example would be streets without enough lighting. This was noticed during the evening visits and it was noticed that there was not enough light in the street. There was one particular street where the only lighting there was, was the lights of a pub. There was also cases where some light bulbs were flickering on and off which meant that they would be going out of commission pretty soon and some street lights were not working at all. On one visit during the night the streets had festive lights which were effective and it was noted that if these festive lights were absent then the amount of light present in the streets would be drastically low. Thus festive lights have a crime deterrent function besides a decorative function. This helps in increasing the risk for an offender thus not making it worth it to commit the crime, even though during particular festive opportunities the reward of committing a successful crime would be pretty high as well.

CPTED is an acronym for the theory of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. This particular theory could be defined as a way of trying to cut down crime by deterring offenders by designing both the urban area and also the environment in a particular way. This can also be done through how already built environments can be managed and used in order to increase the deterrence against offenders and making it not worth the risk of committing the offence. A lack of this management and design might become to the offender’s favour and would increase the risk of becoming a target to the offender’s crime. Some cases where this might occur would be the number of abandoned buildings halfway through its construction or refurbishment. Some reasons that we have conjectured would be due to the owner of the building would have become bankrupt thus the construction would be halted. Another reason would be that the owner of the building would have died and the owner’s children would not agree on the will of their parent thus unfortunately to spite one another this would result in the building become neglected and unused. An offender might come upon one of these particular buildings and might use it to commit crimes like drug deals or smuggling. In worst case scenarios which could actually happen would be sexual offences or homicide could be committed. Another way an offender could use this would be through squatting. The offender could pose as the owner of this building and rent it to individuals who are looking for a place to stay. With the increase of foreigners coming to Malta looking for work, more cases like these are popping up at an increasing rate.

To conclude these were a summary of what we have found during our visits and observations of our designated sector. These three particular criminological theories were chosen as most befitting to be the most accurate of what was the current situation of that particular area during our visits. A suggestion to improve this area would be an increase in police presence as thus we only saw the police once in all of our visits and the reason was to direct traffic due to a funeral occurring at a nearby church. We believe that the increase of a police presence and patrol would help deterring crime even further while improving the area as a whole. This can be achieved also by People Oriented Policing (POP) where the police office integrates with the resident and owners of the commercial buildings in order to be helpful to each other. This would be relationship would be beneficial due to the result would end up by putting the offender at a disadvantage making it not worth it for the offender to commit the crime with such a high risk especially with the police presence.


  1. Chainey, S., & Ratcliffe, J. (2005). GIS and crime mapping-mastering GIS: Technology, Applications and Management. Sussex, U. K.: Wiley and Sons
  2. broken windows theory | Description & Results. (2019). Retrieved from
  3. Intl. CPTED Association home page. (2019). Retrieved from
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