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Matthew J. Parlow, The Great Recession and Its Implications for Community Policing, 28 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 1193 (2012). Copyright in issue © 2012 by Georgia State University, a unit of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

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28 Georgia State University Law Review 1193 (2012)


During the last twenty years, community policing has been the dominant approach to local law enforcement. Community policing is based, in part, on the broken windows theory of public safety. The broken windows theory suggests a link between low-level crime and violent crime — that is, if minor offenses are allowed to pervade a community, they will lead to a proliferation of crime and, ultimately, a community plagued by violent crime. To maintain a perception of community orderliness, many local governments adopted “order maintenance” laws — such as panhandling ordinances and anti-homeless statutes. This emphasis on cracking down on such low-level offenses brought with it an increase in the needs and costs of policing, prosecutions, jails, social services, and other related resources.

When the economy was flourishing, local governments were able to pay for the time- and resource-intensive broken windows approach to community policing. The Great Recession, however, has forced localities to think critically about whether they can sustain these practices given budget cuts. This Article analyzes the effects that the downturn in the economy has had on public safety budgets and the changes that many local governments have made, and are continuing to make, to adjust to decreasing revenue and resources. This Article will also explore proposed changes to the current criminal justice and social service systems that seek cost-effective approaches to deliver the same level of public safety to which communities are accustomed. In particular, this Article will assess and evaluate evidence-based decision-making — an emerging trend in some criminal justice systems — as part of an evolving trend driven by the effects of the Great Recession, but also stemming out of community policing. Finally, this Article will use Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, as an example of an evidence-based decision-making approach and explain how it can fulfill the public safety goals of the broken windows theory of community policing while creating a framework that provides for “smart” decision-making that accounts for the financial realities that most cities face.

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