The "broken windows" theory of policing was made widely known by the policies implemented in the 1990s by William Bratton in New York City. Basically, it suggests that small crimes (e.g. vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping) going without response leads to major crimes. And that dealing visibly with small crimes helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening. But does it?
On one hand, when that approach was implemented in New York City, the crime rate dropped. On the other hand, the crime rate was also dropping nationwide at about the same time. So, what other examples do we have?
In the 1960s, the speed limits on Interstate highways were 65 or 70 mph. In the mid-1970s, in response to the 1973 "oil crisis," the national maximum speed law set the maximum speed limit down to 55 mph. I don't know what happened as a result in the rest of the country, but in the West (specifically California) the result was minimal. Which is to say, people kept driving at nearly the same highway speeds as before.
But the interesting thing is what happened when the limit was largely removed in the late 1980s. In my observation, what happened was that people continued doing what they had been doing: which was typically driving on the highways at 10 mph above the speed limit.
Today, on the Interstates, one does see a lot of vehicles moving at 70 mph -- mostly big rigs (maximum legal speed 55 mph, as it always has been). Cars, on the other hand, most travel at 75-80 mph. Officers in the Highway Patrol will tell you (unofficially and off the record!) that, absent other factors, their threshold for writing speeding tickets is . . . 83 mph. So, massive -- one might almost say universal -- small crimes routinely in progress.
What one has not seen is
a) an outbreak of lawlessness in general, or even
b) routine speeding on roads other than the highways.
Which leads one to wonder, is the "broken windows" theory is simply wrong, at least as a theory of criminology?
Perhaps what dealing with small crimes, like those listed, actually does is merely give people to see that their local government really has some interest in them and their circumstances, and wants to make things better for them. (A feature which, in a lot of neighborhoods, has been not much in evidence previously.) And, therefore, makes the people more willing in turn to work with the city (including the police department) to make things better.