Should Drawing on the Sidewalk be a Criminal Offense?

Doylestown police cited teens for drawing on the street with white chalk. Is this good policing, or police going too far?

Doylestown police cited two teenagers this week for .

What they were drawing was not the issue, police said, but when and where they were caught.

"They were doing it at midnight, in the middle of the street," Doylestown Borough Police Chief Jim Donnelly said Thursday. "And, we’ve had several instances of vandalism with the offenders using chalk."

The teens were using white chalk.

Chalk or no chalk? Were the police right?

On the surface, this seems almost ridiculous, but it follows an approach to policing called the Broken Window Theory. The idea is that if police pursue petty crimes, such as vandalism, it eventually reduces bigger crimes.

In an article titled "Broken Windows" in the March 1982 edition of “The Atlantic Monthly,” the authors wrote:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.


Does this still have meaning today? Leave a comment.

HONEST MOM August 11, 2012 at 11:53 AM
I really don't see how chalking pictures is a crime in any way. Kids have been chalking for years. Parents buy kids buckets of chalk to play with from the time they're little. These kids weren't doing anything but drawing. I can think of tons of things that they could be doing at night that are much worse. I think the police need to rethink this one and drop the citations. I honestly have to shake my head at the reasoning of this one.
CyD252 August 11, 2012 at 12:54 PM
The police are foolish in this case... The vast majority of the population doesn't consider "chalking" a crime. As a result of the justifiable negative publicity, I expect we'll see a brief run on chalk, followed by a chalk-campaign directed against the police. The police have a tough enough time as it is... they don't need to hurt their own image with this sort of nonsense. That said, chalking CAN be considered vandalism of a sort, depending on where it's done, and what it is... Defacing storefronts, obscene messages/drawings ... those shouldn't be protected. Same with any chalk drawing on surfaces that are protected from rain, such as the insides of parking garages. But none of these apply to the arrests described in the article.
Margaret August 12, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I agree that the drawing itself was not a crime.However, the fact that it was midnight , and and in the middle of the street--- I have to side with the Police on this one. The ole saying olds true- "give them an inch, and they'll take a yard" stands true. Thanks Officers
Fred October 17, 2012 at 05:01 AM
Does the Broken Window Theory apply to the police, too? Let them get away with a few false arrests, a few arrests where they take the arrestee somewhere other than "before a magistrate" without "unnecessary delay" -- or putting handcuffs on people who haven't shown themselves to be violent, or fingerprinting them before conviction, all of which are traditionally illegal -- then they'll be assaulting people, then they'll be committing cold-blooded murder out on our streets.
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