News Release

Study connects low-cost building improvement with decreased crime

Peer-Reviewed Publication

USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station

PHILADEPHIA (July 8, 2015): In the first research demonstrating the effects of abandoned building remediation on changes in surrounding crime, a team of scientists from the USDA Forest Service, University of Pennsylvania and Yale School of Public Health found that low-cost improvements such as new windows and doors may be effective in deterring criminal activity. The study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE and is available online at:

"Vacant and abandoned buildings pose significant challenges to the health and safety of communities," said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. "Forest Service research is examining all aspects of the urban ecosystem and developing knowledge and tools that cities can use to promote health and sustainability."

Enacted in 2011, the Doors and Windows Ordinance requires landowners to have functional doors and windows on abandoned buildings located on blocks that are more than 80 percent occupied unless they have applied for a renovation permit for improvements beyond replacing windows and doors. Researchers compared differences in incidents of crime for buildings that were either improved through the ordinance or were permitted for renovation with incidents of crime at randomly-matched control buildings that were not remediated or permitted for renovation. In areas around buildings in which functional doors and windows were installed, there were an estimated 8 fewer assaults, 10 fewer gun assaults and 5 fewer nuisance crimes over a 2-year period.

"City-wide, we found significant reductions in total crimes, assaults, gun assaults, robberies and nuisance crimes associated with ordinance compliance," said Michelle Kondo, a research hydrologist with the Northern Research Station's Philadelphia Field Station. "This could be the 'broken windows theory' in action, with new doors and windows and a newly cleaned building facade signaling to potential offenders that a property is occupied and crime is not tolerated."

Additional research is needed to determine whether other factors may have influenced the decrease in crime around abandoned buildings. The Doors and Windows Ordinance applies only to buildings on blocks that are 80 percent occupied; the effect of installing functional doors and windows may be less in location have less human occupation. Geographical variation in policing practices, which change over time, may also influence crime occurrences.


Charles C. Branas, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, was the study's senior author. Co-authors included Danya Keene of Yale School of Public Health's Social and Behavioral Sciences; Bernadette C. Hohl, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; and John M. MacDonald, Department of Criminology, School of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania.

The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The mission of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the Nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

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