This all began with a 1982 article in the Atlantic Monthly called "Broken Windows." It was written by George Kelling (a criminologist) and James Wilson (a political science type) to prove their thesis that crime is not spontaneously generated. Their theory sought connection between "fear of crime and disorderly behavior."

As is mentioned in above write ups there have been numerous attempts to implement this as policy. New York City politicians are near infamous for trying to justify passing really Draconian laws by citing this thesis.

Kelling actually worked as a consultant on the New York Transit Authority's Zero Tolerance crackdown on graffitti, public urination, etc. It did significantly reduce the amount of petty crime on the subway and seemed to lower the incidences of violent crime.

Another important aspect of this thesis (perhaps what is most valuable in the pragmatic I-don't-feel-like-getting-my head-kicked-in-for-spitting-on-the-sidewalk sense) is the emphasis on decentralization of policing. Getting police officers involved in individual communities drastically reduces friction between neighborhood residents and cops. I guess it's hard to shoot a familiar face - that goes either for cops or residents.

By the way, I'm guessing that this makes people feel better but doesn't solve much.