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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Strangle crime, don't 
document it 

There have been calls for more police from both sides of the dais in Costa Mesa. There are less-vocal but clearly articulated calls to remove the niduses of crime in the City. Let’s survey some research conducted elsewhere to see what works to reduce crime. It turns out to be cheaper and more effective to reduce crime than to add more officers to investigate crime.

Broken Windows theory 

The broken windows theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism. And it should stop escalation into more serious crime.

The theory has been used as a motivation for several reforms in criminal policy. (N.Y.C) Mayor Rudy Giuliani hired Bill Bratton as his Police Commissioner to apply the idea. Bratton adopted the strategy widely under the rubrics of “quality of life” and “zero tolerance.”

Bratton had the police more strictly enforce laws against subway fare evasion, public drinking and urination, and graffiti. Rates of both petty and serious crime fell suddenly and significantly, and continued to drop for the following ten years.

Three approaches tried, one works best 

In 2005 university researchers worked with local police to identify 34 "crime hot spots” in a Massachusetts city. In half of the spots, authorities cleared trash, fixed streetlights, enforced building codes, discouraged loiterers, made more misdemeanor arrests, and expanded mental health services and aid for the homeless. In the other half, there was no change to routine police service.

The areas that received additional attention experienced a 20% reduction in calls to the police. The study concluded that cleaning up the physical environment is more effective than increasing misdemeanor arrests. And, it was clear that increasing social services had no effect on the crime rate there.

An experiment with a control

In a 1969 experiment, an automobile with no license plates and the hood up was parked idle in a Bronx neighborhood and a second automobile in the same condition set up in Palo Alto, California.

The car in the Bronx was attacked by "vandals" within minutes of its "abandonment". Within twenty four hours everything of value had been stripped from the vehicle. After that, the car's windows were smashed in, upholstery was ripped, and children began using the car as a playground. At the same time, the vehicle sitting idle in Palo Alto, California sat untouched for more than a week.

Similar events can occur in any civilized community when communal barriers – the sense of mutual regard and obligations of civility – are lowered by actions that suggest "no one cares".

Good policing, increased attention locally

The “skinhead gang infestation in Costa Mesa’s recent past has been diminished and defanged by aggressive enforcement. Known gang
members find it difficult to loiter, prowl alleys, drive erratically, or fight in Costa Mesa. Gang enforcement officers are effective. The message to the gangs in Costa Mesa is clearly; “We Care.”

Costa Mesa's “problem motels” and some “low-income housing” are foci of criminal activity, as a resident reminds the City Council periodically. Enhanced code enforcement, rapid graffiti removal, and neighborhood blight control are pushing the petty crime rate down. Again, as a City we are saying, “We Care.”

California has a lot of rules protecting homeless from imagined or real disenfranchisement. That forces the City to follow a fragile and tangled path to reduce the blight of homeless camps and piled belongings.

State law requires us to have a shelter and a place to store goods for those who need – and will use them. Then we can more aggressively improve the “We Care” image in places like Lyons’ Park and the Westside motels and slums.

Kudos to Council

Kudos to the present City Council for using effective methods to reduce crime and to beautify Costa Mesa. Their efforts reinforce the idea that, in Costa Mesa, “We Care.” 

We want to reduce crime, not investigate it more efficiently.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis. Couldn't agree with you more.