January 31, 1997 in City

Even Minor Crime Takes A Major Toll Crack Down Tolerate One Broken Window And You Get More.

By The Spokesman-Review
 

It took three decades of accelerating social collapse to get there, but the nation’s biggest cities have reached a point at which they no longer deem it progressive to focus compassion on criminals, graffiti vandals, vagrants, panhandlers and squeegee men.

Suddenly it’s dawning on urban leaders that elderly pedestrians, shopkeepers, commuters, shoppers, property owners and, yes, even crime victims, also have rights.

This realization began, of all places, in New York, once the rotted monument to big-city liberalism. This week, the trend hit Los Angeles.

What about Spokane? Here, we’re still lost in the ‘60s, debating the “right” to be abusive. With a downtown struggling to survive, this is a careless luxury at best. At worst it’s a disservice, especially to the down-and-out who suffer most from urban chaos.

Down in Los Angeles, the mayor wants a crackdown on “quality of life” crimes such as aggressive panhandling. It seems harsh: A $500 fine? Six months in jail? For a bum? Just because he chased some heartless pedestrian who wouldn’t give him a buck? Just because he smeared dirt on windshields at a stoplight and demanded money to clean them? Bums don’t have $500. And we don’t have enough police to arrest them all.

But the other side of the story is a success, now being re-enacted from coast to coast. In 1994, New York City was collapsing, beset with violence, splattered with graffiti, overwhelmed with aggressive panhandlers and vagrants. That year, a new mayor and police commissioner launched a no-tolerance policy toward disorder, beginning with low-level crime like graffiti and abusive panhandling. No, police didn’t arrest every thug. But they were given tools to arrest some. It worked. Today New York’s crime, from muggings to murder, is plummeting. People are safer - from poor, elderly people to fur-coated shoppers.

William Bratton, the police commissioner who pulled this off, refers to a “first broken window” theory; when you tolerate one broken window, you send a message you’ll tolerate more. He re-drew the line, on the side of decency. This helps all urban residents, especially the vulnerable ones. And, it creates a better climate for cities to work on real assistance to the poor. Tolerance is misguided if it enables dependency and accepts decay.

, DataTimes MEMO: For opposing view, see “People on streets can’t be tossed aside”

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, EDITORIAL - From both sides CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

For opposing view, see “People on streets can’t be tossed aside”

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, EDITORIAL - From both sides CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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