To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Monday, November 23, 2020

New Observercast

Broken Windows



In 1982, James Q. Wilson and his Harvard colleague George Kelling offered a simple idea that had a profound effect on policing: “If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.” And that is not simply a blight for the neighbors but a clear message that the neighborhood is dangerous, which in turn makes it more dangerous.

When police maintain order and civility, there is less crime. People aren’t afraid to walk to the corner, which makes the street safer. Hoodlums look around and see trouble, not opportunity.

Shortly after writing the article, Kelling organized a group of police chiefs along with a few academics whose work focused on crime [mine was on sexual assault] to discuss the implementation of their theory. Almost every big-city police chief participated. The attorney general came regularly. There was money on the table to try it, and a new generation of chiefs like Bill Bratton, who at the time was chief of the transit police in New York and then became a widely praised commissioner in New York and chief in Los Angeles, were ready to try.

The challenge, then and now, was to maintain the public order that makes neighborhoods safer in a non-racist way. The sad correlation between race and crime, which is the real problem, persists. What many people tend to forget is that the victims of crime look very much like the perpetrators in terms of race, the only difference being that more of them are women.

The idea of community policing was that police, instead of being seen as an external force implementing whatever policies they wanted, need to be part of the community, and deciding how to enforce order and civility is something that the community needs to be part of.

Police responsiveness tends to be measured by response time: how long between the 911 call and the police arrival on the scene. But every expert agrees that in most cases, it doesn’t matter, because the crime has already been committed and the criminal has already fled before the first call is made. Once the guy escapes, it doesn’t matter whether the police arrive five minutes later or 15.

But in the 1970s, when police brutality was a huge issue in the courts, police officers were overwhelmingly white, and relations between the police and the high-crime neighborhoods they patrolled had soured, police got in their cars and drove around waiting for calls where their immediate presence did not matter at all: The car was gone; the drug dealer had moved on from the corner; the burglary was over who knows when; and all the windows were already broken.

The new theory was to get the police out of their cars and into the community, to build bonds so that the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens feels safer, not “policed.”

Fear of crime exacts costs that can be greater than the crimes themselves. And fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more afraid people are, the more they avoid going out at night or taking the subway or the bus, the more likely it is that hoodlums start breaking all the windows to remind people that they are right to be afraid because hoodlums are in control.

Which brings me to last week’s opinion by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that homeless people have a right to sleep on the street unless there is a shelter bed waiting for them.

Now, we have a homelessness problem in America, and a major one in my city, Los Angeles. But let’s not kid ourselves. When walking on the boardwalk in Venice, which is a neighborhood in LA that faces a growing homelessness problem, I did not see a single family of hardworking parents in a tent with nowhere for their children to sleep. They are sleeping in one room at the relatives’, trying to make enough for their own place.

We should help them. We should help veterans and seniors. We need more facilities to take care of the mentally ill.

What I saw, and what neighborhood leaders have found, is a slew of young white druggies who are not from Venice but came here for the beach, complete with public showers and public toilets that they often don’t bother to use.

It’s not that they can’t get jobs. At one restaurant down the street from the beach, just one, there were 11 job postings, everything from dishwashers to busboys to baristas to hostesses. There are plenty of young people on the beach who could fill them. They don’t want to.

Why work? Why go to a shelter, like the “transitional” tent city [complete with health care and job training and, of course, a major police presence] the mayor is proposing and neighbors from every walk of life are opposing, when you can live freely and steal bikes and do drugs right on the beach?

A constitutional right to sleep on the streets is not the answer to anything. And that is as true in 2018 as it was when the chiefs got together in the 1980s.

Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich
Estrich served as a law clerk for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1988, she was the campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential run, even though she had never before managed a political campaign. She was the first female campaign manager of a major presidential campaign, and the first female campaign manager of the modern era. [5] [6] Estrich appears frequently on Fox News as a legal and political analyst, and has also substituted for Alan Colmes on the debate show Hannity & Colmes. She writes regular articles for the conservative website NewsMax, for which she is a pundit.[7] She is also on the Board of Editorial Contributors for USA Today.[8] She is currently a law professor at the University of Southern California Law School and a political science professor at its affiliated undergraduate school. Before joining the USC faculty in 1989, she was Professor of Law at Harvard University, where she was the youngest woman to receive tenure.[9] On January 10, 2008, Estrich joined Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, a law firm based in Los Angeles, where she chairs their Public Strategy in High Profile Litigation: Media Relations practice area. [10][11] She writes a nationally syndicated print column distributed through Creators Syndicate.