Saturday, June 28, 2008

Broken Window Theory

When Woodstock Police Chief Bob Lowen began holding his Coffee with the Chief monthly meeting, he mentioned the "broken window" theory at one of the early meetings.

As I recall his explanation, if a window is broken on a house and not repaired, pretty soon the screen door will be falling off; then something else will go wrong, and then the house becomes dilapidated and an eyesore.

To keep the house from falling down, you get after the owner right away and have him fix the broken window. The reference here involved violations of City Code, not police matters.

That made sense to me. Little problems become big problems. I've been accused of holding the position that jaywalking leads to a life of crime. An exaggeration? Maybe not.

Last week I read The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, published in 2000. I had meant to read it about three years ago, after I read Gladwell's second book, Blink. In Blink the case of cops who pumped about 50 rounds into a man standing in a doorway (in New York, I think) was examined.

In The Tipping Point Gladwell writes about the Broken Window Theory, which was the subject of an Atlantic Monthly article in March 1982. That article, called Broken Windows and by James Wilson and George Kelling, included the following:

"Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
"Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars."

In Woodstock we have a diligent Code Enforcement Officer who inspects violations of the City Code.

In our police department we have, and need, diligent officers who mind the "small stuff", starting with illegal parkers blocking driveways and sidewalks and parking in no parking zones. Officers should enforce existing laws without the necessity of a citizen's calling them.

Sure, there will be times when they haven't yet spotted the violation. But when a resident parks in his driveway every day and blocks a sidewalk, forcing pedestrians and children on bicycles into the street, shouldn't one of the officers on one of the three shifts take note and address the violation?

Officers have many more important issues to address than minor parking violations. But these are the "broken windows" for cops. A polite, friendly letter could be sent from the PD, noting the violation and educating the resident. Often, a resident might not know of the violation. Or he may have been parking his car in that manner for years without penalty. But that doesn't make it right.

To save the important response time of the street officers, why not create a user-friendly form letter that can easily and quickly be personalized (so it doesn't come across as a "form" letter)? It gets mailed for $.42 to the resident. This is a lot cheaper than having an officer stop for 15 minutes to talk to a resident. If compliance results, end of story.

If it doesn't, then the officer can make a quick stop and perhaps even write a Warning. And if non-compliance continues, just write the ticket(s).

This can also apply to out-of-state licensed cars parked overnight in Woodstock. The cop sees the out-of-state plate and can make a logical assumption that a visitor is in town. Leave a polite warning form on the car, not a ticket. I'll long remember my first morning in Woodstock, when I was greeting with an overnight parking violation. "Welcome to Woodstock. Pay $5.00."

How much friendlier would it have been to receive a warning notice: "Welcome to Woodstock. We're glad you're here. Reminder: we have a 2:00-6:00AM no parking rule on all City streets. Please call the P.D. for more information."


1 comment:

Richard W Gorski, M.D. said...

I think that Chief Lowen could start by mending some of the broken windows in the City of Woodstock's Police Department.