People and Society Need Safety

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani gets a lot of credit for cleaning up his city.  The former Democrat, Independent and perhaps now still Republican became famous as the US Attorney who facilitated a long stay at the Grey Bar Hotel for John Gotti, the Teflon Don.  


For sure, crime is down, litter is in the trash bin, Times Square is no longer seedy, and so on.


But how much of this is because of Giuliani, the hero of 9/11?  We’re not sure.  Moreover, we’re not even sure how much credit should be given to Giuliani for his leadership during the 9/11 crisis, versus blame for locating critical infrastructure in the World Trade Centre–an obvious target.  Many of our cities have critical facilities in flood plains, with leaky roofs and even evacuation shelters that may be more dangerous than the emergency people will be fleeing.  But that’s another debate.


The debate for this column is whether Giuliani’s policy of “broken window” policing works.  This is a technique attributed to the Mayor by which police and even by-law enforcement officers look for little infractions and enforce and fix, in order to signal that there will be zero tolerance. It is said by some that this cuts down on bigger crimes.


Maybe.  Or even “No” according to Anil Anand, a career Canadian cop whose written a book called Mending Broken Fences Policing.  Anand’s suggests not sweating the details.  He calls this exercising “discretion” which is not done enough or discussed enough in policing.


Here’s my take on this.  


People, and society, need safety valves.  A safety valve lets off some steam from a pressure vessel when the pressure exceeds proscribed limits.  For individuals, this ranges from a brisk walk to an exhausting workout in the gym.  For society, it might range from the diversion of the Olympic Games to a big booze up during the Stanley Cup, Superbowl, World Series, or World Cup.


But how much is enough of a good thing?  I think the good thing ends with events like the 1955 Richard riot in Montreal.  The explosive Canadien hockey star hit a linesman, was suspended, and when league president Clarence Campbell attended the next game fans rioted causing $100,000 in damages, 37 injuries and 100 arrests.  It also ends with Vancouver’s 2011 riot after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup there.  Lessons from a previous 1994 riot didn’t prevent at least 140 injuries (1 critical), at least 4 stabbings, 9 police officers injured, and 101 arrests.  It took until 2015, four years after the riot, for police to finish their investigation and recommended charges against two suspects, for a total of 887 charges laid against 301 people.  It also ends with the 1989 Hillsborough soccer crush in England which killed 96 and injured 766.  At Hillsborough, everybody forgot what business to be in.  Stadium operators forgot they were in the family entertainment business and thought selling tickets was the main goal.  Police forgot they were in the public safety business and focussed on perimeter security to the point of allowing people to crush each other to death rather than put a foot on the field of play.  


So at what price does some combination of cops, society, judges and politicians forbid small infractions?  That’s what Anand’s book is about, and the answer is that we pay a price in a lack of cooperation with police and perhaps even higher crime.  


If I had my way, I’d use cameras to send people tickets for speeding, failing to stop, and burned out lights.  This might cut down on routine traffic stops that has lead to tragedy recently and in memory as far back as the Watts riots.    

People and Society Need Safety is republished from:


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