Saturday, November 24, 2012

Around Town: Zero tolerance for shattered glass

Around Town: Zero tolerance for shattered glass

As if bears, mountain lions and a “divided nation” were not enough, the “La Cañada Prowler” skulks about.

Just as coyotes know no boundaries, the Prowler scoots across city limits. Montrose. Glendale. La Cañada Flintridge. Not a problem for the La Cañada Prowler. 

“Lock your doors!” say the police.

“Keep the lights on!” says the sheriff.

Good advice, but the most important deterrent is the social contract. It’s up to us, not FEMA, not Homeland Security, and not the police. Everything depends on the attitude of local residents.

We do our job. La Cañadans have high standards. No crime goes unnoticed. 

There is so little crime in La Cañada Flintridge that a La Cañada Prowler story can go viral within minutes.

Why so little crime? Last summer, Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station Capt. David Silversparre told the La Cañada Flintridge City Council that crime is down because residents call in with information that allows deputies to catch suspects in the act. Even the local bank robberies are down in recent years, ever since the local banks installed bullet-proof glass and the “Foothill Bomber Bandit,” Daniel Nardine, got himself arrested.

La Cañada has a low crime rate because the social contract is alive and well. We are living examples of the truth of the “broken-windows theory” of crime prevention.

The theory is simple. A building with a lot of broken windows will attract vandals. A well-maintained building will not.

The corollary is simple. Police the graffiti and other crimes will decrease.

The theory is based on evidence-based research. In 1969, a Stanford psychology professor, Philip Zimbardo, conducted a candid camera experiment. Zimbardo placed two automobiles, with no license plates, and with their hoods up, in the Bronx and in Palo Alto. The car in the Bronx was quickly stripped and trashed. The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for a week. Nothing was happening, so Zimbardo smashed the Palo Alto car with a sledgehammer. Very soon, clean-cut, apparently respectable residents began to vandalize and strip the Palo Alto car.

The obvious conclusion — broken windows attract other crimes.

La Cañada has a low crime rate because the majority of La Cañadans do not tolerate certain types of crime. We do not tolerate prowlers. We do not tolerate vandals.

The one exception is our mailbox, because I still feel guilty for all the rural mailboxes my friends and I dug up the Halloween of our senior year at Palm Springs High School. How can I report a kid to the police for something that I did when I was a kid?

There are always exceptions.

And there are always rules.

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