5. We're not lowering our standards
Previously in this series:
The troubles in Meadowood and elsewhere are a continuum. The filthy language, littering, vandalism, intimidation, drugs, gangs, killings are all part of the same continuous loop.
The Broken Windows theory may be misnamed. It suggests that the handyman is more important than the police officer - fix the window today and you prevent tomorrow's crack house. In truth, it's all about fixing the behaviors that broke the window. Label that as unacceptable and a bright line is drawn proscribing murder and mayhem.
James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling are the two criminologists referenced earlier. Their seminal article "Broken Windows" in the March 1982 The Atlantic magazine explains:
Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.
In a November 2007 update in the same magazine they write:
We argued ... that the police should take public disorder seriously as they take criminal conduct. We urged them to resume doing what was once one of their major tasks: constraining the public activity of drunks, panhandlers, prostitutes, and gangs. To this should be added a new assault on graffiti. We suggested two rationales for this change: First, people feel threatened by public disorder; second, the chance that the greater order would reduce crime rates ...
Community order, we argued, would bring decent people back on the streets and discourage criminals from using public places; certain kinds of crimes (assault, robbery, and auth theft), therefore, would subsequently decline.
Virtually all of the evidence we have from studies of the police suggests that restoring order is associated with a drop in crime.
Police Chief Noble Wray confirms that he is, as I suspect, a disciple of the "Broken Windows" theory of policing. This philosophy holds that neglecting quality of life issues - things like loud parties, litter, and graffiti - sends a signal that the area is ripe for hard-core crime because no one cares.
The zero tolerance approach combined with community action is how he reads Broken Windows. He should know, he is personally acquainted with fellow Milwaukee native George Kelling, the co-author of Broken Windows. In fact, the chief talked with Kelling just a month ago.
Unfortunately, where once the stereotypical billy club-wielding Irish cop knew everyone and maintained order, today, Wilson and Kelling write, legal restrictions, court decisions and departmental orders have constrained police activity to a tight rope.
"And thus many of us who watch over the police are reluctant to allow them to perform, in the only way they can, a function that every neighborhood desperately wants them to perform."
Blaska will go them one better. Average, law-abiding citizens are wearing the same handcuffs. We fear stepping in for some of the minor, quality of life, community order things. For one thing, we have more to lose. Touch another person's kid - no matter how much he needs it - and it could be YOU the police arrest, you that gets sued.
Or, called a racist - the ultimate Madison political flame. When the area's alderman, Thuy Pham-Remmele, tried to enact a tighter curfew for teenagers to prevent them from "the dark side" she was labeled a racist by former alder Brenda Konkel.
"Don't call me a racist!," objects a white mother just off Hammersley. "I'm married to a black man."
She has erected a stout fence and purchased a mean dog to counter a long litany of offenses: "young people walking across my lawn using the 'F word,' waking my kids ... throwing garbage and refusing to pick it up, coming into my driveway to look into my cars."
There is evidence of some push-back on both scores. Meadowood neighborhood association board member Dave Glomp lives not far from the troubled Hammersley-Loreen area.
"It is up to us as citizens to set the rules for our neighborhood. We need to make sure the laws already on the books are enforced. If I see a child at Walgreen's drug store blocking the entrance to some little old lady trying to get per prescription I am going to say, 'Young man, move out of the way.'"
Be not afraid
"We have to be not afraid. If other neighbors are willing to stand with us it becomes a little less intimidating. We have to be able to stand up for ourselves."
Glomp cites Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's news release of June 25 where the mayor states:
Public safety is not the business of police or government alone. The city, county and schools must do their part but they will not be successful without the grassroots efforts of strong community and neighborhood leaders.
"No resident should have to lower his standards to a level set by newcomers," Park Ridge neighborhood association president Brian Frick says.
"If someone wants to live in these neighborhoods, it is his duty to raise himself to the level that is acceptable in the community - not the other way around. They don't set the rules; we do. And to blame people with standards or ask them to change is a level of complacency I've never seen in this city to such an extent. People can express themselves however they want in private, but when it comes to public behavior, everyone must follow the same rules, and live up to the same standards."
"I am not comfortable lowering the bar," Glomp says. "We need to enforce behavior and the police have to know we are going to do this. It's our quality of life."
Meeting August 26
Glomp and others are working on a declaration of citizens' rights and code of conduct. Things like:
- Input and control over the quantity and location of Section 8 housing in their geographic area or neighborhood.
- Make the Nuisance Ordinance permanent
- Make the public schools responsive to local police and the neighborhoods.
The full list will be presented to a citizens meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, August 26, at Falk Elementary School. Glomp says the mayor, school board, school superintendent, and all 20 members of the Common Council will be invited.
"We won't be talking about problems anymore. We'll be talking about solutions."
Next up: Saying we love you