There's no argument that New York City had a sensational resurgence in the 1990s after years of meltdown from rabid lawlessness and economic chaos. Of course, transformations are never one-dimensional, and Rudy Giuliani critics point to a national economic boom, federal grants for 7,000 new officers, and improved national crime trends.
Most objective observers agree, though, that the proactive approach taken by Giuliani and Police Chief William Bratton gave a significant, if not decisive, impetus to the dramatic crime reduction.
These two trumpeted the philosophy of the 1982 Atlantic Monthly published study called the "Broken Windows Theory." That paper was based on observations of how one unattended broken window led to more of the same. The authors further substantiated their conclusions by putting a car with an open hood out on the streets in both Palo Alto and the Bronx. The end-all postulation was that disorder breeds anti-social behavior, inextricably linking urban chaos and crime in a self-perpetuating negative feedback loop.
New York, then, took on small things to break the cycle; starting with petty crimes and nuisances like graffiti, vandalism, jaywalking, turnstile jumping, and aggressive panhandling from the traffic-light squeegee men. The transformational mood created was that New Yorkers, in fact, "cared" about their community.
Where's Antioch in this picture? Well, we could certainly benefit by augmenting a force of sworn officers that's down by 35. Chalk up that shortfall to city coffers going from $48 million to $35 million in annual revenue. It's a budgeting nightmare that's devastated visibility, response times and special units like traffic control, gang prevention and school resource officers.
While waiting for the cavalry, we need, though, keep on doing the small things. Neighborhood Watch and vigilant citizens deserve kudos. Shopping cart removal has improved. Thankfully, property is selling and abandoned homes are down, but code enforcement, though back, is still threadbare.
A friend of mine was both flashed last week on the street and found a naked woman sleeping in her backyard. The downtown homeless situation and panhandlers at freeway exits is a serious concern.
Also, too many kids are out on the street during the day and after curfew hours.
Then there is the relic of the past, traffic control. Obviously, enforcement won't deter every speeder and red-light runner, but it can't hurt. I fully understand the priorities of our understaffed and heroically performing police department, but it's free license now and, I'm afraid, a wild west feel that anything goes in Antioch.
Like New York, we have to show we "care" and are a place of law and order. Let's not forget the small stuff.
Walter Ruehlig is a former Antioch school trustee and a current Antioch resident.