crackdown on petty crime keeps downtowns safer: Kelling FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 14 Jun 1998 14:55:22 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Published Friday, June 12, 1998, in the San Jose Mercury News

     Criminologist in San Jose: Making downtown safer starts with
     the quality of life, he says.

     By Raoul V. Mowatt - Mercury News Staff Writer

Pop quiz: You're a sheriff. You've got two bullets in your gun. You're
facing off with six bad guys. What do you do?

For criminologist George Kelling, the answer is simple: ``You better be
persuasive.'' When resources are lacking, he said, law enforcement has to
get creative.

Kelling, a Rutgers criminal justice professor and a fellow at Harvard's
Kennedy School of Government, started a two-day tour of San Jose on
Thursday, bringing an expert perspective to some of the city's crime

Brought to town by the San Jose Downtown Association, he spoke with police,
politicians and the public about the troubled St. James Park and how his
theories have helped turn around even more troubled places.

``I'm not a zealot who thinks you're going to wipe out prostitution, drug
dealing,'' said the internationally known Kelling. ``But you can change the
way it's done so they don't intimidate, don't threaten communities.''

In the 1996 book he co-wrote with his wife, Catherine M. Coles, ``Fixing
Broken Windows,'' Kelling asserts a thesis that in many respects sounds
like common sense.

As a community allows problems such as public drunkenness and panhandling
to become widespread, he says, it all but invites more serious forms of
crime. And conversely, by addressing quality-of-life problems, communities
can see serious crime rates drop dramatically.

It's that philosophy that led the Downtown Association to bring Kelling to
San Jose for his first visit.

Along with other agencies, the association is hoping to bring new life to
the park, bounded by First and Third streets on the west and east, and St.
James and St. John streets on the north and south. The area has become more
of a haven for the homeless and drug dealers than a place for families to
visit and play.

``Kelling's innovative approaches to keeping order in communities will
certainly have lasting implications for St. James Park and downtown in
general,'' said Malcolm Bordelon, president of the Downtown Association.

But Kelling has his critics, including Joseph McNamara, the Hoover
Institution research fellow and former San Jose police chief.

McNamara, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, has argued Kelling's
approach ``could ferment in the minds of some officers, turning ordinary
people walking the street into potential criminals who must be

McNamara attributed the widely publicized torture of a Haitian immigrant to
Kelling's philosophy. The criminologist hotly denies the contention, saying
he makes clear in his work a concern for individual rights.

Kelling's day started at 8 a.m., when he toured downtown San Jose with
police Sgt. Terry Simpson and two Downtown Association representatives.
During the trip, Kelling seemed surprised to learn San Jose has only about
1,350 police officers despite having 850,000 residents. ``That's not a very
big police department,'' he said.

``And the police will be the first to tell you that,'' replied Scott Knies,
the Downtown Association's executive director.

Driving an unmarked patrol car, Simpson recited a brief history of
downtown's crime problems.

For example, Simpson said, police have moved most prostitution south of
downtown and are seeing fewer streetwalkers than before. Yet drug dealers
continue to come in from out of town to sell along Santa Clara Street, he

Meanwhile, Kelling took note of buildings that varied from a modern grocery
to shuttered storefronts.

``You've got a lot of evidence that you take graffiti seriously in that
you've got spots that have been painted over, painted over, painted over,''
Kelling remarked during the tour.

After a trip to San Francisco for an interview with the KCBS program ``In
Depth,'' Kelling met with San Jose and Santa Clara County officials,
including City Attorney Joan Gallo, Acting Police Chief Walt Adkins and
District Attorney George Kennedy.

He congratulated the city for obtaining a 1997 state Supreme Court victory
supporting its use of an injunction that prevented gang members from
engaging in a wide range of behavior in the city's tiny Rocksprings

``We don't look to California for that kind of wisdom in legal decisions,''
he said.

In a community meeting later in the day, Kelling summed up how police
helped restore safety to a New York park and that city's subway system by
focusing on quality-of-life crimes. He spoke of the need to ensure that
police don't cross the line in maintaining order.

Afterward, Kennedy and Adkins both agreed that area crime-fighters have
tried to implement Kelling's theories in a variety of programs. Adkins said
he would look into other ways to do so.

``You can't argue with success,'' Kennedy said. ``Where his ideas are
applied, the crime rate has dropped dramatically.''


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