Most government units do not have the money to take the streets back from the gangs,” says David Feehan, president of the Washington-based International Downtown Organisation. For a way out, Feehan suggests a leaf off the experience in some of the largest cities in the world. “Local businesses in many large US cities have agreed to tax themselves so that they can hire extra security to keep the streets clean. That frees up some government resources to work on the residential areas.”
He points towards the success of one of the most influential ideas on tackling urban violence, the ‘broken windows’ theory put forward by criminologists James Q Wilson and George Kelling in 1982. It proposes that big urban crimes can be reduced by tackling lesser crimes like broken windows. By putting up a clean and zero-tolerance façade, the civic authorities send out a signal that invites less of such trouble later on. Rudy Giuliani and his police chief William Bratton put the theory to good use in New York; so did the authorities in Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston.
Zaka, an Israeli NGO, is one of the first teams to be notified in a bombing case. Its job is to clean up and restore a semblance of normalcy at the earliest.
Can such a policy work in a large developing country where the state, municipal or even private resources are severely constrained? “With great difficulty,” says Neil Fraser, head of Urban Inc, a consultancy in Johannesburg. “My experience has been that they — especially the municipal authorities — will preach the theory, but not practice it. For inner city crimes, community policing can help.” South Africa launched such an initiative across the nation last Monday.
But the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) champions community policing only in developed regions like the US or Europe. For developing countries, it proposes ‘social prevention’ — increasing education and employment as well as reducing intolerance and substance abuse.
How feasible is this? Giovanni Quaglia, UNODC’s representative in Latin America, says, “The theories of what to do are known. Now, what is required is a strong monitoring and evaluation mechanism that would tell us how the people perceive the problems. Then, we have to adapt the theories.”
Email Amitava Sanyal: firstname.lastname@example.org