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Monday, July 14, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  Fair
The Daily

OPINION

Let the crackdown begin
How should the city respond to west-side crime? Blaska says a strong dose of 'law and order' is called for

Blaska: If people are afraid to walk the sidewalks of a summer evening, they will take their tax base to Verona, and all your Overture Centers will grow weeds, and more kids will sleep in bathtubs to avoid stray bullets.
Blaska: If people are afraid to walk the sidewalks of a summer evening, they will take their tax base to Verona, and all your Overture Centers will grow weeds, and more kids will sleep in bathtubs to avoid stray bullets.
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My family had just moved into the Orchard Ridge neighborhood on Madison's southwest side when it came time to put No. 1 son at the controls of the lawnmower.

Boy One loaded his boombox with a We Must Be Giants cassette tape. Not on my watch. That would violate the neighborhood compact that we had tacitly accepted before moving in: Anything louder than a lawnmower was verboten.

Get yourself some headphones, son. Like Don Corleone, I would not be the one to break the peace. Maintaining neighborhood comity required that we honor its unwritten but carefully observed strictures on acceptable behavior.

More important still, and even more obvious, was to obey the law. But those days appear over in my part of town. That became undeniable on July 28 with a murder at an outdoor party on Loreen Drive that was rocking on at 4 in the morning.

The murder was the bloodiest of a thousand slings and arrows to public order on the southwest side. It pushed 700 of my fed-up neighbors to an Aug. 8 meeting organized by our new alderperson, Thuy Pham-Remmele. She was elected by arguing that trolleys were a costly diversion from Madison's real needs, like neighborhood safety.

Five days later, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz announced that he was derailing trolleys and focusing on public safety, which - despite once excusing crime as the price of big citydom - he claims was always his first priority. (Not inclusionary zoning?)

This is a historic moment. That quintessentially conservative issue - law and order - has forced its way to the top of the city agenda.

The left is not going quietly. Dave Zweifel, editor of the afternoon Progressive Dane newspaper, made a quick genuflection to neighborhood safety before recovering his liberal sea legs.

"Madison is...going to have to spend a whole lot more on combating...a serious crime problem," he wrote. "Too many of us have been oblivious to just how serious poverty has become in our town." [Emphasis added.]

People commit crime because they're poor? Maybe it's the other way around.

Long before 9/11, as mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani was the bête noire of the quicheoisie for cracking down on the squeegee men who gave motorists stuck in traffic the choice of paying $20 or receiving a broken antenna.

It's called the Broken Window theory: a busted pane on Monday metastasizes into a crackhouse by Saturday. But it is less about glass and more about the smashers. That is why the fresh-paint, new-name approach - first to Vera Court, then Broadway-Simpson and Somerset Circle and now, at a $15 million price tag, Allied Drive - is misguided.

Giuliani's police chief in New York, William Bratton, upended the conventional wisdom that "crime...was caused by societal problems that were impervious to police intervention," reports the August edition of Governing magazine. He proved that effective policing does not respond to crime, it actually prevents it.

He and dozens of converts around the country know that "a police department is not an adjunct to community efforts to keep order. It is its centerpiece and organizing force."

If people are afraid to walk the sidewalks of a summer evening, they will take their tax base to Verona, and all your Overture Centers will grow weeds, and more kids will sleep in bathtubs to avoid stray bullets.

Yes, send in the surge - hire more police. But give them the Giuliani-Bratton marching orders: drive, walk, bike, and bus the beat. Issue citations for littering, public drunkenness and vandalism. Respond to every noise complaint, crack down on loitering, throw the pissers off the bus and, yes, bust minor drug users.

When in doubt, stop and frisk. Do so without regard to race, creed or national origin. And build a bigger jail.


David Blaska is a former county supervisor whose district included some of the troubled west-side areas.

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