For now, let's put aside the rosy spin city officials are putting on this "record low" crime rate when shootings are up and the number of murders stayed virtually the same.
Among their lofty goals for fighting crime in the new year are hitting Obama up for $25 million to help build the public safety complex on High Street, a more transparent parole and probation process and wait for it, wait for it — more community policing.
That one makes the list every year, doesn't it? But you know what? That's because more than some fancy building or bill, the reality is that crime is best fought on the streets — though not just by putting more cops on them.
It's the little things that make a difference in a city. There's even a name for it — the broken window theory, meaning when the streets are crumbling, people are more comfortable breaking the law.
And that one, people, is on us.
I was reminded of that the other day when a colleague suggested I head over to Capitol Avenue. He'd just seen some kid marking up just about any surface he came across, and thought I might want to have a chat with the destructive dope. Sounded good to me, but by the time I got there, the only sign of the kid was well, his sign.
I thought I'd noticed an increase in graffiti a while back, but forgot all about it. So, I drove around to see if it was as bad as I'd thought.
Winter is slow season apparently, but there was still plenty around the neighborhoods. Some unreadable stuff, lots of gang tags and too many R.I.P's to count. One — "McCain sucks" — caught me so off guard with its curious placement that I had to laugh out loud.
I called Jack Hale over at the Knox Parks Foundation, which is in charge of ridding most of the city of graffiti. He, too, had noticed an increase in casual graffiti; cable boxes are apparently an especially enticing canvas.
But what he hasn't seen is an increase in calls. The people at Knox know where to go to clean up graffiti based on their own drive-bys and complaints called into the city's 311 help line. But they don't get as many leads as they should.
What's up with that? Have we really gotten so used to seeing the neighborhoods tagged with all that junk that we don't even notice it anymore, that we don't care?
Look, I know people don't have a lot of faith in the city's 311 system; I once heard a woman call it the black hole. But here's the thing: I got the sense from Hale that he and his crew are serious about cleaning up the city. He even suggested I urge people to call. That's refreshing.
So, here's a proposal. We spend plenty of time pointing out the problems plaguing this city — and that's fine. But it's a new year, so let's make a solution resolution.
The economy bites and the city budget is in shambles, but there are things that are in our control, like this graffiti. Nothing deters taggers more than getting rid of their handiwork quickly and often.
So, let's help Hale and his crew out.
You can't dial 311 on your cell, so program this number into your cellphone instead: 757-9311. Seriously, do it now. It's fine to blast city officials for not doing their part, but we have to do ours, too.
Tell them Helen sent you.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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