Litterbug blues

In the news coverage of the incumbent scorecard interviews in the run-up to Pakistan’s recent elections, one thing really jumped out at me. The backdrop to the interviews on ordinary residential streets looked like the morning after Mardi Gras! You couldn’t step off the stoop of one of these residences without stepping on some form of garbage. Nothing smelly looking, to be sure, but I was shocked to learn there hadn’t just been a parade with confetti passing by… the scene was mind-boggling.

What really clicked for me in watching this footage was something experts on police reform have been saying for decades now – litter is a crime magnet, and picking up the trash is literally the most effective thing you can do to make your own front yard safer.

If only the new leader of Pakistan knew about the “broken windows” theory of police reform – the idea that if city services respond promptly to broken streetlamps, ensure broken windows are boarded in a timely fashion, and keep street corners looking tidy, the mere fact that there is a little groundskeeping going on will deter criminals from lurking in the shadows!

What does any of this have to do with Pakistan? In global rankings, Pakistan is the murder capital of the world! Talk about a country with a crime problem. Would broken windows policing work there? I don’t think it would hurt to try.

So whether you live in Paris or Lahore, Seattle or Los Angeles, take a moment to check out your city government’s website. Do you know where to report broken street lights? How to volunteer for a street clean-up event? How to talk to a neighbor whose doorstep is bringing down the street? What you would do if a vacant in your neighborhood started attracting crime?

Taking it to the next level, check out your city’s crime maps for hot spots and consider what a little targeted community groundskeeping could do for those street segments, corners and alleyways. What would it take to start a neighborhood watch program in these areas? What other community outreach activities can you think of that would draw residents out of hiding and strengthen levels of informal control and coordination among neighbors to make these places safer?


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