Crime: Strategies for Nevada’s Growing Urban Centers
Unfortunately, the factors that most directly influence criminal behavior–moral decay, loss of family structure and denial of personal accountability–are difficult to change and not easily legislated. Furthermore, those factors that government can control–our laws, police, criminal justice strategies and public assistance programs–have an indirect effect on criminal behavior at best. Nevada, albeit a wonderful place to live, has unique problems with crime due to our tourist-driven economy and 24-hour culture. Traditional attempts at legislating this criminal behavior have consistently failed in every measurable way—except perhaps to encourage more crime. For all our sakes, our cities need to take a new approach to safeguarding our streets.
The following suggestions for fighting crime in our cities are based on some common-sense principles: a.) the vigorous enforcement of beneficial social norms, b.) a clearer sense of neighborhood identity, and c.) increased social interaction and the establishment of a stronger sense of community.
1. Identify "hot spots" for crime.
Crimes are not randomly distributed in cities. Instead they are disproportionately concentrated in certain neighborhoods and locales. Citizens in cooperation with police can increase the their control of the area to make the neighborhood an uninviting target for criminals: Neighborhood watch programs can be instituted or expanded, anonymous witness programs can be arranged with the police to facilitate criminal prosecutions, vacant houses which have been used by the homeless can be refurbished or demolished, bar licenses in areas with violence problems can be restricted or revoked, etc.
2. Reduce signs of social and physical decay.
Evidence of blatant social disorder, like public drunkenness and "street walking;" as well as signs of poor community esteem like broken windows, trash and graffiti; not only increase the fear of crime but serve as favorable signs for the criminal element. Potential offenders recognize these signs as residential indifference, abdication and a surrender to disorder. Residents can accomplish a lot to curb crime by working with local governments and charities to a.) clean up graffiti, b.) enact stricter zoning and licensing requirements for certain questionable businesses such as bars, liquor stores and adult film theaters, c.) restrict public displays of pornographic materials, and d.) renovate or remove blighted buildings and public areas.
3. Build informal social controls and social capital.
Communities characterized by a extensive social networks, high levels of parental involvement and high social standards are proven to be far less likely to produce and maintain an active criminal element. These settings provide children with favorable adult role-models from which to learn responsible behaviors and norms that provide youth with "social capital." Programs that foster informal social controls and social capital might include: a.) organizing leisure-time youth activities; b.) discouraging street corner congregation of youth, c.) staggering school closing times to ease the monitoring of youth activities; and d.) creating adult-youth mentoring systems such as "Big Brother" programs. In addition, putting in place reasonable restrictions, such as curfews for teens in public areas unaccompanied by adults after a certain hour, are also shown to reduce crime. Reno presently has such a curfew in the downtown area after 9:00 PM.
4. Promote housing-based neighborhood stabilization.
Numerous research projects have demonstrated that population instability and housing decay are indelibly linked to crime and social problems among inner-city youth. Housing policies should focus on stabilization of existing neighborhoods, especially those dominated by single-family homes. Neighborhood stabilization and a better environment for youth will be achieved in part by reducing population abandonment of inner-city areas, residential anonymity and neighborhood deterioration.
5. Reduce the concentrations of poverty: scattered site new housing.
In order to promote a good community environment for inner-city children we must: a.) disperse present public housing residents throughout the city to reduce city concentrations of poverty, and b.) redesign and reconfigure low income housing models to be more effective when it is deemed necessary to construct them. Such housing should be accommodated in small buildings of a human scale and should be scattered throughout the city, never concentrated into large, dehumanizing, tenements as they are now. Concentration of urban poverty increases patterns of child abuse/neglect, unhealthy babies, elevated teen birthrates, teen delinquency, poor school performance, high dropout rates, absenteeism and poor cognitive ability development.
6. Maintain the municipal service base.
An urban neighborhood experiencing planned shrinkage of services such as fire stations, health clinics, and police substations may see patterns of social disintegration that increase the potential for crime and violence. Hence, neighborhood crime reduction initiatives should be coordinated with and linked to local government policies regarding fire, police and other municipal services.
7. Increase community power.
The basis of community power is a stable interlocking organizations not only in the neighborhood but also the greater city community as a whole. Therefore, this final initiative for communal crime control should encourage: a.) local citizen involve-ment in community organizations, b.) frequent communication between various community groups and city hall; and c.) community "empowerment" through greater efforts at collective action and a greater awareness of community abilities.
Neighborhood residents need to unite and combine their efforts with the criminal justice system to establish and maintain social order. We need to remember that the youth born in 1980s and 90s will be the strength of our cities and countries in the next century. Many of these youths were, or will be, born to single mothers in inner cities plagued by drug-addiction, abuse and social chaos. Many will be raised with neither parent at home, learning what it is to be Americans from gangs, criminal role-models and too a lesser extent, a laughable public education system. Unless we respond now while we still can, the creation of a feral generation will be our legacy to the next century. Unfortunately, we can’t effectively respond to this problem until we take accountability for our present predicament and admit that the solution lies not in handouts, laws, gun controls, or governments but in each of us and our willingness to work hard for a brighter tomorrow.