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Litter control can control crime
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There are many reasons to become involved in roadside and neighborhood cleanups. One important reason is to create and sustain safer neighborhoods and communities. I am sure that this is probably not the first one that comes to mind for most of us.
However, it is certainly one that we should think about. In August of 2006, we were fortunate in Georgia to have Dr. George Kelling as a speaker at the Governor’s Litter Summit in Atlanta.
I had heard of Dr. Kelling and his “Broken Windows” theory several years before. It was quite an experience to hear him share his findings in person.
The theory first appeared in the 1940s; however, it was popularized by a series of writings by Dr. Kelling and political scientist, James Q. Wilson. Dr. Kelling ultimately authored a book, Fixing Broken Windows. It is well worth reading if you are interested in understanding the relationship of quality of life issues and environmental blight.
The theory is simple: a broken window left unrepaired in a building sends a message that there is a lack of concern about the building. That broken window left untended leads to more broken windows. This lack of concern and interest causes a chain reaction.
When residents see that this vandalism is ignored, they unfortunately open the door to accepting other negative behaviors and acts of vandalism. This disorder and the apathy about this disorder lead to increased vandalism and even more serious crimes. Ultimately this leads to neighborhood and community decline, because neglect and apathy have taken root in the community. It is hard to believe that all that can happen because of a broken window. Litter, debris and acts of vandalism uncorrected can actually signify that a neighborhood is deteriorating.
A number of studies in recent years have yielded the same conclusions.
Here are some of Dr. Kelling’s recommendations for restoring order in communities:
* Residents need to take personal responsibility for their neighborhoods. That sense of ownership and concern for buildings, roads, and public spaces will deter that chain reaction of crime and more crime. The sense of ownership is key for me. If our actions show that we care about our community and that we take pride in its maintenance, we will reduce the occurrence of litter, graffiti, vandalism, and more serious crimes.
* Citizens and law enforcement work together to prevent and fight crime from minor violations to more serious offenses.
* Business improvement districts are essential to creating clean, safe downtown areas.
* Civic and church groups provide active support on quality of life issues in neighborhoods and communities.
* Community courts  — and environmental courts —-are developed to deal with enforcement issues.
* The restoration of authority for parents and teachers over children in a community is an important component as well.
Restoring order and restoring civility are important issues for Dr. Kelling. He considers acts, like littering and vandalism, as forms of incivility. I agree with him on that! Please do not think that Dr. Kelling is some researcher living in an ivory tower thinking up untested and unrealistic theories. Kelling has served as a consultant for a number of urban areas, including New York City. The implementation of his ‘order maintenance theories’ led to policies on the New York Subway system that reduced crime rates substantially. I figure that if New York City can become more ‘civil’ and more safe, then any community can.
Kelling states that “quality of life issues and disorder continue to be among the most urgent issues that local politicians must address.” By addressing these issues, communities, like ours, may find additional dividends like lower crimes rates and stronger, safer neighborhoods.

Upcoming events:
Feb. 16: Georgia Arbor Day
* March 1-May 31: Great American Cleanup in Liberty County, Keep America Beautiful’s national cleanup event
Volunteers are needed throughout the county.
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