When it comes time to crack down on loitering, these individuals must keep moving or (ideally) find help. In LePere's opinion a solution needs to be sought by anyone who has the means in which to help. Homelessness is everybody's problem.
"Law enforcement generally is frustrated with policing the homeless because there is so much need for that population, and many times a community will expect the police to solve the problem instead of getting their hands in it," he says.
Some cities, like Kansas City, Mo., have or are in the process of establishing homeless commissions and task forces that involve groups from all sectors of the population. Councilwoman Cathy Jolly (Kansas City) petitioned to start a homeless task force in September of 2009 that will include individuals from higher education, the business district, lawyers, housing authority, health care, the homeless coalition, and law enforcement. But she hopes others will get involved, as well.
"One thing [our chief of police] stressed was that the police department does have a substantial amount of contact with homeless folks, and what that means for our city," says Jolly. "I'm tasked with reaching out to other jurisdictions to work with us, because we know homelessness knows no county or city lines."
What cleaning up can do
Like homelessness, crime and criminal activity is not neatly confined by jurisdictions. Lavallee admits that when they replaced the run-down housing projects with single-family homes in Lowell, they saw a drop in crime, but also a transfer of crime activity. This is a common critique/concern of Broken Windows policing. When the strategy is applied, and applied well, it is evidenced that communities are cleaner and citizens more involved, taking ownership of where they live and work. Keeping a close watch does more good than harm.
From what he's seen in his 20 years in law enforcement, Taylor says all officers receive training in Broken Windows, adding "It's the way we do business." Like an aggressive zone defense, good police work does not yield to unlawful adversaries.
"The opposition is always going to find the weakness in the zone," says Taylor. "But if everybody played their zone strong I think things would be much better. Unfortunately we have different jurisdictions doing it differently, social services where some are willing to play and some don't want to have anything to do with it."
A matter of perspective
No matter how many times Broken Windows is taught in academies and training sessions, this multi-faceted — and very involved — method of "keeping crime at bay" will have its skeptics. Bernard Harcourt, professor of law and political science at the University of Chicago, argues the social science evidence has "pretty conclusively demonstrated that there's nothing to the theory." In other words, there's no good evidence at our fingertips that disorderliness actually causes crime. He goes on to say there remains no good criminological evidence that Broken Windows-type policing actually reduces crime, stating "The two pieces of the puzzle remain essentially unproven." Which leaves us to wonder: Is Broken Windows nothing more than wishful thinking?
"Wouldn't it be nice to not have to deal with deeper issues than whether there's graffiti on the walls?" asks Harcourt. "I would think it would cost less, would be less difficult … the world would be a lot better place if [it] were true. I think that's why it kind of lingers on."
It might be as simple as that. Urban crime and all its many-spangled woes are still the result of the obvious big players: alcohol, guns, gang activity and economic hardship. But does any crime arise from the cracked walls of a run-down apartment complex? And for that matter could doing away with the dingy complex stomp out crime? It's a chicken-and-egg type dilemma. At the same time, it's apparent why the theory remains evocative. It is hopeful to believe that change can arise and conditions improve if you just apply a little elbow grease.
At the least, it can't hurt.