April 24, 2019

Santa Clarita and The Broken Windows Theory

My wife was very much pregnant with our twins when we first came to Santa Clarita looking at properties.  We were moving from the San Fernando Valley.  In a weird ‘Twilight Zone-esque’ way, we immediately felt different the first time we set foot in the city.  It was as if everyone were mentally telling us to “move here, this is the best place to raise a family.”  After doing our due diligence, which took a little over a year researching everything the city has to offer including schools, we moved here in 2000.

Six years later, we were dropping off our twin daughters for their first day of Kindergarten.  It did not take long before we met most of the parents of the kids in their class.  Unfortunately, a few of those parents are the kind you would rather stay away from if you don’t want to feel depressed the rest of your day.  You know the type, they have nothing good to say about anything.  They act as if the world owes them.  Anyway, we got in a conversation with one of the pleasant moms and when asked what brought us to Santa Clarita, we told her it’s because of the schools, safety, and the clean and welcoming experience we had when we were house hunting.  One of the unpleasant moms overheard us, interjected and said “It’s only ‘safe’ (she said this word while doing air quotes with the pointer and middle finger of her right hand) and clean here because the city covers up for the crime and paints over the graffiti to hide the truth.”  I don’t know about covering up crimes, but I remember asking myself “what’s wrong with painting over graffiti?”  This is probably why Santa Clarita, as far as I’m concerned, is still to this date one of the most desirable places to live in Southern California.  I remember one of my wife’s crazy former co-workers called and left a message on her voicemail saying “I am here in your beautiful Santa Clarita Valley where even the trees are perfect, it’s making me sick…”  Santa Clarita is beautiful because we do not tolerate things like graffiti.

This brings us to the Broken Windows Theory, which was introduced in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.  According to the theory, monitoring and maintaining the condition of neighborhoods may prevent further vandalism as well as an escalation into more serious crimes.

Wikipedia offers this theoretical explanation:

The reason why the state of the urban environment may affect crime may be described as due to three factors:

1) social norms and conformity
2) the presence or lack of monitoring, and
3) social signalling and signal crime

A major factor in determining individual behavior is social norms, internalized rules about the appropriate way to act in a certain situation.  Humans constantly monitor other people and their environment in order to determine what the correct norms for the given situation are.  They also monitor others to make sure that the others act in an acceptable way.  In other words, people do as others do and the group makes sure that the rules are followed.  But when there are no people around, as is often the case in an anonymous urban environment, the monitoring of or by others does not work.  In such an environment, criminals are much more likely to get away with robberies, thefts and vandalism.  When there are no or few people around, individuals are forced to look for other clues—called signals—as to what the social norms allow them to do and how great the risk of getting caught is.  An ordered and clean environment sends the signal that this is a place which is monitored, people here conform to the common norms of non-criminal behavior.  A disordered environment which is littered, vandalized and not maintained sends the opposite signal: this is a place where people do as they please and where they get away with that, without being detected.  As people tend to act the way they think others act, they are more likely to act “disorderly” in the disordered environment.

Did you know that the City of Santa Clarita has a Graffiti Task Force?  The task force is made up of individuals who and agencies that are dedicated to keeping the City of Santa Clarita graffiti-free.  To learn more about the Santa Clarita Graffiti Task Force, visit the city’s official Web site at: http://www.santa-clarita.com/residents/graffiti-task-force/ To report graffiti, call (661) 25-CLEAN (661-252-5326).

Joel Javan