Developed nearly 40 years ago, the “broken windows” theory of policing was adopted by New York City police commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the mid-’90s. Simply put, if police concentrate on obviously visible signs of criminality like broken windows, subway fare-dodging, and the like, then greater acts of criminality — like muggings and murder — will follow suit. New York City had entered a longterm decline in the 1970s, culminating (if that’s the word) in the see-nothing/do-nothing administration of Mayor David Dinkins, when it looked like the city might fully collapse.
Dinkins survived one whole term before Giuliani came into office, bringing Bratton and the broken windows theory with him. The results of their experiment were as clear as they were nearly instantaneous, and the city entered a renaissance so enduring that even years of undoing by progressive Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio haven’t fully undone it.
Today on the other side of the country, incoming San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin promises that he “will not prosecute cases” involving “public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc.” In other words, my lovely former hometown, already rife with such activities, is about to get a whole lot worse.
When I left San Francisco in 1994, the city could be a miserable, stinky place. That might have been expected where I lived, in the Tenderloin, arguably the second-worst neighborhood in town. Weekend nights were entertainingly weird, with a seemingly endless variety of prostitutes in an hours-long virtual parade up and down Geary Street. If you turned the corner onto Polk Street, things got even weirder. But the rents were affordable, and for a kid in his mid-20s, it was like getting the free live version of Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” every Friday and Saturday night.
But it wasn’t just the Tenderloin.
Work brought me down the Geary bus line every weekday morning to the gleaming Shaklee Terraces in the heart of the city’s Financial District. We’re talking back then about some of the priciest real estate in the world, and I guess we still are. And every morning when I stepped off that bus in front of those huge modern skyscrapers representing some of the most fabulous wealth in the world, I was practically smacked in the face by the premodern stink of human urine. I kept an extra pack of cigarettes on me to give to the really aggressive homeless guys in lieu of cash. It was maybe a 60-second walk from the bus to Shackley, and I’d guess most mornings I had to hand out at least two smokes.
When Boudin says he won’t prosecute people for blocking the sidewalk, all I can think of is how many cigarettes, or how much cash, it would have taken my younger self just to make the short walk from the bus to the office.
My experience was San Francisco a quarter-century ago. Today, things are so much worse that the city has become as famous for its electronic poop maps as it is for its skyline and hills. I used to joke back then — not in a funny way — that the problem with the city was that it treated the homeless like an endangered species. Tomorrow, you won’t even be able to get a ticket for “public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc.,” by the new D.A.’s own stated policy.
What do you call the opposite of broken windows policing? Maybe we should call it, “look the other way while aggressive panhandling vagrants pee out the broken window.” Or how about: “Hookers, and Pushers, and Tramps, oh My!” Or more succinctly, “the non-policing theory of policing.” Whatever you want to call it, America’s most beautiful city is about to enter a Dinkins-style decline — on purpose, by design, and as promised by incoming D.A. Chesa Boudin.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson reported last night that “Boudin’s parents were members of the Weather Underground domestic terrorist group,” and quoted an NBC News report that he was “raised in Chicago by Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.”
Weather Underground tried to destroy America through a bombing campaign, but that’s small-scale destruction compared to what you can do to a city once you grab its reins of power.
For what it’s worth, Boudin’s election victory was cheered on by Democrat presidential contender Bernie Sanders, who promises to do to America what Boudin will do to San Francisco.