Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Law and Order and Nuisance Codes
Speech to the Grants Pass City Council, 1/4/12
What is the purpose of law? I submit that it is to maintain order. People have an ingrained need for order; when things are disorderly, it disturbs us. If there seems to be nothing we can do about it, we ignore it, subconsciously refusing to see ugly disorder, but it does not cease to be disturbing, because the subconscious sees all.
Disorderly surroundings make us nervous; I was reading in Science magazine the other day about studies showing that people act more biased in disorderly surroundings, seeking order and safety in categorizing members of marginal groups around them, and avoiding contact.
Other studies, and police experience, have shown that criminals are more comfortable committing crimes in disorderly surroundings, which explains why disorder makes most people nervous around the kind of people whom they associate with crime. So disorder discourages loving one’s neighbor in both criminals and respectable people.
It follows that allowing disorder on one’s property is anti-social neglect, and few things are more disorderly than litter and weeds. That’s why Grants Pass has nuisance codes since 1960 that forbid litter and mature weeds, along with junk and safety hazards.
It also follows that enforcing nuisance codes is not a luxury to be discarded when budgets are tight; they are the basis of law and order, because they maintain basic order. If a town looks orderly, less crime is committed; it’s a town that “looks and feels safe,” because it actually is safe.
In fact, it is cheaper to enforce nuisance codes to the letter of the law than not. It is difficult and expensive to investigate and prosecute serious crimes against people; it is cheap and easy to see litter and weeds and warn residents to clean them up. It’s only a little more expensive to contact and warn absentee landholders, and if they don’t respond, we can make money cleaning up their property.
The former are most likely to be involved in serious crimes, because they do not love their neighbors. The police would quickly become acquainted with most of the thieves in town. The banks among the latter would think twice about foreclosing on people in our town who are maintaining their properties.
If having a clean town creates less crime, then we won’t spend so much time fighting crime. Letting nuisances become safety hazards guarantees safety hazards, like that forest fire in town last fall, as well as being downright disturbing. When police only enforce against personal crime and safety hazards and ignore nuisances, we end up with a lot of safety hazards, and lot less order.
Published at Yahoo Voices.