Epidemics

I’ve been reading a very interesting series of books by author Malcolm Gladwell.  You may know his most famous book, “Outliers” (which I haven’t read yet).  Mr. Gladwell is a writer for the New Yorker and has an interest in things from a social science point of view. 

Right now I’m reading The Tipping Point and its theme is social epidemics.  He talks about how small things can sometimes tip the course of events in one direction or another and how to identify the people or the things that cause the tipping.  One of the examples he uses is the drop in crime in New York in the 1990’s.  Of course, that kind of thing grabs my attention.  He tries to find a tipping point to explain the positive social epidemic that resulted in this dramatic drop in violent crime.

Mr. Gladwell uses some ideas from criminology like the “Broken Window” theory to demonstrate his idea that context matters,  along with actions of certain types of people to create the tipping points from which social change comes.  With respect to crime he seems to concur that it makes sense for police to focus their efforts not just on major crimes but also the more minor crimes that create social disorder.  Like destruction of property that doesn’t get repaired, the presence of graffiti, dirt, unmowed grass, litter, abandoned cars, burned out houses.  These are all things that contribute to a feeling that behavior doesn’t have to be well ordered either.  People are often fearful in areas where there is physical disorder. 

I am a big believer in the Broken Window theory and I cause our efforts to be expended toward maintaining our community largely for that reason.  An example would be our efforts in partnering with Community Development to track and inspect the vacant properties in the city.  Since the housing market crash we became concerned about our neighborhoods and the impacts of unoccupied homes.  For about two years now our police officers have been inspecting vacant homes and working with Community Development to get them properly secured and keep up appearances.  We are happy to report that many of the homes in our city have been reselling and reoccupied.  That is one example of how police can help community viability. 

We are a community that has lots of positive stuff going for it.  Police contribute to that positive quality of life by our actions and how we choose to spend our professional time and effort.  Nonetheless, I am always on the look out for a tipping point that could send us in another direction not so positive.

The book is an interesting one, I recommend it.