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A community that is well cared for sees less crime, vandalism
Ceres Police Chief/ Acting City Manager Art deWerk

Criminologists and social science experts have for many years asserted that areas with blight, litter, rundown buildings, gang graffiti and other detractors from the quality of life are crime magnets. A renowned academic, James Q. Wilson, created the "broken windows theory" after finding that "urban environments in a well ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime." Having been in the law enforcement business for over 40 years, I have come to fully appreciate the broken windows theory as being absolutely applicable to each of the communities I have worked in, including here in Ceres.

A community, where its members neglect its appearance, generally has more crime than places that are neat and orderly. This does not mean that the community members have to be rich. Regardless of the average income, a community that cares has fewer criminal problems and other forms of anti-social behavior. Whether criminals think consciously or not about the relative cleanliness of an area, they are drawn to it because it allows for the perception to exist that the neighbors do not care and are less likely to call the police when suspicious behavior is taking place. And once an area starts deteriorating, it tends to worsen quickly and reversing the damage takes far more effort than when there were few or no problems. A neighborhood in decline attracts problems, both in terms of criminal activities and a deterioration of the quality of life.

In Ceres, we have struggled with budgetary cutbacks that have led to less code enforcement activities and clean-up efforts. And while the economy seems to be coming back somewhat, Ceres and most other cities in this area do not yet have the funds to support full-scale code enforcement and blight removal programs. Basically, code enforcement is handled by one person, with graffiti being handled by a contractor.

In recognition of the limited resources available to keep our community looking clean, orderly, and well cared for, a group of police officers have made it their priority to assist in elimination of blight and other detractors from our otherwise nice community. The police are taking a proactive approach to dealing with litter, illegal dumps, homeless encampments, illegal signs at businesses, and other code violations that detract from the quality of life here.

The officers' time to perform these extra duties is limited, but already there is noticeable improvement. The challenge now is to sustain the effort and actually add to it by engaging more members of the community to help report problems and clean it up. There are a few citizens who have been picking up litter around city parks and their neighborhoods. I have seen these people carrying buckets or bags and using litter pick-up tools that keep the person from having to bend over or touch the items. Their investment of a little time and a pick-up tool that may have cost them less than $10 helps prevent costly vandalism and other property crimes in their neighborhood. I can only imagine the results if hundreds or even thousands of people joined these other community leaders in effort to make Ceres look better.

The communities in this area were hard hit with home foreclosures, so there were hundreds of vacant homes that attracted meth labs, squatters, and other criminal activity. Fortunately, most all of the foreclosed homes are occupied again, but the neighborhoods are still in a recovery mode. It has become important for neighbors to become acquainted with each other again and pay attention to what is going on near their homes. Activities out of the norm need to be reported to the police immediately, so we can root out the problems and persons responsible.

The point of this column is to inform community members of the new, proactive efforts by the police to help bring Ceres to be the best it can be. At the same time, whether we have 50 officers or 200, we cannot do it by ourselves. It takes the whole community to understand what is needed to keep it livable and safe, and for individuals to take action by helping with the cleanup, reporting code enforcement issues, and to be alert so suspicious activities do not go unreported. The officers are doing their part and by working as a team with the people who live and work here, we can make a huge difference.