Jayne: crime follows social divides

It is a problem. Without a doubt, this is a problem. It’s an assault on public safety and a sense of security and the things that make our community livable.

At a virtual town hall last week, local law enforcement officials detailed some startling statistics. Crime in the city of Vancouver is up 60% since 2019, Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain said. There were, for example, 2,183 reports of car thefts in 2021, compared to 1,627 two years earlier. There were 3,533 reports of vandalism, up from 1,877 in 2019, and a 49% increase in burglaries over the two years.

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins shared similar horror stories. There has been a 33% increase in lower level crime in recent years in areas covered by the sheriff’s office.

Nationally, an increase in violent crime has been well documented, with the homicide rate posting record increases. Fortunately, that wave hasn’t swept through Clark County, where violent crime numbers are stagnating or declining.

Of course, the aggregate doesn’t matter if you’re a victim. If your home is broken into, it tops a ton of statistics in terms of how safe you feel and how you feel about our community. And if your car is broken into, you probably don’t care about the reasons for the increase in crime or the sociological explanations; you just know it’s a problem.

The explanations for this are legion. There is the economic and social stress of a pandemic. There are pervasive drug problems that contribute to homelessness and fuel criminal activity. There is, as law enforcement officials explained, a lack of space at the Clark County Jail. With COVID-19 distancing protocols exacerbating what was already a shortage of space, offenders are being returned to the streets, where they can commit an offense again.

Indeed, the reasons for the increase in local crime are complex. But at the root of it all is a slow but undeniable fracture in society. There is a drip of anarchy eroding the foundation of our communities.

As columnist Leonard Pitts wrote last month: “The social compact has broken. That is to say, the thousand tacit understandings by which a society functions, the agreements to which we all subscribe without saying a word. Some are encoded in the law, others simply encoded in us. Either way, these are rules – “norms” might be a better word – people generally obey even when they could get away with not doing so.

We need not look far for examples over the past two years. There has been looting during the Black Lives Matter protests. There was a president who deliberately flouted the norm by refusing to release his tax returns and ignoring the emoluments clause of the Constitution. There were apologies for white supremacists, with suggestions that “you had some really bad people in this group, but you also had people who were really good people, on both sides.” There have been people protesting simple mandates such as mask-wearing during a pandemic. There have been former officials who ignored congressional subpoenas. There have been seditionists who have attacked the United States Capitol, only to be hailed by many members of Congress.

In any direction, we can see antisocial behavior with little responsibility and little consequence, but a lot of “bilateralism.” Is it any wonder that crime is on the rise in this climate, while growing numbers of people believe that violence is justified to protect what they imagine to be democracy?

There is a line of thought in criminology and sociology circles called the broken windows theory. He states that visible signs of crime, decay and social evil – such as broken windows – lead to further destruction. And while the theory has been much debated among people with more college degrees than me, it’s easy to see how it applies here.

The windows of our social construction have been broken, and that is a problem. Is it any wonder that an increase in crime follows?

Comments are closed.