Fixing Bremerton’s Broken Windows

Sunday’s crime story, written with Josh Farley, was influenced by author Malcolm Gladwell and “rogue economist” Steven D. Levitt. In fact, we even tried to get Levitt to comment for the story, but never heard back from him.

Gladwell and Levitt are both known for blowing holes in common assumptions.

Gladwell’s The Tipping Point addresses why things change, what causes something to go from unknown to something everyone knows about . In Blink he looks at what’s behind our quick decisions. In both books he looks at crime.

Levitt, in the book Freakonomics, analyzes data to come up with conclusions some of us might never consider. Besides discovering that Sumo wrestlers are cheaters, and so are some teachers, the most famous and controversial finding he made was that crime went down because of Roe v. Wade.

Our story attempts to ask the question of whether a high number of renters increases crime. I can’t say we come to any definitive answers, but we did address some of the assumptions and found value and questions in them.

In looking at the statistics, there is some correlation in Washington between a high number of renters and violent crime. Of the seven cities in Washington most prone to violent crime, one had more than half of the residences occupied by owners. Of the 30 cities that have less than one violent incident per 1,000 residents, none had less than half. Pretty strong link, for sure.

There are exceptions. Bellingham and Pullman can perhaps be dismissed because they’re college towns. College kids may be binge drinkers, but they are not, for the most part, a violent bunch.

Then there’s Oak Harbor. It’s smaller (22k) and farther from Seattle than Bremerton is, but it’s a Navy town and the renter numbers are similar to those here. UW sociology professor Joe Weis said the biggest predictor for violent crime is young, single males. Ah so. Oak Harbor has a far higher percentage of families in town than Bremerton does.

The problem for Bremerton is that’s not likely to change. If it does change, the city will have little to do with it, since it’s the Navy’s decision where to put its personnel. This is not saying that it’s Navy kids causing all the problems here, but you locate that many people who have no attachments to a family or to the community, and Weis said the problem is likely to increase.

So Bremerton has a couple things it can do. It can increase its policing. That’s not in the plans. Mayor Cary Bozeman said, “We cannot police our way out of this.” It’s not only a pretty expensive option, you could have more policing and you could still have shanties.

So instead the city is looking to repair its metaphorical broken windows. It’s making downtown, which got “malled” in the late ’70s and early ’80s, a more attractive place for people to hang out and shop, even live. In concert with that, the city is looking at ways it can police its landlords better.

And the neighbors on Pleasant are employing the same tactic, as well as keeping an eye on would-be evildoers.

2 thoughts on “Fixing Bremerton’s Broken Windows

  1. After reading the Pleasant Avenue story,I have concluded the main cause of Bremerton’s decline can be contributed to greedy slumlords.The reason they refuse to maintain their rentals is because the present system gives tax breaks to homes in disrepair. They try to focus the problem on our city officials but it is quite obvious ,they do what they can to clean the blight.A reverse tax such as they have in Canada would solve the problem.We should reward the homeowners that try to improve the neighborhood.

  2. We used to live on Pleasant Avenue right across the street from the apartment building mentioned in the article. This apartment building was a problem in 1999 and it still is now.

    We purchased a house on Pleasant and lived in it for less that two years because our daughter, who was eleven at the time, was shot (Yes I said SHOT) with a high calibur bb gun. She would have been seriously injured if not for the wooden game board she has in her backpack as walked next to me on the way to my job in downtown. The shot left a huge welt on her back – we could tell the shots were coming from the apartment building – we ran back home and called the police. The police did find and arrest the shooter, who was an unsupervised boy.

    This combined with a homeless man who kept wandering into our yard and sleeping in our driveway, and the constant creepy visits from one of the KMS Group Home residents (This man would come down to our house, stand outside our fence and talk about how my little girls were trying to lure him into our house) scared us so much that we walked away from the house and gave it back to the people we were buying it from. This was our Pleasant Avenue experience.

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