'Broken Taillights'

By George W. Grayson on October 12, 2009

Today's New York Times, whose editorial writers have never met an illegal alien they didn't like, excoriates Phoenix's elected Sheriff Joe Arpaio for apprehending those who have sneaked across the border unlawfully. They lambaste his "indiscriminate neighborhood raids [that] use infractions like broken taillights as pretexts for mass immigration arrests." Have these paladins of the Fourth Estate forgotten how an urban version of this approach -- "Broken Windows" advanced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling -- helped reduce crime in the Big Apple?

The scholars' thesis was that if a building's windows are not repaired, vandals will be encouraged to break into the structure, become squatters, create a crack house, and even set fires.

The same rationale applies to broken taillights. While ostensibly constituting a minor infraction, such lack of care may indicate that the vehicle has navigated arroyos, ravines, gullies, dry river beds, and other craggy terrain -- rather than paved roads -- in order to transport law breakers into the U.S. Malfunctioning equipment -- especially rear lights -- could also mean that the truck is grossly overloaded, possibly jammed with exploited men, women, and children who lack documents to enter America. Moreover, relatively innocuous safety breaches suggest that the driver, perhaps a coyote or professional smuggler, may have stolen the vehicle or is only using it for one or two runs across the border. By adopting the broken windows approach under the rubric of "zero tolerance," New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and police commissioner Howard Safir reduced criminal activities. William J. Bratton, the next Police Commissioner, even cracked down on "squeeges," the men who wipe the windshields of motorists waiting in traffic who they seek to rip off.

The result of thinking small improved the quality of life of New Yorkers. By zeroing in on broken taillights, Sheriff Arpaio is attempting to do the same for the citizens that placed him in office in Arizona.