DENVER, Colo. -- The intense "Broken Windows" crime-fighting effort began in Denver's Westwood neighborhood in February 2006 and ended in August. The result: Crime dropped 16 percent from the same period in 2005.
Even better results were recorded in the Mar Lee and Harvey Park neighborhoods after Broken Windows moved there. Now, police are targeting Athmar Park, also in southwest Denver, where major crimes are down 16 percent from January through May, police report.
Broken Windows was adopted in 2005 as part of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's plan to revamp city policing amid rising crime and declining arrests.
The tactic involves heightened police attention to more minor crimes, decentralized enforcement and the better use of crime data to spot trends and needs. It was rolled out in police District 4 and has been used in varying degrees elsewhere in the city.
"You can't argue with the statistics," said District 4 police officer Les Tucker, a member of one of two seven-person Special Crime Attack Teams (SCAT) now blanketing Athmar Park. "It's effective."
Still, crime has declined citywide over the last two years, not just in Broken Windows neighborhoods. Studies are split on how well it works. And despite the popularity of Broken Windows, there is concern about what happens when the program moves out and about where the crime goes when a neighborhood is targeted.
"One of the complaints I heard was that when Broken Windows was in Westwood, the crime moved to Athmar," Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt said.
"That's a fair complaint, but I don't think it's something that undermines its value. When you start to mop up a spill, the spill is going to move away from the mop, but you're still mopping it up."
Eye on lone pedestrians
Put simply, Broken Windows is based on the theory that attention paid to minor offenses means fewer serious ones. Criminals don't settle into neighborhoods where people care.
Here's how it works: Number crunchers analyze crime statistics and determine high-crime areas and what time most criminal activity happens.
Support for the program is sought from neighborhood and business leaders. An area is selected and the officers go to work.
In District 4, six officers at any given time scour the targeted neighborhood for three to six months or more. If crime goes down, and after consultations with community leaders and others, the effort is shifted to another hot spot.
"The objective is not only the reduction of crime but the satisfaction of citizens in the neighborhood with what police have done," said District 4 Cmdr. Rudy Sandoval.
The officers are on the lookout for crime, but they're also talking to residents and gathering information. They're handing out "How to be a Good Neighbor" pamphlets that address issues such as: How many people can live in a home? How loud can music be? What types of fires are allowed? How should cars be parked?
The cops ask lone walkers at night what they're up to. Sometimes, they run names and find wanted criminals. They order abandoned and stolen cars impounded and towed. They ask property owners to clean up the mess on their front lawn or have that broken window fixed.
'We want people to care'
Early complaints that the program would turn Denver into a police state where everyone was suspected of something haven't materialized, observers say.
"I have not heard that at all," said Nevitt, whose district covers much of Athmar Park. "That is a measure of the positive relationships between police and (the community.) They see (police) as doing their job instead of as an invading army."
For his part, Sandoval hosts a meeting every other week with officers and members of the community to discuss concerns and progress. Sandoval said the key is stabilizing neighborhoods.
"Once people start moving out, the criminals start moving in," Sandoval said. "We want people to care about their properties, their community and crime in their neighborhood."
Athmar Park resident Beverly Van Slyke, 43, has lived in her home seven years. She's noticed lots of police cars recently. Van Slyke was relieved to learn her home was in the middle of the Broken Windows program.
"I like to see police around," Van Slyke said.
At an Athmar Park tortilleria, owner David Trevizo agreed there is less crime - though he still recalls the time a wanted man ran into his shop and swung a piece of rebar at him and a police officer.
"Any time you do have an emergency, the police show up in minutes," said Trevizo. "The police are doing a really good job."
Not everyone in Athmar Park sees a change, however.
Paul Johnson, 42, lives on the neighborhood's eastern edge. "I have not seen any additional police," Johnson said. "The taggers hit my alley every night. I can't even let my 3-year-old play in the back yard alone. My wife is afraid someone will grab him."
In a 2001 study, Rutgers criminal justice professor George Kelling - the father of the Broken Windows theory - concluded that it had prevented more than 60,000 violent crimes in New York City from 1989 to 1990. But other researchers are skeptical. In a 2006 study that re-examined Kelling's conclusions and additional data, University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt found no evidence that Broken Windows works or that it is the best way to use scarce police resources.
Jan Belle, executive director of the SouthWest Improvement Council, is a huge fan of Broken Windows. But she said Westwood has deteriorated since the effort moved on.
She is busy figuring out how much it will cost to replace two 4-by-8-foot broken windows at the Westwood Community Center, which houses her office. She's looking at $3,000.
"It is important to go after the little stuff," Belle said. "When vandals see they can get away with things, they get so brazen."
The level of policing provided during the Westwood pilot project should be in the neighborhood all the time, she said.
"It is the level of policing citizens expect," Belle said. "Every neighborhood that has had (Broken Windows) loves it. The officers love it. It needs to be everywhere at the same time."
Unfortunately, Sandoval said, the department can't afford it.