To combat crime, pick up the trash – New York Daily News – New York Daily News

Mayor Adams is rummaging through a familiar toolbox to address violent crime in New York City. That includes reviving a discredited anti-gun unit responsible for repeated excessive use of force, clearing encampments where unhoused persons sleep, pushing for changes to state law to enable prosecutors to charge more 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, and increasing the NYPD’s budget by $152 million.
But if Adams is looking for a powerful crime-fighting tool, he need look no further than picking up the trash.
The cleanliness of urban spaces matters when it comes to crime prevention, since picking up trash restores a sense of care and dignity to often-forgotten neighborhoods. In Philadelphia, an innovative research design chose random below-poverty neighborhoods for targeted trash clean-up. Gun violence dropped significantly as residents reported spending more time socializing on the streets.
“Without changing these physical spaces in which crime occurs,” the study’s author wrote in an op-ed, “violence-prevention efforts are incomplete.” The authors called for a “focused and sustained investment in high-risk places.”
Fifty years ago, the Young Lords, a group of young Puerto Rican activists, demanded that the city improve trash collection efforts in poor neighborhoods in the Bronx. Getting no response, they launched the “Garbage Offensive,” dragging piles of trash left in lots and city streets and lighting them afire.
But half a century after those fires were extinguished, public sanitation in New York City remains shockingly subpar for a world-class city.
Trash collection in New York City is a Rube Goldberg machine of absurd complexity, with overlapping responsibilities divvied up among public workers in two different agencies (the Department of Sanitation and the Business Integrity Commission, which regulates private carters), dozens of government contractors, and hundreds of private carters. It’s also inordinately expensive: Even after an ill-advised $106 million cut to the Sanitation Department budget in 2020, New York is scheduled to spend $1.9 billion next fiscal year on trash collection.
For all that spending, New York gets much less for its efforts than other cities. The evidence is all around us: trash piled shoulder-high on Manhattan streets, eddying in empty lots. Especially after COVID pushed restaurant dining outdoors, it has become impossible for New Yorkers to avoid the festering piles of garbage. Improvements in the city’s refuse efforts have proved hard to sustain. The percentage of streets and sidewalks rated “acceptably clean” fell in fiscal year 2022, while the number of streets rated “filthy” more than doubled to 1.5%. Refuse collected per truck — a measure of efficiency in collection — also fell from 9.9 to 9.4 tons, and remains well below the city’s target of 10.4 tons. Rat complaints soared in 2022.
Sometimes, seeing things clearly requires shaking up your perspective. A recent trip to Bilbao brought home to me just how inured I’ve become to piles of garbage. Bilbao is a strikingly clean city, where trash collection proceeds with near-military precision. Small trucks operate robotic arms that lift containers set at intervals along the streets. Impressed, I cornered a (very gracious) Spanish sanitation worker and peppered him with questions. He said that the city had workers around the clock working to keep the city clean.
Obviously, trash collection in New York is orders of magnitude more complex than in a 345,000-person city. And New York faces unique challenges: densely packed, with narrow streets and no alleyways.
But New York’s trash headaches are self-inflicted. Unlike most large cities, it pays for trash collection from general revenues, not user fees. The sanitation bureaucracy is notoriously hidebound, with a persistent shortage in qualified carters even as some employees make $100,000 per year in overtime.
Adams is aware that piled trash is a persistent complaint from New Yorkers. He added $40 million to the city’s sanitation budget, including $22 million in funding for expanded collection from city litter baskets. The Adams administration implemented new rules that will limit the amount of time trash spends piled on city streets. And it expanded vacant lot cleaning programs, implemented new recycling and composting programs, and provided funding for rat-proof trash cans. These are welcome changes.
But more can be done. New York should embrace new technologies and make a sustained effort to clean up urban spaces, especially those most at-risk for gun crime. This could be accomplished through expanding second-chance hiring of New Yorkers returning from incarceration, giving them a stake in the economy and their local communities.
To be clear, my proposal is the opposite of the Giuliani-era “broken windows” approach to policing, which tore communities of color apart and poisoned relations between police. Cleaning up streets and neighborhoods is a positive civic response to the interconnected problems of poverty, community disinvestment and crime.
Duran serves as program director at Galaxy Gives, Mike and Sukey Novogratz’s family philanthropy.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

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