New York - Do you remember the “broken windows” theory of criminology? The theory was first posited by two social scientists in 1982 in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. The theory goes that you deter serious crime and anti-social behavior in urban neighborhoods by repairing the broken windows. You also remove the graffiti, and sidewalk litter. You install bright lights. You create an orderly environment, and crime goes down. Respectable people don’t leave the neighborhood.
The theory was first utilized on a large scale in New York City under Mayor Giuliani in the 1990s. Police also cracked down on such minor violations as subway fare evasion, public drinking, urination, and the “squeegee men” who stopped cars to wipe your windshield and demand payment.
The broken windows theory worked. Rates of petty and serious crime dropped dramatically.
Notably, the killer of Leiby Kletzky, z”l, had a record for public urination in New York City in 2010.
We look around at our own situation, and what do we see? The last taboo, murder, and a child no less, has just been broken, taking its place along all kinds of other anti-social, criminal behavior, including, child abuse, substance abuse, immorality, and serious financial crime.
We need to fix our broken windows. But how?
We can start by bringing ourselves under the beneficial child protection laws that protect the majority of children in New York State, but not orthodox Jewish children. New York probably has the weakest laws in the country for protecting religious and all nonpublic school children.
Twelve, mostly large states (representing 40% of our national population) require that nonpublic schools fingerprint and perform criminal history searches on their employees. But not New York, where 450,000 children attend nonpublic schools, including 125,000 in Jewish schools. Its almost hard to believe, but here in New York, registered sex offenders, murderers, and other dangerous convicted criminals may legally secure employment in a New York nonpublic school, without being detected.
Eighteen states impose mandated reporter status on every adult citizen, but not New York. A mandated reporter is required to report evidence of child abuse or maltreatment to government child protection authorities. New York’s mandated reporting law extends only to a limited class of mostly licensed professionals, people who sometimes have a vested interest in not reporting child abuse, and becoming entangled in thorny issues which they are not getting paid for.
Twenty-six states list clergy as mandated reporters of child abuse. New York is not one of them, still apparently not getting the message so harshly delivered by the international clergy sex abuse scandal that has destroyed and even killed so many children.
New York State law is so backward on the subject of child abuse that nonpublic school children are even discriminated against, quite explicitly.
Our State Education Law requires all public school pupils to receive instruction designed to prevent the abduction of children – but not nonpublic school children. How would such instruction, if given, have affected Leiby’s decision to accept a ride from a stranger? We’ll never know.
Silent resignations of school employees who are charged with child abuse are prohibited, but this section of the law, again, explicitly applies to public school employees only, who are therefore barred from moving around from public school-to-public school.
Public schools only are required to establish and implement written school policies and plans to prevent and safeguard the life and health of children, and to prevent abuse.
And shocking as it may be, only public schools are required to maintain onsite defibrillators, not public schools.
Is this madness? Should we amend our laws to eliminate any requirement that nonpublic schools maintain fire extinguishers?
Its been said that the murder of Leiby Kletzky, z”l, is our community’s September 11. Emotions are running high now, and many proposals are on the table for eradicating, once and for all, the great evil of child abuse that is on our midst.
Whatever your religious philosophy may be, ranging from modern orthodox to Chassidic, attention should be paid to the May 2007 Resolution of the world’s largest group of rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America. The Resolution clearly states, “We support the application to the nonpublic schools of the health and safety laws currently applicable to public schools.” (rabbis.org)
Our organization, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children (www.jewishadvocates.blogspot.com ), which worked with the RCA in enacting that Resolution, has published a February 2009 Position Paper to the New York State Legislature that advocates for the overall strengthening of our child protection laws, particularly as applicable to nonpublic school children.
It is about time that we are joined in this effort by our entire Jewish community, and all citizens of good will.
The broken windows theory is really nothing new. Pinchos, in the Torah, knew it a long time ago. A public crime of immorality, even between two consenting adults, needs to be firmly addressed. Otherwise, things will get worse – which they have.
By creating a strong legal environment where predators get the message that their deviant conduct will not be tolerated, we can bring a quick and sudden end to the abuse problem.
May G-d, in his abundant mercy, bless us with the strength and perseverance to achieve our goals.
Elliot Pasik, a lawyer in private practice, is also president of Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, Inc.