Last night I had dinner with some neighbors and there was some talk about crime and safety in the neighborhood -- mostly in relation to reducing city services like the police force. As it happens, I am not against reducing some services but I am not so sure about reducing police and fire services.
And just in case I needed a reminder about why, the car I've borrowed from my Dad was broken into last night. At first I thought I had forgotten to lock it but the police officers who took the report pointed out where the thieves had forced open the drivers side door lock. They also pried apart the ignition which activated the anti-theft system so now, the car wont start. The cops said that they probably tried to steal it because it is a Chrysler and apparently Chryslers are easy cars to steal...usually. Not all of them have anti-theft systems I guess. The tow truck driver said the same thing.
Ok, the anti-theft system did what it was supposed to do and the car wasnt stolen. But I had to have it towed to the Chrysler dealership and I had to take today off of work (unpaid) which I can ill afford. Again, I guess I should be grateful that this happened today rather than next week when I'll be in my first week at my new job.
I have to admit though, that I am getting tired of this. I usually dont lock my car and it gets broken into on average about once a month. But no one has ever actually tried to steal my car before. They just take loose change and returnable bottles usually. This is a somewhat recent thing too. It was a few years after I first moved in here that my car was broken into. It bugs the crap out of me though. It bugs me that there are people in the world who have so little respect for the property of others. It bugs me that we have an economy were some people get desperate. This summer has been pretty bad for me crime wise too. I had my hand chair stolen from my porch, I had a guy sleeping on my lawn in his underpants and a sleeping bag stolen from my neighbor..and now this.
I cant help wondering if all of this petty theft has something to do with the whole situation at the jail. The jail is always full so often the police arrest people and then just let them go right away. The people who live far away from Ypsilanti generally are the ones who have voted not to spend money to expand the jail. Why should they? They dont have the same crime problems. They have been able to move away from such social issues.
Right now, I cant say that I totally blame them. Well, I blame them for not voting to expand the jail but I dont really blame them for choosing to remove themselves geographically from the crime that necessitates a jail and an expensive police force. If you live far from the poor people, you are much less likely to be a victim of a crime. So you can get away with less police and that saves you money on your taxes. It is normal and rational for a person to make such a decision.
As much as I complain about the tax rate in Ypsilanti, we dont pay the same taxes that people who live in the City of Detroit pay. They *really* pay through the nose tax wise and I dont mind mentioning that their city income tax combined with the highest property tax rate in the state combined with lousy services has not really encouraged people to move there. One has to wonder, is Ypsilanti headed in the same direction?
Our tax system is broken. Seriously. You see, when people are looking around for a place to live, they can choose a place like Ypsilanti or Detroit. But there is infrastructure in place in those places that has to be paid for. There are old employee pensions, roads, parks, etc. OR people can choose to live someplace close to the city where they can avoid paying for city services while still benefiting from proximity to the city. Then, as the people who can afford to move out, move out, they leave behind the people who really cant afford to leave. They leave behind the social problems and poverty that lead to higher crime levels which leaves fewer tax payers to pay for those things. That higher taxation further discourages the people who can best afford to pay for things from moving into cities. And so on... Combine all of that with other market forces and voila! You have SE Michigan and all of the sprawl that is so characteristic of this area.
So? What is to be done. I know some people take the view that the answer is to gentrify the area, to drive up rents and property values so much that the poor people are forced to move. I wonder how much of this type of thinking was behind the failed Water Street project? It certainly seems to be a technique that has worked for Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is much more high brow than it was when I first moved there 22 years ago. But, I think Water Street is a good example of how the gentrification approach is nearly impossible.
A better approach would be to fix the property tax structure so that tax payers in areas with a lot of social problems dont end up paying for *all* of those problems while people who live in places removed from them dont pay anything at all. Of course, that solution might be just as impossible at least judging from the jail situation. I still say that the Ypsilanti police should start releasing people who would have gone to the jail if there had been room in places like Saline or Milan or even Ypsilanti Twp. That might motivate those motherfuckers to vote for a bigger jail!