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Monday, April 27, 2015


New York City used to be the homicide capital of the world. The incidents of murder peaked at 2245 cases in 1990 before beginning a precipitous fall to a third that number within a decade and further down to 328 recorded cases last year.

Starting in 1991 the New York Police Department (NYPD) started a crackdown on even the smallest of infringements in line with the broken windows theory. The NYPD went after petty thieves, graffiti painters, fare dodgers on the subway and other smaller crimes aggressively drawing criticism about how they were wasting valuable resources on lesser crimes when major crimes were running out of control.

General crime, not only murder begun to fall as illustrated above, though the correlation between the two events has been questioned by other observers.

The theory got its name from an article published in 1982 by Americans James Wilson and George Kelling in which they used the analogy of the building with one broken window, which if not attended to will encourage the breaking of more windows and may escalate into occupation of the building by squatters.

"The broken window theory supposedly works on the basis that smaller crimes lay the basis for larger crimes...

The critics not withstanding it would be interesting to see what would happen if they theory was applied here.

The recent murders of Muslim clerics, the deputy public prosecutor Joan Kagezi and any number of major crimes it can be argued are a result of the general disregard for rules in our society.

Not to flog the point too much but the way boda boda riders (motorcycle taxis) flaunt traffic rules – jumping traffic lights, driving on the wrong side of the road and overloading in plain sight encourages onlookers to push the boundaries, to break the law after all the bodas can get away with it.

So it then comes as no surprise that in the recent spate of murders the common denominator was the presence of a boda boda rider to enable the speedy getaway of the criminals.

Its common sense actually – they say a stitch in time saves nine, and Ugandans who lived through the harrowing 70s and 80s can attest to this . Lawlessness feeds on itself, coopting even the most upright of citizens into its vortex and before you know it what was wrong soon becomes normal behaviour, entrenches itself in our psyches and resist the best intentions to revert to the proper way of doing things.

And even the nature of boda boda crime bears this out. First they were snatching purses and other valuables from the unsuspecting public. Then they started kidnapping and raping women. Then they started killing people. They too were not spared as few dozen boda boda riders have been waylaid  by their “passengers” and robbed of life and property.

"Granted, it’s as not sexy running after boda boda riders and taxi drivers. That won’t get you much airtime in the media, but in order to contain major crimes we cannot have lawlessness run rampant on a “smaller” level and expect to make any headway with the bigger crimes...

Let us use boda bodas as a test case. Proper registration of all of them. No jumping lights or breaking any other traffic rules. Stop working after 11 pm and enforce all the other regulations they are supposed to keep.

If for nothing else our roads will be safer place to be on and the best case scenario we will have created an environment where we revert to the old normal of observing the law.

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