It will now not be an offence to defend yourself against someone who has smashed their way into the house and threatens you, your loved ones and your property. The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2010, published yesterday, will give you the right to use reasonable force against an intruder.
The implication of the bill is that our society has now reached the point where it has become necessary for the government to legislate for people to protect themselves against crime. What happened to the rule of law? What happened to the guardians of the peace?
There are other ways forward, but the government seems unprepared to contemplate them. Instead of passing laws about dealing with intruders, why not stop the intruders in the first place?
It’s almost three decades since, in 1982, James Q Wilson and George L. Kelling wrote Broken Windows, an article in The Atlantic Monthly. It was addressed at reducing crime:
“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”
The theory is a safe society depends upon order at all levels, trivial anti-social behaviour escalates to major anti-social behaviour. While mayor of New York in the late-1990s, Rudi Giuliani presided over a major reduction in city crime. Relatively minor offences such as graffiti, jumping the turnstiles on the subway, and aggressive car window cleaning at traffic lights would not be tolerated. It sent out a message that criminality at any level was not acceptable.
There is a need for a “Broken Windows” strategy in Ireland. Crime is a function of the toleration of anti-social behaviour, it is not a function of economics, otherwise everyone growing up on a poor estate would turn to crime when, in fact, the overwhelming majority live law abiding lives.
Anyone who wants to see the breakdown of the alleged correlation between economics and crime should ride the DART from south County Dublin into the city; the walls for much of the journey are covered in graffiti. No, these are not alienated young people. These are young people living in some of Ireland’s most expensive districts who are engaged in straightforward anti-social behaviour. No, we do not need to ask why they do it. People have the power to make choices. If I make the choice to go to the station and spray the walls with an aerosol; it’s not because of my social conditioning or Freudian problems, it’s because I chose to do so, and am anti-social.
Addressing the problem of anti-social behaviour at the trivial level would create a climate where crime was not tolerated and where people would not need the legal right to beat up an intruder.