Campaigning for mayor of St. Petersburg, Bill Foster’s first promise was that he would “adopt a ‘broken windows’ philosophy when it came to crime prevention, which according to Foster’s campaign website, means stopping minor offenses in order to prevent major crimes.
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.
A successful strategy for preventing vandalism, say the book’s authors, is to fix the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows within a short time, say, a day or a week, and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break more windows or do further damage. Clean up the sidewalk every day, and the tendency is for litter not to accumulate (or for the rate of littering to be much less). Problems do not escalate and thus respectable residents do not flee a neighborhood.
The theory thus makes two major claims: that further petty crime and low-level anti-social behavior will be deterred, and that major crime will, as a result, be prevented. Criticism of the theory has tended to focus only on the latter claim.
Like so many of Foster’s campaign promises, his commitment to adhering to the “Broken Windows” philosophy has yet to be fully realized. At least it hasn’t yet on the corner of 38th Avenue and First Street North.
It’s at this intersection, one of the three gateways to Northeast St. Petersburg, where city government’s failure to act has allowed the wrong element to thrive, if not prosper.
This is not an easy point to prove, but give me a second and let me show the rest of the City what is going on in what particular spot — and what could have been done differently.
On the corner of 38th Avenue and First Street Northeast sits a convenience store. Several years ago, the convenience store was a 7-Eleven, but now it’s simply a family-owned corner store. There are a hundred such stores in St. Petersburg.
Unlike the corporate managers who ran the 7-Eleven that once occupied the property, the current owners seem not to care about the aesthetics of their business. The paint is faded. The wall surrounding the business is rundown. The signage is permanently temporary. There are too many ads in the windows.
I imagine ten thousand, perhaps twenty thousand, people drive by this store every day on their way to and from the Old Northeast, Patrician Point, Placido Bayo, Shore Acres, Venetian Isles and several of the other best neighborhoods in the city. Yet, there stands the Kwik Stop, eye sore of a community.
As a matter of fact, it is none of these neighborhoods that actually border the Kwik Stop. 38th Avenue and First Street North actually belongs to Northeast Park, my neighborhood. A forever up-and-coming neighborhood that includes Crisp Park and much of the Vinoy Golf Course. It’s home to young professionals. The president of the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association is son-in-law to a Circuit Court judge. In other words, Northeast Park is the kind of neighborhood where good kids buy their first home.
38th Avenue and First Street North should be a sparkling entrance to one of the best parts of the city. Instead, it is an eyesore corrupting the aesthetic and commercial viability of an entire community.
Because it’s not just the Kwik Stop that is the problem.
Not coincidentally, the three homes closest to the convenience store are some of the biggest offenders of the city’s codes and ordinances. The lawns of these homes are overgrown, often littered with debris or an ad hoc used car sale.
And the problems don’t stop with the code violations.
The Kwik Stop is loosely — some say not so loosely — with another convenience store located around the corner on 4th Street. This store is owned by Rajesh Patel, who not coincidentally is being sued for selling the alcohol that led to the boating death of a teenage girl. It was the second such time Patel has been accused of selling alcohol to teenagers later killed in an alcohol-related incident.
And, now, a Dollar General store is opening in the shopping complex across the street from the Kwik Thru.
All of this because of a dilapidated convenience store.
I’m sure I am stretching to connect the dots in this story, but if you live, as I do, in the neighborhood near 38th Avenue and First Street North, you believe the story is much worse.
As a matter of fact, I know it is. On New Year’s Eve, my mother and I protested outside of these convenience stores because we know the owners were openly selling alcohol to minors. We took pictures of every car that appeared to be doing just that. You would be shocked if you saw how many carloads of teenagers drove away that night disappointed because our presence prevented them from purchasing alcohol from the willing merchants of death. Forty, fifty, sixty carloads of high school kids.
The need for more teen rehabs for alcohol abuse is underscored by the fact that some stores openly sell alcohol to minors without much consequence.
And what is the city doing about this issue which comes up time and time again at the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association?
It wasn’t until I complained about the obvious code violations perpetrated by the Kwik Thru that the city finally began to take notice. And that effort has been bogged down by an undermanned bureaucracy. I have brought the issue to the notice of Mayor Foster at one of his Breakfast with the Mayor events. I’ve written to the City Council, receiving some help from Councilman Bill Dudley. But not much else from the city in the way of urgency.
For the life of me, I don’t know why the St. Pete Police is not camped out near these two convenience stores. Even if the Police don’t believe my tale of carloads of teenagers buying alcohol, two lawsuits involving two dead children suggest there’s something to my story.
If the mayor wanted to, if he really wanted to bring the Broken Windows theory to City Government, he could start at the corner of 38th Avenue and First Street.