The Broken Windows Theory, a police model developed by James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, suggests that visible signs of vandalism, public urination and other minor crimes create an environment that foments further, more serious crime. The theory was popular in the 1990s in New York City and then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated their enforcement of minor crimes led to their historic crime drop.
This type of community policing is not much practiced these days in Philadelphia.
Which brings me to a case of an actual incident of a broken window in a Center City restaurant.
I watched a news segment on 6abc with Dann Cuellar about the broken window and I reached out to Marti Lieberman, the co-owner and co-operator, along with her husband and sister, of Mac Mart, a mac and cheese specialty restaurant. I asked her about the incident.
“On the evening of Aug. 23, a disoriented gentleman, clearly a homeless individual, sat outside at one of our tables,” Lieberman recalled. “He was resting his head down on the table and then he lifted his head up and threw a red perfume bottle at our window. He stood up to retrieve it and then sat back down. We had two customers eating outside to the right of him and they immediately got up and left.”
Lieberman told an employee to call the police and lock the door after she left the restaurant. Lieberman followed the man, standing off at a distance. The man walked into a Target store and Lieberman also walked in, knowing there was always a police officer standing at the front of the store.
“l told the officer that this gentleman right here threw a red perfume bottle at my store, cracking the window. The man acknowledged it, but said he just cracked the window and the whole window was not ruined,” Lieberman said. “The officer told me he could not do anything. I’m sorry, what? I said this man is admitting it, and I have surveillance video, and you can’t do anything?”
Unless he saw it happen, the officer told Lieberman, he could not do anything.
Lieberman said the man had on a hospital band, and he gave the officer his name and birthday, which Lieberman copied. She walked back to her store and found two police officers there. One asked her what happened. She explained and gave him the name and birthday of the man.
The officer asked Lieberman how much the repair would cost, so she called her contractor. She told the officer that the window repair would cost about $3,500. The officer replied that above a certain dollar value of damage, detectives will investigate it.
The incident left Lieberman feeling both outraged and uneasy.
“This isn’t the first time an incident has happened,” Lieberman said.
She noted that there have been other minor incidents with the homeless. She feels for them, but she said she lacks the resources to help them all. She also mentioned that there had been a physical altercation between people in front of her restaurant three weeks prior to the broken window incident. In the melee, their property was damaged, but police told her little could be done.
“Another time, in the middle of COVID, we had three girls come up to our window and spit all over my door and door handle. I locked myself inside the store. I had everything on surveillance and again, the cops said they could go look for them, but most likely, they could not do anything. This was before the vaccine, so what if one of these girls had COVID and spit on me or my pregnant sister, and we got sick or died? This is a bigger issue. It is really scary.”
Lieberman said she never told anyone other than the police about the other incidents, but the broken window was a breaking point for her.
“We are already struggling enough as a small business, and it is terrifying as a female-owned business with a mostly female staff, to have all these issues,” Lieberman said. “A lot of people don’t want to come downtown anymore because of this. It is really damaging to small businesses.”
She posted her broken window story on social media, and within two hours they had more than 2,000 people sharing it and liking it, and that caught the attention of 6abc News.
“We are a small business that wants to stay in Philadelphia, but it is getting harder to appreciate Philadelphia when it feels like the city is revolting against us with crime and a lack of brotherly love back,” Lieberman said. “I just want to feel safe in my city.”
Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. He can be reached at pauldavisoncrime.com.