Recently in Lompoc, the city attorney responded to a question concerning assessing fines for certain minor, but irritating offenses saying, “obviously it’s impossible to get money from someone who doesn’t have it” and “the likelihood of getting a judge to issue jail time for this type of violation is pretty slim.”

The offense in question here was a violation of the Municipal Code and at best it is an “fraction, meaning it is not punishable by imprisonment (California Penal Code). A small fine can be imposed as a punitive measure, but it seems unlikely given the position of the city attorney.

In our city and many others, certain people have concluded they can simply ignore local ordinances and some state laws, which is causing significant concern among law-abiding citizens and business owners. In fact, the quality of life has been significantly impacted as these violators roam free to trash commercial business areas.

Meanwhile, criminals are being released early from every jail in the state; vagrants, people without a settled home or regular work who wander from place to place and live by begging, are multiplying daily.

And, because petty crooks aren’t punished for crimes, they think they can take from or do whatever they want to local businesses. Burglaries, petty theft, vandalism and many other crimes are on the rise and because “jails are overcrowded,” the perpetrators remain unpunished.

One cause may be the “broken windows syndrome,” a theory proposed in 1982 that used broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighborhoods.

Expanding on the theory, the creators write: “If the first broken window in a building is not repaired, the people who like breaking windows will assume that no one cares about the building and more windows will be broken. Soon the building will have no windows.”

In this case, if you don’t punish violators, they’ll keep stealing and breaking your stuff.

Trash is regularly thrown all over the city by folks who think the streets are their personal trash cans. Every time residents pick up the trash, a new crop appears overnight.  The disrespect for public and private property by the people of Lompoc is disheartening.

In recent years, vagrants have become entitled to sleep and relieve themselves in any public space by an ambivalent court system. Their encampments are exempted from health orders that preclude public gatherings, and they can haul large amounts of scavenged materials (trash) into riverside camp sites using stolen shopping carts.

They boldly perch themselves on sidewalks in front of businesses, begging for money to satisfy their habits even though many are receiving public assistance.

In the past few months what started out as peaceful demonstrations escalated into full-blown riots in many communities. In Lompoc, some demonstrators were plastering their messages on storefronts, and when a shopkeeper removed them, they smashed his large showroom windows.

No one was held accountable and several weeks later the windows remain boarded up.

Recently, two schools were vandalized, remote learning computers stolen, graffiti spray-painted on the walls, and generally trashed. If caught, will the perpetrators of this “non-violent crime” be held accountable; probably not.

The only people held accountable will be the property owners in the Lompoc Unified School District who paid to replace stolen goods, to clean up and repair the damage, and the kids who won’t start remote learning on time.

It’s important to note here that anarchy means the absence of government, which appears to be happening concerning enforcement of many laws with increased frequency in many cities including Lompoc.

“Broken windows” can be seen every day in Lompoc; a City Council without power to prosecute, and a population who doesn’t seem to care are the biggest impediments to eliminating this condition. Of course, if it’s your stuff that gets taken or damaged,you will justifiably demand action.

If the council creates policies to try to rein in a problem and they don’t support enforcement, what good does it do? If the police lock up a thief and they are released almost immediately to recommit the same crime,  it does nothing to fix the broken window.

When will the crime rate go down? Only after we fix all those “broken windows.” We are a nation of laws, and the city attorney’s response to a question concerning assessing fines is indicative of a trend to ignore certain laws in favor of the violator and instead punish the victims.

In this case, the victims are obligated to clean up the mess left by the violators.

How much longer will the victims of these public nuisance crimes be the only people punished? 

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.