Saturday, August 25, 2007

Broken Windows & Downtown Sacramento

One of the most effective criminal justice policies, responsible for cleaning up New York under Mayor Giuliani, is now being used here with notable success.

Its basic concept is straightforward; if you allow any trace of crime to go unsanctioned, even littering, graffiti, loitering, or broken windows in buildings, you tell criminals that no one cares, and they, being opportunistic like most people, move in and make themselves at home.

That is beginning to change in downtown Sacramento.

This deputy DA takes her job to the streets
Rita Spillane leans on scofflaws to clean up city's downtown.
By Blair Anthony Robertson - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rita Spillane is smart, amusing when the occasion calls for it and unfailingly devoted to her job.

She's working on a master's in theology. She has two grown sons who are high-achievers. Her husband is a federal prosecutor with a Ph.D. in mathematics. In college, she studied the classics before going to law school.

When she was young, her father told her to go out and make the world a better place.

So what's she doing nosing around yet another dumpster in a downtown Sacramento alley? Why, 20 minutes later, is she squatting to chat with a drunk sprawled on a patch of grass off K Street? Why would she sit at a conference table and, as she puts it, "say some really ugly things" to a downtown property owner who neglects his building?

It's all part of her job as a deputy district attorney with a decidedly nontraditional assignment, one that Spillane, 53, practically invented in Sacramento.
In Spillane's world, it's the little things that matter.

The affable star of Sacramento County's community prosecution program, Spillane doesn't deal with cases that capture headlines. She handles missteps, oversights and neglect that by themselves might not even be crimes.

At a meeting with downtown Sacramento business leaders, Spillane once explained her style this way: "People listen to me or I make them cry."

Most choose to listen.

"She is probably one of the most tenacious individuals that I've met," said Ryan Loofbourrow, director of community services for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. "She definitely does not leave issues unresolved, and it has made a big difference for us downtown."