Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Broken Window Theory

"The broken windows theory is a criminological theory of the norm setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. The theory states that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime." -Wikipedia

A rash of vandalism and break-ins involving the equipment collection of the Utah State Railroad Museum prompted the Golden Spike Chapter, two years ago, to step up to the task of maintaining the  collection for the museum.

Under the direction of Bob Geier about twenty years ago, an acquisitions binge occurred that left the museum with many incredible historic pieces, but with no way to repair, restore, or maintain them. When Bob left from the directorship and the Union Station Foundation took over building operations from Ogden City, the equipment was neglected due to lack of funds and manpower as the non-profit organization struggled to keep the buildings (ranging from 100 to 80 years old this year) open and in repair, and the museum grounds became known locally as an extension of the homeless shelter just one block south.

Over the years parts were stolen, equipment burned (three Utah-Idaho Central interurban cars were lost that way), and of course, windows broken. Now, with the Foundation settled into the system of operating the museum, interest has been directed back to the trains. Still no money to spend, of course, but movement has been made in that direction and the Golden Spike Chapter is providing the labor to help secure the museum's collection.

Thus, a strategy has been developed to temporarily secure the collection, and hopefully prevent future vandalism. This strategy is three-fold:

1. Lock the equipment. Over the years, vandals and curious museum visitors broke open almost every door on every locomotive and caboose. These doors stayed open, and invited criminal activity, not to mention giving a bad image to the museum. To solve this problem, each door was chained and padlocked where possible. Over 48 new padlocks have been applied since this program was instituted. In addition, broken windows are boarded over until replacement glass can be obtained. Where padlocks are not feasible, such as on OWR&N 900061 (rotary snowplow), expanded-metal screens have been applied that will keep people out yet allow visitors to see inside.
In cases where doors are missing, temporary metal screens have been applied until new doors can be made (such as with the storm doors on UP 833).

2. Keep it clean. With the years spent open, many of the locomotive cabs and cabooses are filthy, with dust, dirt, and garbage. A weekend was spent to sweep out all visible cabs and cars, which definitely looked much better. The grounds are not neglected, either, and garbage must be regularly collected as all the litter in Ogden seems to collect along the fence of the Eccles Rail Center after every windstorm.
 The cab of the museum's S-1 (USAF 7277) was utilized as a sleeping space for transients for many years until the windows were boarded over. When one of the plywood sheets fell off, this was revealed...
...And quickly cleaned by the Golden Spike Chapter.

3. Post the rules. Every museum has specific rules to protect their collections and protect their visitors. In the past, there were no rules, and the equipment collection was viewed by many as just a giant playground. Many acts of vandalism were later found to be accidents caused by people jumping from the roof of one caboose to another, a dangerous act needless to say. Thus, several points must be made and emphasized: No climbing above the walkways, and all cabs and cars are closed to the public without a guide, no matter what the circumstances. As such, signs have been made and placed in the windows of the cars clearly stating that the public is not permitted to enter the cars without an accompanying docent. This strategy seems to be the most effective, apart from padlocks.
 Signs clearly posting the rules have been posted across the museum grounds. Note that the door window is broken; this act was committed by a group of high school students during a Battle of the Bands competition held at the Union Station. By enforcing the rules it is hoped to prevent this sort of activity in the future.

The implementation of this strategy, since its beginning until now, appears to have reinforced the Broken Window Theory - in effect, making the museum look like someone cares has stopped the most prevalent acts of vandalism. Of course, it won't stop the more nefarious criminals, as has been seen with the rising number of incidents across the country where museums are robbed of thousands of dollars of brass and copper. But working on securing the museum has improved its image, as some visitors have remarked that it is looking much better than a decade ago.

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