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Trees, crime, and Tony Bouza.

One of the first things Tony Bouza did when he became captain of three Harlem police precincts was order trees planted in front of the station houses. In one location, that required taking a jackhammer to the front sidewalk to break up the concrete from building to curb. The order was a sign of things to come from the young police executive. It drew skepticism from the ranks and led to confrontations with Bouza's boss. And it demonstrated Bouza's strong belief that one of the best things that can be done to diminish criminal behavior is to improve the physical environment.

That same year, 1971, Bouza approached the New York City Parks Department and requested that the city begin planting trees along Harlem streets and in its parks. Years of neglect had produced an urban desolation Bouza felt was now contributing to Harlem's crime problems. Department officials turned him down, saying they feared for the safety of the planting crews. Bouza responded in typical Bouza fashion: he offered to provide armed police guards for the planting crews. The trees got planted.

In both cases, his colleagues questioned his judgement. Bouza remembers one officer, a black man. "Why are we doing this?" the man asked him. "This isn't police work.

"Because I want the blacks to have beauty and nature," Bouza replied. "They lead to civilized behavior. "

After two years Bouza moved on to the Bronx, where he was made chief of police. In his two-year tenure there he would be the subject of two television documentaries, one of which would serve as the inspiration for "Hill Street Blues." He was instrumental in starting Bronx Frontier, an organization that made mulch available to residents who wanted to start a garden. The project spawned a rash of inner-city vegetable and flower gardens.

Another Bouza project emanated from his train rides to work from his home in Westchester County, north of New York City. In Westchester, the Bronx River was, in Bouza's words, "idyllic, sylvan, bucolic. " By the time the river reached the Bronx, however, it was "a cesspool." The contrast was startling. The Bronx River Restoration Project was created to clean up the river.

How did an immigrant kid from Brooklyn get so interested in nature? Bouza remembers having his sensitivity to nature raised for the first time when his two boys were young. Every weekend he would take them to "nature movies" at the local auditorium. He realizes now that it was he, not the boys, who was getting the education. "I had grown up in Brooklyn. I didn't know anything about nature."

That personal interest in nature might never have entered his work had Bouza not been assigned early in his career to command a communications department at central police headquarters in Manhattan. The ultramodern building had no windows. It was supposed to be the ideal office building. Almost immediately, Bouza began getting complaints from his officers that they disliked being cut off from the outside world. They talked of the "submarine effect;" they felt like sailors confined in a submerged submarine.

So Bouza ordered a window installed on one of the upper floors. It didn't take long for the officers to congregate near the window during breaks. They commented on how much they liked being able to look out at the nearby trees. Bouza, ever the activist manager, took note and ordered more windows cut into the building. Morale improved in the department. The incident made an impression on the fledgling police administrator. His conclusion: people like to look at natural settings.

Anthony Bouza began his life in El Ferrol, Spain. He came with his family to the United States when he was nine and spent the rest of his childhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn. There he learned to be tough, fast on his feet, and even faster with his mouth. He can be caustic, flamboyant, even theatrical, depending on what he decides the situation calls for.

He is also a walking contradiction, a characteristic he clearly relishes. He has commanded police in some of the roughest neighborhoods in America, he calls himself a "fascist" when it comes to valuing the need for order, and he once responded to a question about the propriety of a policeman killing a dangerous criminal by saying it "avoids a lot of problems later. " But the same Tony Bouza is a closet comedian who borrows heavily from Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield.

Bouza's father died when young Bouza was 16, leaving him to support his mother. That was the same year that one of his teachers told him he had a good mind but wasn't using it. Bouza sloughed off the lecture at the time, but the criticism hurt and would later spur him to study hard and work harder. No one has accused Tony Bouza of sloughing off since. Today he holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Baruch College in New York.

Eugene O'Neill helped, too. Bouza had been floating for a couple of years after high school, working odd jobs and generally goofing off, when he saw "Death of a Salesman. " The portrayal of a washed-up salesman turned Bouza's blood cold. "I could see my life in that play," he later told an interviewer.

No one is really sure where Bouza came by his candor, but come by it he surely did. If you want to know what Tony Bouza thinks about something, just ask. He'll tell you straight out. In fact, he'll tell you even if you don't

want to know. And he has been able not only to get away with it but also to prosper, first as head of three precincts in Harlem, then chief in the Bronx, then head of the New York City Transit Police, and finally as Chief of Police of Minneapolis, Minnesota, from 1980 until last February. As he neared retirement in Minneapolis last winter, he almost landed the job as head of the Suffolk County Police Department on suburban Long Island, coming in second.

As this article goes to press, Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich has appointed Bouza to be the state's first gambling commissioner. Minnesota's charitable gambling industry has mushroomed to over $1 billion a year in the few short years since legalization. The state wilt get its first lottery later this year. What was so surprising is that Bouza has been openly critical of legalized gambling. In appointing Bouza, Perpich said that the former police chief's skepticism toward gambling and his reputation for honesty are just what are needed to keep gambling clean in Minnesota.

Bouza is a sought-after speaker (he will be speaking at AFA's conference in October,) has written several books on law enforcement, and has been involved in at least two network TV documentaries. In recent years his outspoken advocacy of gun control- including appearances in controversial ads blasting the National Rifle Association for opposing the banning of assault rifles-and other of his positions on police work and crime issues have resulted in Bouza appearing on ABC's "Nightline" and "20/20" and on CBS's "60 Minutes."

That doesn't mean all has gone smoothly for Bouza. He has been fired or forced to resign at least twice and seems to always have someone, usually the police union, calling for his dismissal. He resigned from the Bronx chief's job when the police commissioner ordered him to seek an injunction preventing the police union from demonstrating publicly. When Bouza refused on principle to try to muzzle the officers, then the demonstration turned violent, Bouza ended up reassigned to the New York City Transit police. That was about the time Ed Koch got elected mayor of New York. The two didn't get along-New York was apparently big enough for only one outsized ego-and Bouza was replaced. After teaching college for a year he ended up in Minneapolis. He was hired by low-key Mayor Don Fraser to clean up a department rife with politics, suffering from a reputation for brutality toward minorities and dominated by the police union. Bouza came in with both guns blazing. "This department needs a five-year purge, a complete enema so we can pull all the Willie Wonkas out of the chocolate factory," he declared as he took office. His relations with the police union never recovered.

Not that Bouza really wanted them to. He calls himself a "reformer and a manager," and maintains that real reform can't occur without public support for it. He says a chief can't get that support if he goes around saying the department is the finest in the land. So Bouza put his department under the spotlight, and the light was painfully bright. He publicly criticized officers he felt were guilty of brutality and other transgressions, and declared that incompetence was everywhere. When two patrolmen hassled an attorney representing gays, Bouza said the two had "taken the United States Constitution and wiped their butts with it. " In his early years in Minneapolis he frequently transferred or demoted officers he considered incompetent or unprofessional. He had to fire some officers several times because the city's civil service commission, which was under the influence of the police union, kept reinstating them.

Bouza introduced several controversial practices in Minneapolis. He put officers in one-man squads against the will of the patrolmen, who feared for their safety. He brought minorities and women to the mostly white, all-male force. He required officers to wear nameplates for easy identification, tightened police disciplinary rules, instituted a mandatory physical fitness program, and reduced the number of supervisors.

While the innovations and Bouza's willingness to challenge the unions won him Fraser's support and the respect and approval of the citizens of Minneapolis-he has been mentioned often as a possible mayoral candidate -they made him unpopular with many of his officers and with many members of the city council, who resented Bouza's high public profile and unwillingness to cater to their concerns.

The situation peaked in 1988 when, in response to two grisly parking ramp murders, a city council member proposed adding 105 new officers to the force. Bouza objected, arguing that the additions were unnecessary and that the money would be better spent on programs for the poor. Bouza believes that demographics, not police strength or tactics, drive crime statistics. The key factor, he contends, is the number of poor young males in the population. The more poor young males, the more crime. Minneapolis, he says, is experiencing an explosion of poor young males.

The council voted 13-0 in favor of increasing the force anyway. The irony did not escape Bouza. While in other cities police chiefs beg for resources, he was looking a gift horse in the mouth, because he sincerely believed the extra patrolmen would do little to deter crime. Bouza believes that if society wants to reduce crime it must address the issues of the poor: joblessness, illiteracy, hopelessness, teenage pregnancy, drug addiction. He also had another, more pragmatic reason for declining the offer to increase his force: he didn't want to be blamed when the additional officers didn't produce a lower crime rate.

One thing Bouza didn't do in Minneapolis was spend a lot of time promoting projects that improve the physical environment. He says that wasn't needed because the city has a strong tradition of protecting and improving the urban forest in which it exists. But that doesn't mean he no longer thinks environment affects crime. Bouza says he has intuitively believed since those early days as a policeman that nature has a calming effect on people.

In the March 1982 edition of Atlantic Monthly, University of Chicago criminologist James Q. Wilson asserted a connection between urban neglect and the deterioration of human behavior, giving Bouza a conceptual framework for his intuition. The keys, Bouza claims, are the public parks. They give city dwellers their only opportunity for a break from the intensity of the city. He says the public perception that parks are breeding grounds for crime is simply wrong. If kept up, staffed adequately, and patrolled, parks can be the heartbeat of a city. When Bouza was Bronx police chief, he approached the parks department and offered to provide a police force on scooters to patrol the parks if the department would fix them up. Neglect and vandalism had turned the Bronx parks into moonscapes," he says, and millions of dollars were needed to landscape them. The department turned him down. To Bouza it was proof that the white power structure had no interest in investing in the improvement of living conditions of black and brown residents. Bouza often casts these things in terms of class and race. He stirred up a hornets' nest in Minneapolis last spring when he wrote a newspaper column arguing against creation of a citizen review board for police. He began by saying that the main job of the police is to control the "underclass" for the middle and upper classes. Bouza believes that parks and streets full of people are the best crime deterrents. That does not mean he welcomes all activity, however. He would restrict the activities allowed in public places. "You let people play music on the street, or cook or dance, and where does it stop?" he says. "Pretty soon anything goes, and the little old ladies go away and don't come back. I'm a fascist when it comes to control of public places. In New York they've conceded public parks and streets to the criminal elements. I never gave up a square foot of space to the criminals. "

Bouza realizes that his approach would be too extreme for most people, and too politically risky for most politicians. And as provocative as he can be on issues of law and order, he also concedes that these are matters of balancing the need for order against personal freedoms. But he is quite clear about his own position on the matter: "I believe in order." More than most public officials, Bouza is comfortable with contradictions, This same man who calls himself a fascist and believes in the need for nuclear weapons as protection against the threat of takeover by barbarous foes is a pussycat when it comes to pacifists. At one anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, Bouza had the protestors arrested for trespassing, then served them coffee and donuts at the jail. It probably didn't hurt that his wife Erica was one of the protestors.

When asked if their disagreement over the need for nuclear weapons causes problems in the marriage, he looked at the interviewer as if it was a silly question. He says they disagree on some things, that's all, and nuclear weapons is simply one of them. But he respects her right to voice her opinion. And if he were still police chief, he'd have her arrested if she broke the law again.

Bouza hasn't read of studies that show healthy trees can reduce the street-level temperature in a city by as much as nine degrees on a hot day. Nor has he studied the research that indicates people feel safe around landscaped areas. He hasn't seen the studies that distinguish between bushes and trees in parks, and that people are less apprehensive about someone hiding behind a tree than they are about the same danger in bushes.

But perhaps he knows all these things intuitively. He knows what his instincts and his experiences tell him: that trees and grass and bushes somehow make people more civilized, more human, calmer. He thinks cities should invest more in their parks and less in crime-fighting equipment. Then cities should police the parks aggresively, keep them in good repair, and encourage people to enjoy them. If they did that, he says, they wouldn't need hard-nosed cops like Tony Bouza.
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Title Annotation:police officer
Author:Kostouros, John
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Trees and your health.
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