What Happens When A City Declares Bankruptcy: The Case of San Bernadino
January 15th, 2013, 2:25 PM
San Bernadino, Calif., does not have a lot in common with Detroit, except finances.
Detroit is almost bankrupt. San Bernadino, population 213,000, declared bankruptcy five months ago.
The New York Times reports on what has happened since, and the lessons of San Bernadino should make an impression on Detroit residents and anyone else who works in or visits Detroit. The police force has been cut, and crime is up. Services have been cut, and one resident couldn't find anyone to remove the carcass of a dead dog near her home.
Even if Detroit does not have to declare official bankruptcy, the budget cuts that will be needed to stave off financial catastrophe are certain to result in further reductions in services.
Five months after San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy — the third California city to seek Chapter 9 protections in 2012 — residents here are confronting a transformed and more perilous city.
After violent crime had dropped steadily for years, the homicide rate shot up more than 50 percent in 2012 as a shrinking police force struggled to keep order in a city long troubled by street gangs that have migrated from Los Angeles, 60 miles to the west.
“Lock your doors and load your guns,” the city attorney, James F. Penman, said he routinely told worried residents asking how they can protect themselves.
This is one of the prices that cities often pay for falling into bankruptcy: the police force is cut, crime skyrockets and residents are left trying to ensure their own safety.
A little over a year ago, this city’s falling crime rate was a success story. An aggressive gang intervention effort helped cut the homicide rate by nearly half since the 2005 peak, and in 2011 the program was held up by the National League of Cities as a model for other cities to follow.