Leniency lives: Public rule breakers get a break

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For those who believe the rules are the rules and should always be strictly enforced, life in Pittsburgh is not a walk in the park — because parks are the places where rule breakers go to relax.

That was the impression formed by Post-Gazette reporters Max Radwin and Isaac Stanley-Becker, who took an informal survey. As they reported Sunday, unlawful behavior is not hard to find. From Mellon Square to Frick Park, Schenley Plaza to Point State Park, dogs are being walked off leashes and people are splashing in fountains and feeding birds.

The reporters also found that punishments for infractions in parks and public spaces are usually mild to non-existent. Their review of Pittsburgh Municipal Court records showed just six violations in parks this year, none with a fine.

The same is true of the county’s public transit system. Citations are rare, even when people ignore the rules and eat, drink or smoke on the bus or light-rail car. The first response is simply to ask people to stop. Indeed, reporters found that officials at all government levels say they prefer to educate rather than incarcerate.

And that’s the right response in most cases. Most offenses are minor, so it’s a punishment-fits-the-crime consideration. Besides, a friendly word will usually be taken in good spirit. If people are warned and still break the rules, then it’s time to get tough.


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