John O'Leary is a former GOVERNING contributor. He is co-author of "If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government."E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
When government wants to discourage something, the instinct is to criminalize that behavior. But small infractions often get lost by prosecutors and courts that have to focus on more serious crimes. Scofflaws abound.
It is often more effective to impose small civil fines, as with parking tickets. The column belows shows how Wilmington, Delaware decriminalized penalties to ensure property owners kept their properties clear of trash and up to code. Smaller penalties plus swift enforcement translates into better behavior.