Pretend that you are governing a declining American city. You’ve probably witnessed numerous public service failures, like slow-responding police, unclean streets and polluted waterways. Among these failures, your city may also not be fully regulating its businesses, meaning that some are breaking minor laws or even operating under the table. Should it be, then, your top priority to make them comply?
In Detroit, it certainly seems it is. In 2011, the city launched Operation Compliance, an initiative that was meant to address 1,500 illegal businesses by shuttering hazardous ones and modernizing others. After one year, 535 businesses had agreed to come into compliance and 383 had been closed, often on zoning technicalities. Since then, Detroit has continued charging fines and conducting random searches.