Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Candidates and Crime

by Diane Dimond

When you go into the voting booth today to cast your ballot for the next President of the United States, ask yourself why neither of the nominees is talking about crime in America.

Maybe I have a one track mind – crime – but why is it that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain have made even the tiniest mention of what all of us worry about on a daily basis?

Will the kids get to and from school okay? Will that far-away parking space prove to be dangerous when you go back to your car late at night? Has your late-for-curfew teenager been the victim of some random criminal act? Is it safe for your spouse to work that overnight shift?

Yes, yes – I know, there are many pressing issues facing America like national defense, the economy, and health care. But this campaign has gone on forever and I haven't heard either candidate say what they plan to do to make me feel safer. Where's the anti-crime bill proposal to go along with their ideas to wrap up in Iraq or fix the housing market?

Earlier this year a stunning report from the Pew Center for the States concluded 1 in every 100 American adults is now behind bars. In total more than 2 million people are currently incarcerated in America costing states and the federal government (read that: you and me) combined billions – yes, BILLIONS - of dollars every year.

How bad does it have to get, how much higher will those numbers go before our leaders start addressing this thing that plagues and drains us all?

The mainstream media, of which I was a part for many years including coverage of several presidential campaigns, has lost its way somehow. They've forgotten to pepper the candidates with questions about issues that cause voters daily distress. They've forgotten to dig hard for substantive answers. They've forgotten to ask either McCain or Obama what they plan to do about those among us who prey on others – from hardened criminals to corporate bad guys.

Think of the way we're forced to live our lives now. We're consumed with working enough hours to pay our mounting bills, including ever-rising burdensome tax bills. We fret about the possibility of violent crime, white-collar crime, auto theft, child molesting, home invasion, elder abuse, identity theft – the list is long. Among the items we think we must buy are home security systems, car alarms, insurance policies, and cell phones for each of our children, just in case something awful happens and they need to call us. We design our daily routines around regular calls to the vulnerable senior citizens in our lives, we shell out money for expensive security for our small businesses, and we pay more in school tuition to make sure the children are safer.

It's as though there's a built in anti-crime tax to everything we do.

Is this OK with you? Is this the way you want to spend your money? Well, steel yourself because things could get worse.

A recent report by
Third Way, a liberal think tank based in Washington DC, concludes there is an upcoming convergence of events that will make our modern day worries about crime seem miniscule. Among the dangerous trends ahead?

First, a huge number of baby boomer convicts are set to be released from prison in the next five years. Let's hope their rehabilitation and re-training sticks - but don't count on it.

In addition, as our economy tanks, there is a bloated group of young people entering their so-called "high crime years."

The report also states that organized criminal gangs are recruiting illegal aliens like there's no tomorrow.

Finally, the Internet is increasingly being used for criminal enterprise and the Third Way report concludes more criminals will certainly be using it in the future.

Yet the candidates don't seem to see the road ahead. The reporters who dog the candidates all day long never shout out any questions about crime. This is strange to me.

About a year ago, the firm Cooper & Secrest Associates released a study that asked Americans which threat they took more seriously: international terrorism or home-grown violent crime. Sixty-nine percent said they worry more about what's directly outside their front door. Only 19% worried about another terrorist attack.

Yeah, I guess I have a one-track mind. I've written about this in the past and I will continue to write about why our leaders don't put crime prevention on the front burner. Criminals have reached their slimy tentacles into nearly all aspects of our lives. I want to know how the occupant of the White House plans to address the national security situation right here at home.


Anonymous said...

you're absolutely right - no one cares - until their family gets hurt its not an issue - and certainly not an issue for the president............ kids have access to guns to commit domestic acts of terrorism at our schools but neither presidential candidate has addressed our problems right here at home - felons with access to guns - don't get me started............

Anonymous said...

Actually its because most crime is a state issue. Thats why you should vote for your local government as well. Talk to your senator, they are the ones that need to address crime, not the president.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is exactly right. The president does not decide punishments ranges or what constitutes a crime for each state and our own legislatures all handle that every two years.

Don't you think, though, that crime is not an issue solvable by the federal government? I am a prosecutor who handles these cases on a daily basis. When a prosecutor sends an adult to prison, it is not with much hope that any rehabilitation will happen (although I have heard some great success stories). It's with the idea that at least for some amount of time, society at large is safe from that person. Other than that, what else can the government do?

I think we should be giving our legislators ideas for how to get there, rather than demanding impossible results.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Real ways to reduce violent crimes.

Bush Republicans Cut Law Enforcement Funding

More than ten years ago, Congress passed landmark legislation to help state and local law enforcement agencies reduce the nation's crime rate. In the early 1990's, the country was in the midst of a violent crime wave. Over the previous 25 years, violent crime had increased by 139 percent, and experts were making dire predictions about the future. But then something changed: from 1994 through 2000, federal and local government initiated tough, smart programs that made a difference.

In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (the Crime Bill) - one of the most significant pieces of anti-crime legislation in the history of the country provided, among other things, federal funds to allow state and local law enforcement to hire additional police officers and employ innovative crime-fighting strategies.

The COPS program has led to a reduction in violent crime. The Crime Bill created the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. This program, which is administered through the Department of Justice (DOJ), has revolutionized state and local law enforcement, enabling police officials to hire nearly 118,000 officers (including 6,500 school resources offices) in more than 13,000 (out of nearly 18,000) agencies across America. The grant program also allowed agencies to advance technology and improve capabilities with in-car computers, in-car cameras, computerized dispatch systems, and interoperable communications.

This investment in state and local law enforcement paid off: between 1994 and 2000, violent crime decreased nationwide by nearly 26 percent, and the murder and non-negligent homicide rate dropped by nearly 34 percent. Violent crime continued to decline through the first years of this decade, until 2005. Ironically, in October of that year, Congress's independent watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), credited COPS with reducing crime. GAO found that for every dollar spent in COPS hiring per resident, crime fell by almost 30 incidents per 100,000 residents.

Instead of maintaining or increasing funding levels, President Bush and Congressional Republicans drastically reduced funding for successful state and local law enforcement programs. Despite the success of COPS, President Bush attempted to gut funding for its hiring program beginning with his first budget proposal in 2001. In 1997 and 1998, approximately $1.2 billion dollars were spent each year by the federal government to hire new police officers under COPS. By 2006, after steady decreases, that number had fallen to $0.

The Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans did not stop there, reducing funding for other DOJ programs, including the Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance grant program (Byrne) and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program (LLEBG). In 1997 and 1998, roughly $900 million was spent on these programs. As soon as they were consolidated into the new Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program (Byrne/JAG), the President proposed a cut of $123 million, and by 2006, Congress had cut the program by nearly $400 million. Last year, the Administration proposed eliminating Byrne/JAG altogether.

By 2006, Republicans had cut funding for these DOJ programs by nearly 50 percent.

Irresponsible budget cuts to law enforcement grant programs have contributed to an increase in violent crime - for the second year in a row. In 2005, the nation's violent crime rate showed an alarming reversal by increasing significantly for the first time in nearly 15 years. Between 2004 and 2005, the FBI reported a 2.3 percent increase in violent crime, which includes murder, robbery, and aggravated assault. Murders increased by 3.4 percent; robbery increased by 3.9 percent; and aggravated assault increased by 1.8 percent.

With the release of the FBI's Crime Report for 2006, last year's "up-tick" in violent crime is beginning to look more like a trend of increasing violent crime. Overall, violent crime increased by 1.9 percent from 2005, a higher percentage than was estimated in June's preliminary report. The number of homicides rose by 1.8 percent and robbery increased by a very alarming 7.2 percent; both rates are significantly higher than originally predicted.