Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Being tough on crime – the carrot and the stick

George Santayana once wrote “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.  For any of those who can remember the savage violence and disrespect for life that was rampant in America’s urban environments during the “crack explosion” twenty years ago, it seems like history is once again repeating itself.  Since last weekend, 33 people were shot over in Philadelphia alone, confirming two things:

1.      The “bad” old days are back in Philadelphia, and

2.      Our leaders clearly have no idea how to stop the madness.


Why? Because our national desire to be on the progressive front of social interaction is clashing with our natural instincts as free persons.  If you study the sometimes unimaginable spike in criminality that permeated America in the late-1980’s and early-1990’s, the invention and spread of crack cocaine wasn’t the only culprit to be cited as to the source of this epidemic.  With the sudden end of the cold war, the military-industrial complex was in a free fall, causing a recession.  While nowhere near the recession we’ve toiled through over the last three years, it was enough to create a feeling of instability in the minds of many Americans.  Like twenty years prior (the 1970’s), many middle-class Americans were fleeing the high crimes and rising taxes of the cities, and taking their businesses to the suburbs.  This is evident with the skylines and corporate complexes that rose in places like Jersey City, Reston (VA), Columbia (MD), etc.  What was left in the city was a generation of urban youth being raised by young, uneducated single parents with little family structure and adult supervision.  Add that poor upbringing to a constant barrage of thug culture – from peers to movies and music and it didn’t take much for these urban youths to accept that drugs, murder, and crime were a part of life. 

So many of you who are reading this may be wondering how we were able to get this explosion in crime under control.

Hint: It wasn’t done “nicely


During his campaign, Giuliani promised to focus the police department on shutting down petty crimes and nuisances as a way of restoring the quality of life, saying “It's the street tax paid to drunks and panhandlers. It's the squeegee men shaking down the motorist waiting at a light. It's the trash storms, the swirling mass of garbage left by peddlers and panhandlers, and open-air drug bazaars on unclean streets”.

The cap was put on after a trend was set in New York City.  After finally getting fed up with the lukewarm inaction of Mayor David Dinkins, whose murder rate peaked at 2,605 in 1990, the voters of New York elected a federal prosecutor named Rudolph W. Giuliani, the first Republican mayor of New York since Fiorello LaGuardia in (1934-1945).  Giuliani possessed a characteristic that made his career true: that no politician can truly be effective and do their job while pleasing all of their constituents. In other words, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. 

Upon his election to Mayor, Giuliani appointed an intelligent former Boston Police Commissioner and NYC Transit Police Chief, Bill Bratton to run the New York City Police Department.  Bratton voiced his faith in the rank and file – not micromanaging them.  He merged the NYPD with the Transit and Housing police departments to eliminate redundancy and create an undeniable force of over 39,000 sworn officers and promoted a quirky Transit Police Lieutenant named Jack Maple, who revolutionized policing by creating the COMPSTAT crime analysis system.  COMPSTAT held precinct commanders accountable for their crime rates and traced patterns of criminal incidents, encouraging proactive deployment and interventional police work from plain clothed street crime, anti-crime, and conditions units to make felony arrests of hardened criminals.      

Bratton took the leash off a very large dog and sent them out to make quality of life arrests, with a zero-tolerance mentality that had many minor criminals coming off the streets to discover that many of them were fugitives from justice for other, more major crimes.  Giuliani appointed a decorated former narcotics detective and Passaic County Deputy Sheriff, Bernard Kerik as his Corrections Commissioner, to reform the NYC Jails system and create the city’s invaluable gang intelligence unit.  He also had appointed a more professional Sheriff, who reported to the Commissioner of Finance and aggressively pursued scofflaws and those whose debt to the city brought disrepair to neighborhood buildings and communities.  The police work continued on many fronts, citizen complaints roze, many minority communities felt marginalized, and there was tremendous backlash surrounding controversial uses of force, such as the accidental shooting of Amadou Dialo, an illegal African immigrant who ran from police then, when cornered in a dark alley, reached into his pocket for a black wallet resulting in his accidental shooting.  However, the Bratton/Giuliani objective was reached, crime was dropped over 30%, to it’s lowest level since the 1960s.   

Despite being responsible for this drop, Giuliani was demonized by many New Yorkers, especially the arts and education communities for his lack of empathy for the residents in many of the crime ridden areas being heavily policed.  However, when it came time to be reelected, Giuliani did so handily – wiping out long-time liberal Boro President Ruth Messenger and racial activist Al Sharpton.

COMPSTAT and the “Broken Windows” theory was duplicated throughout the United States, and the federal government gave support to local law enforcement agencies with grants, task forces, and enhanced penalties.  While it’s arguable that the many quality of life contributors to the explosion in crime (drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc.) just “went inside” and off the streets, it can’t be argued that the horrible normality of violent crime that many of us became accustomed to in the late-80’s and early-90’s subsided for many years. 

Until the surge of violence that started reoccurring in recent years.  Many politicians refused to come to grips with the return of “hard times”, but Philadelphians couldn’t ignore the writing on the wall with the murders of six police officers in unrelated incidents in only 18 months.  Then, despite a new “interpretation” of crime statistics by the administration of Commissioner Charles Ramsey, crime is steadily surging to it’s point in 2007, when Mayor Mike Nutter was elected on a platform of reform and crime control.    

So can the type of strategy used to clean up New York in the 90’s be used again?  Probably not.

See, while Rudy was crusading against crime in the name of the forgotten middle-class, newly elected Bill Clinton legitimized what his former opponent characterized "a movement [that would] declare certain topics 'off-limits,' certain expressions 'off-limits', even certain gestures 'off-limits'" – which became the liberal concept of Political Correctness, which was quickly adopted by the legal community and legitimized through a universal fear of litigation.  The basis of zero-tolerance crime control strategies lies within the simple public belief that criminals are bad.  If we characterize criminals as “socially challenged”, then we (as a society) find it hard to initiate sweeping, heavy-handed enforcement actions and prosecutions toward them.  While violent crime, flash mobs, and many other incidents can be attributed to a decline in the traditional family structure (fathers not taking responsibility, parents too young, community values that empathize with the criminal element), failing educational structure, and overwhelmed social services; much of the buck has stopped at the feet of law enforcement agencies who, through the politicalization of the position of police executives – which has changed the traditional roles of law enforcement officers.  The new conceptualization of the police officer/social worker had two unpredicted consequences;  

1.      This softer approach to law enforcement was manpower intensive.  Police executives used the “appearance” of law enforcement to make people feel safer, as they would see multiple patrolmen (marked cars, foot, and/or bicycle officers) on the street.  However, the perception of public safety and true public safety are two different concepts.  If the emphasis of policing is placed on patrol, where crimes are either stopped in progress or responded to, then the manpower, training, and long-term investments for specialized aspects of policing; such as investigations and intelligence is not there.

2.      With the new prevalence of Citizen Complaint Review Boards, Independent Police Monitors, and Consent Degrees/Memorandums of Understanding with the US Department of Justice – policing is a far less physical endeavor.  Add a sentencing leniency due to prison overcrowding and sociological considerations; and there is far less fear for the criminal justice system then there use to be.

So for many of us who want our current leadership (Nutter and Ramsey) to simply “take the leash off the dog” and perform zero tolerance policing in Philadelphia; you may be disappointed to see that neither Ramsey nor Nutter are capable of having the intestinal fortitude necessary to alienate half their constituency to save the other half (and the reputation and future development of the city).  If you don’t believe me, just watch the media coverage of last weekend’s violence:

Mayor Michael Nutter said he’s had enough, saying on camera Monday, “It’s just crazy-ass, ignorant people doing stupid things. The incident at the bar is just insane.”
The mayor added, “You just can’t have this kind of insanity going on. So, if you know something – as we say, if you see something, say something.”
Commissioner Charles Ramsey said "You have to take a look at what's going on in many of our communities. Its a very serious problem we have to address."

Notice you didn’t hear either leader speak as to what they intended to do about the disturbing trend of rising crime, shootings, and flash-mobs plaguing Philadelphia this week?  In comparison see how definitivly Rudy Giuliani was in defending the NYPD following the the Dialo verdict:

“If police officers act in the line of duty to protect a community against violent criminals and drug dealers, then that the community should stand up and support them when police officers’ lives are put in jeopardy.”

Where is the call for increased police enforcement, a summer curfew for juveniles, a stepped up enforcement of quality of life issues in Philadelphia; and a call to support the police and report crimes in the community before they become shootings or flash mobs?  You don’t see it here.  Why? Because the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and a great deal of city council are beholden to special interests and voters who empathize with the kids in these flash mobs, drug users, and criminals – not the taxpayers being victimized or the residents packing up and moving to the suburbs.

We need to let the Philadelphia Police do what they do best – STOP CRIME.  In New York, the following non-crime incident was on the NYPD 10-codes:

10-51           Roving band (specify direction of travel & number in group)
Philadelphia needs to start suppressing these “mobs” and using stop & frisk to intervene when large groups are congregating on corners and walking down streets, let them know the police are out there and if any of them are carrying weapons, illicit substances, underage alcohol, or have warrants – MAKE ARRESTS.
It’s time to get away from soft political rhetoric and save our streets before more lives are lost. 

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