TURNING AROUND CRIME
Analysis and Recommendations
Jay B. Gaskill
Former Alameda County Public Defender
While the reported crime statistics in many offense categories and jurisdictions show a decline in criminal activity over the last four years, this is only temporary good news. The numbers mask an underlying public safety crisis, shadowed by an even deeper crisis. There are four time bombs ticking away.
Juveniles incarcerated in the last five years represent some of the coldest, most sociopathic criminals in memory, and they are beginning to graduate into the adult system, just as the crime-prone cohort, males between 12 and 30, pushes its way through, like a snake’s undigested meal.
Most of the adults incarcerated in the last ten years have release dates. They will be back among us, and most of them have been pumping iron. They have not been rehabilitated.
The third time bomb is the slow, but accelerating, collapse of the underpinnings of social control.” This the “collapse of the moral infrastructure” as I detail below. By this I mean that weakened social control can be traced to the general decline of religious belief, the media driven hype concerning acquisition of expensive consumer goods, the decline of public education, disruption of the family unit, the growth of gang and drug cultures, and generally to the decline in so called “old fashioned values,” like accountability and consequences. This last is especially a problem among the well-to-do elites who tend to drive public policy. In effect, our children are growing up in a regime characterized by the replacement of the rule/consequences model with the far weaker consensus/mediation model. This trend is important to law enforcement on several practical levels because the attitudes I’ve outlined lead to political ambivalence about three strikes, the death penalty, and police funding.
Drug use will grow and continue to destabilize whole areas currently under effective police protection. Other areas, predominately in core urban areas, have effectively been ceded to the crooks. We face a narco tide of designer drugs, profoundly addictive and widely available. The drug problem is addressed at length in a separate essay, “Recovery From Ambivalence.”
Criminal patterns of behavior in a community can be substantially reduced by a coordinated and sustained effort enlisting law and justice personnel and key community leaders.
Ultimately, the problem of reducing the overall crime rate is a psychological one, and the most effective solutions do involve additional police resources – when these are available. That said, positive measurable results can be obtained by the clever re-deployment of existing police resources coupled with energized community engagement.
Anyone who’s run a large organization becomes painfully aware of the obstacles to institutional change. Old practices develop interest groups with an investment in their continuation. Mere words, memos, and rules don’t change ingrained behaviors. The culture of an organization can matter more than resources, yet is the most difficult thing of all to bring around. That said, change is the obligation of leadership; movement requires a clear blueprint for change, bright line goals, visible action in the same direction, and a show of strong support from at least some leaders in the community.
In summary, the approach is to make thematic and organizational changes around three ideas:
· Proactive intelligence
· Projection of authority
· Predator deterrence
A concise Analysis of the Causes of the Current Situation
- Collapse of the moral infrastructure:
A lack of moral confidence in leadership leads to moral erosion and eventually moral collapse right down the line. Just as a dog can smell fear, criminals can smell the moral uncertainty of our leaders.
(i) Our educational institutions have suffered a secularist moral lobotomy. The great moral truths have been thrown out off the curriculum along with any serious attempt at religious education. In our efforts to protect the delicate sensibilities of the non-religious, we have effectively forbidden our educational institutions from the teaching of moral law, as that has been commonly understood for centuries. (ii) In effect, we are living in a regime characterized by the replacement of the rule/consequences model with the far weaker consensus/mediation model. Try that model on a typical rapist.
(i) In the last three decades, we have suffered the gradual “tribalization’ of ethical rules. The point of recognizing objective moral rules and principles is that it forces us to acknowledge that no one ethnic, racial or religious group invented or made up the rules against aggression and dishonesty, and in favor of accountability. This situation has been exacerbated by the development that many have lost the capacity to think and act in terms of principles. Whatever your perspective, whatever the source of your moral knowledge and insight, if you believe that moral principles have objective authority, then you are entitled to the confidence that they are given truths in exactly the same sense that we accept the basic rules of nature, like “all actions have consequences.” (ii) This sad, but reversible trend has been seriously exacerbated by the elite / non-elite moral disconnect, e.g.: (1) the elite legitimization of drug use, and (2) the elite legitimization of social irresponsibility.
Reversed public priorities a. Entitlement to various forms of “aid” gets erroneous priority over entitlement to law enforcement services. (i) This flows from a false law & order / social welfare conflict,
(ii) the persistent myth that relative economic deprivation justifies or causes crime, and
(iii) the failure to recognize law enforcement services as the most fundamental of all entitlements.
b. Long term legal sanctions are given priority at the expense of adequate, immediate enforcement services.
(i) The crime prone population suffers from radically shor-term time perception. Actually grasping and paying attention to the risk of eventual major legal consequences is outside this time frame.
(ii) The over-reliance on long term legal sanctions at the expense of vigorous immediate enforcement leads to a pervasive misdemeanor / felony polarization – i.e., “misdemeanants skate, felons rot.” But aggressive intervention on so called minor crimes is effective in controlling incipient criminal behavior; there must be an early, attention-getting sting, and accountability must be enforced with teeth.
c. Chronically inadequate funding for law enforcement.
Law enforcement’s reactive, defensive trap. Elements of an anti-functional bureaucratic expectation in any law enforcement organization include: a. There is no funding for success. b. A burning-building is an isolated case.
c. It is more profitable to chase numbers than individual crooks.
d. Elements of reactive public safety organizational priorities: (i) Sector cruising emphasized at the expense of ongoing neighborhood presence. (ii) A mission of containment instead of eradication leading to a tendency to cede difficult/dangerous areas to the predators.
(iii) Inflexible distribution of police resources.
(iv) Slowness to adapt to the fact of predator geographic mobility resulting from over-compartmentalization, inadequate pattern tracking, poor cross division coordination and cross department focus.
(v) Slowness to adapt to the fact of predator victim and crime category mobility resulting from over-compartmentalization, inadequate pattern tracking, poor cross division coordination and cross department focus.
Fixing The Problem Before It Gets Out Of Control
There is a hidden, unconscious, institutional bias in law enforcement bureaucracies against “wasting” scarce resources on so called prevention activities, because the results can’t easily be verified and funding authorities eventually punish success by cutting staff. At some level, success is perceived as a threat to funding.
There are several parallel efforts which, when implemented with sufficient resources, will produce a major reduction in the overall crime rate: The key to success of any effort to turn the crime problem is applying the lessons derived from just two insights into criminal behavior and the typical organizational responses to it:
(1) With the exception of so called career criminals, such as professional burglars, at least 80% of the street crime that the general public perceives to be the “crime problem” (as opposed to “non-street” crime, i.e., fraud and white-collar crime) is impulse driven. This is true even for car burglars carrying crime tools. When and even whether a particular crime target is selected is not actually planned, but is the result of a short-term impulse. These impulses are strongly deterred by the presence of visible authority, and only marginally deterred by the more remote prospect of eventual severe punishment. [An important exception is the death penalty in those cases where the prospective killer has time to reflect. I deal with this in a separate article.] This fundamental idea of deterrence through visible authority should not be confused with the so-called balloon theory for certain vice offenses. Squeezing prostitutes out of one geographical area usually displaces the activity into another – like squeezing a balloon. Substantially increasing the visible, consistent police presence in a sufficiently large area for a sufficiently continuous period will cause the crime rate in that area to fall dramatically. Most offenses deterred or prevented simply never occur. It is not as if a given criminally prone individual is somehow destined to commit some lifetime quota of offenses, and makes up for the fact that he was deterred last month by doubling his crime rate this month. There are a number of examples of this phenomenon, among them the four day period in Oakland California following the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989.
(2) A sub-group of chronic repeat offenders accounts for the majority of all serious violent offenses, the street shootings, rapes, burglaries and robberies. Many of these individuals are so called career offenders. These individuals, unless they are individually targeted by a highly credible apprehension threat of which they have individually been made aware, are only weakly deterred by the prospect of ultimate severe punishment, e.g., “three strikes.” All, however, are efficiently prevented from continuing criminal conduct by long term incarceration. For example, a typical residential burglar may commit forty burglaries a month. Each extra year of incarceration saves some community somewhere about 480 offenses. The deterrent effect of “three strikes” laws may have been exaggerated but the incarceration effect is real.
The most effective solutions do involve additional police resources – when these are available. That said, positive measurable results can be obtained by the clever re-deployment of existing police resources coupled with energized community engagement.
Two organizational principles are at work here:
· Police demoralization cripples existing efforts while police re-moralization enhances and extends existing resources.
· Active community support of this effort, integrated with the law enforcement effort, becomes a force multiplier.
Key Leadership Steps
· Establish and announce more audacious goals, e.g.- This community is safe when its most vulnerable members can walk any neighborhood, at any time in reasonable safety and security. We cannot rest until that has been achieved.
· Declare to all law enforcement and community members that excellent law enforcement services are the most fundamental of all entitlements, regardless of poverty or neighborhood, and that the new law enforcement paradigm is customer service. Establish direct citizen lines of communication about crime and police services.
· Build a constituency for neighborhood police mini-sub-stations, staffed 24/7. A number of facilities could be converted for this purpose, including city owned underutilized property (dual use of fire stations, for example), and former crack houses seized under nuisance abatement procedures.
· Establish, staff and organize a 911 by-pass channel for specific civilian agencies, neighborhood representatives, and designated individuals. A group of response teams, on call, would include a prosecuting attorney, with badge level police personnel tasked to make all routing and priority decisions.
Short term, mid term, and long term steps must be sorted out at the beginning.
The dominant purpose of the short term strategy must be to achieve results that buy time and build credibility for the mid and long term effort. a. Therefore, the key to the short-term are two simple strategies: (1) visible authority deters impulsivity, and most street crime is impulse driven; (2) most serious offenses are done by repeat offenders whose presence in the community can and must be tracked. b. This requires an open, effective, integrated pro-active presence by all law enforcement, crossing all functional, organizational, and jurisdictional boundaries.
c. This requires the confidence that comes from occupying the moral ground, and from operating according to a clear strategy.
Any mid term strategy necessarily includes the consolidation of short-term gains, and preparation for the long term. a. Government and community leaders must be collected and allied around the hard core values and the leadership principles.
b. The mission must be extended to include more and more community/government layers.
c. All institutional contacts must become webs, and all webs must become links. d. Law enforcement budgeting, organization, recruitment, and training is brought into alignment with the strategy.
- The long term strategy must begin and end with the overall task of re-integration of the basic law and the hard-core moral code. It bears repeating that such a code must be generally accepted as having objective authoritative force. This integration must regularly be expressed as part of the societal infrastructure, such that all key public and private institutions continuously and relentlessly reinforce honesty, integrity, accountability, promise-fidelity, and non-aggression at every level. This effort begins with the local educational system. The “on-the-ground” law enforcement apparatus must be seen as consistently carrying out these core values.
Plan For Reversing Bureaucratic Direction
 >Aggressively take on and change “the no funding for success” syndrome. Assume a police agency does a particularly good job. Real crime numbers fall 40%. What is the next step in the traditional model? Downsizing. Yet the continued law enforcement effort is the key to continued public safety. Cultivate the art of getting funding for change without tying money to overall crime numbers, then consolidating change by linking funding to popular programs. Here are seven concrete suggestions:
Develop and publicize measurements of perceived community safety, neighborhood by neighborhood.
Seek and get credit for improvements, issuing reminders of ongoing vigilance.
Nurture grass roots support systems tied to the law enforcement record of improvement.
Forge CBO links.
See that all dangerous specific repeat offender patterns are addressed, recorded and advertised.
Openly share credit with political leaders, but withhold it when appropriate.
Link law enforcement funding requests to broad program areas with a specific community impact.
 >Reverse the “Burning-building is an isolated case” syndrome. The fire department knows better. Fire fighting professionals are training treat every fire as a threat to the surrounding buildings. They contain, eradicate, and don’t leave the scene until they have cleaned up the area, wetted it down and set up some fire prevention measures. Any pattern of widespread criminal activity, especially gang activity, is like a fire. It is also like a metastatic tumor. A mission of containment instead of eradication is ultimately a losing strategy, like a doctor buying a few months of comfort for a dying patient.
 >Discard the “It is more profitable to emphasize aggregate crime numbers than attack centers of criminal activity” syndrome. This is bureaucratic thinking at its most dangerous. Remember that the mission and building the support for the mission must be central. Chasing overall numbers leads to a tendency to cede difficult/dangerous areas to the predators. Any tendency to drift toward the unequal distribution of the public protection function, supports the view that law enforcement is more like a golf course garden service than the rigorous enforcement of morally based legal rules of conduct. This leads to less funding, crippled resources, crisis chasing. Failure.
 >Link personnel deployment, the big picture mission, and the community. There are several problem areas. Typically traditional sector cruising is overemphasized at the expense of a proactive ongoing neighborhood presence. This is a mistake on three levels: it is poor mission execution, a poor political move, and the ineffective use of resources. Recommendation: Change patrol radically, building in a community interface. The key: officer assignment and geographic continuity, and community accountability. A key idea: Using mini-substations or co-occupied fire stations, utilize 24 hour personnel temporarily living in the area. This presence becomes a noticed, appreciated, and effective community resource.
 >Track and proactively address crime patterns. Modern predators have great geographic mobility. A tendency to over-compartmentalization, inadequate crime pattern tracking, poor cross-division coordination and cross-department focus plays into their hands. Predators can only be brought down by super-predators. It is said that a single human runner, in good shape, can chase any horse to exhaustion. The process takes time, maybe two or three days. The human competitor’s advantage is that discipline and determination beats speed and strength. In law enforcement, intelligence, discipline, focus and determination can bring down any lawbreaker. Even the idiot predators have great victim and crime-category mobility. Various forms of vice, theft, assault, sex offenses, even fraud cluster in small, tightly linked groups. Again, too much organizational compartmentalization, too little pattern tracking, poor cross-division coordination and cross-department focus are letting too many of them slip away too many times.
 > Related points:
The centralization of specialized expertise, whether forensic technical, in depth criminal intelligence, or even special tactical forces, is useless unless widely available. This implies two sides of an equation – offering the resource and requesting the resource. This is too slow on both sides.
The goal is the adoption of a new organizational hierarchy in which community contact, surveillance, and display of police presence are dispersed, while all support services are consolidated with strong access channels.
Subject matter compartments that have grown up in larger departments, like vice, should be disbanded folding most of these functions in a reorganized patrol section.
Add a new centralized investigation/ response service. Add a new centralized investigation/ response service. An intelligent, pro-active, non-compartmentalized investigation response team, cross linked to dispatch, patrol, CBO’s, and a community hotline should be designed to carry out follow up against repeat offenders, roving predators, and cancerous hot spots. The command structure should be set up to direct additional resources as appropriate.
Immediate Action Outline
Some but not all of these issues flow from funding restrictions, but others are a result of a combination of institutional demoralization, and slowness to adapt and change. Of course, there are inherent bureaucratic constraints, issues with police and other unions, and the problem of elected and un-elected officials with authority over law enforcement. This is why, as part of a short, mid, and long term strategy, the task of recruiting and building alliances is critical. Internal leadership must be educated and brought on board; moral leadership and allied CBO’s must be enlisted, and finally – to the extent not included in the forgoing – ALL political leadership must be educated and brought on board.
The process of change should look something like this:
· Decide which measures can be implemented earliest and within existing resources.
· Sort these measures according to the prospect of favorable community impact, moving to implement those which have the most promise.
· Recruit the logical allies.
· Prepare top managers, and charge ahead.
When undertaking the inevitable battles, it is well to remember that crime and criminals fail to obey department, political, and jurisdictional divisions, and that the community is inherently on your side. In these times ordinary honesty looks like nobility and normal integrity looks like sainthood.
In this confused environment, integrity, honor and courage will be like the sound of an emergency announcement breaking in on a condom commercial. Also remember that when dealing with the morally confused, you will have two powerful weapons – you are operating from a secure moral base, and you are carrying out a well thought out strategy.
Bureaucracies and communities do not move by themselves. At every official level, leaders must nurture integrity, courage, honor, and practice relentless persistence. Accountability is an ally because accountability precedes renewal. And a hard look at reality precedes optimism.
The power of objective moral principles to forge links among unlikely allies cannot be underestimated. The open recognition and support of just acts educates the uncertain and strengthens the just.
Jay B. Gaskill
Copyright ã 2002 Jay B. Gaskill
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Contact: Jay B. Gaskill, attorney at Law. E mail: email@example.com