Saturday, June 2, 2007

Homeland Security--The Monster That Ate Criminal Justice

In this morning's Washington Post, Dan Eggan reported that an FBI report to be released Monday will show

“an increase of about 1.3 percent in violent offenses last year, including a 6 percent rise in robberies and a slight rise in homicides, according to law enforcement officials, who described key findings in advance of the report's release. That follows an increase of 2.3 percent in 2005, which was the first significant increase in violent crime in 15 years.”
From about 1993 on the number of violent crimes fell steadily until early in this decade. Then violent crime leveled. Starting in 2005 there was a significant increase with dramatic spikes in homicides and robberies in many mid-size and large cities, such as Milwaukee (homicide up 40%), Cleveland (38%), Houston (23%), and Phoenix (9%). The Midwest was hit particularly hard, with a violent-crime increase twice as high as in the nation overall. According to a June 2006 report in 2005 homicides rose 41% in Kansas City, Blue Girl's hometown. Interestingly, Kansas City "enjoyed" a decline from 127 homicides in 2005 to 111 in 2006--a 13% decrease.

In October, 2006, a report entitled A Gathering Storm--Violent Crime In America was prepared by the Police Executive Research Forum, PERF, enumerating the findings of the National Violent Crime Summit held in Washington last August. One of its findings was that even in metropolitan areas enjoying flat or declining homicide rates there are still rising numbers of reported aggravated assaults and robberies within localized areas.

Blue Girl inadvertently drove home the localized nature of the increase in violent crime just yesterday. She emailed me to say that for the first time she had been back to the mall that had been shocked by a multiple homicide a few weeks ago. She said she was "creeped out" passing the scene of the violence. If she had driven the same distance in a slightly different direction she would have encountered neighborhoods that have recently experienced an increasing number of multiple homicides.

As has always been the case much violent crime involves gang activity. Again as always, PERF reports that in city after city the violence is hitting some of the nation’s minority communities the hardest. The over represented minority community varies from location to location. Blacks in some cities, hispanics in others. This led the author of the PERF report to conclude race is not the issue. Pointing to comments like "kids having kids," "kids raising kids," and "a culture of violence" the author suggests that violence is cultural. When people refer to "race" as being a cause of violence they are really referring to a collection of cultural attitudes and artifacts. That culture has been around for a long time. It doesn't explain the spike in violence.

Both Eggen and the PERF report suggest that the spike might be caused, at least in part, by the return from prison to their communities of a generation of hardened criminals who now served enhanced sentences. Eggen suggests an increase in the juvenile population as being a cause in come localities.

Ultimately, however, both the PERF report and Eggen point to decreased Federal funding for law enforcement as driving the increase in violence. It takes money to fight gangs. It takes money to build families. It takes money to change the culture of violence. Without doubt homeland security is pulling resources away from security of the homeland.
From the very outset of the conference, what Police Chief Edward Flynn of Springfield, Massachusetts, called “the monster that ate criminal justice”— homeland security in his view—was present and often referred to throughout the day. What is happening according to Chief Flynn, who was police chief in Arlington,Virginia, when the Pentagon was attacked on September 11, 2001, and who subsequently served as Secretary of Public Safety in Massachusetts, is that the present situation has turned into “a zero sum game between criminal justice funding and homeland security funding.” He expressed concern that “local police departments cannot be effective homeland security partners if they are overwhelmed by their core mission responsibilities.” Mayor Douglas Palmer of Trenton, New Jersey, described it as sacrificing “hometown security for homeland security.”
I can't wait for Monday's report, but I have a feeling Eggen has already told us the unhappy ending.

Blue Girl, even with the spike, according to the Kansas City Star, violent crime in Kansas City is still way down from the bad old days.