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Date: 2024-05-21 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00023334

CRIME & GUNS: written by Richard Aborn

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Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess


Written by Richard Aborn

Crime obviously is an issue candidates hear a lot about.

First, approach it with balanced language so prospective voters understand that we will do everything feasible to drive it down. Indeed, the good news here is that we have reduced crime dramatically for the past eighteen years.

However, we’re now experiencing a sharp uptick in many categories of crime. One awful response is “defunding police,” a provocative phrase that most people reject since police are rightly regarded as the front line of defense when it comes to violent crime. And it obscures essential and achievable reforms that center around three urgent areas: excessive aggressiveness, implicit bias, and over-policing. If we then layer accountability on top of police conduct, we would go a long way to having the kind of police forces in America that we need.

Ultimately, all reforms and accountability requires police working hand-in-hand with the community in a partnership, since people there know what they want, often know who’s driving crime, and very often understand the best ways to reduce crime. An antagonistic relationship between cops and communications communities is self-defeating.

Historically, control was prescribed with a bludgeon. “We use the same tool against all types of crime” is like using the same kind of drug against all kinds of disease. Of course, in the medical profession you have to have the right medicine for a particular disease. Well, that’s true in crime, too. So I’m going to break this down into two broad categories—how we treat non-violent crime and violent crime.

Non-violent crime should not lead to prison. If we start incarcerating young non-violent criminals, we are simply going to give them a college-level education on how to commit and live a life of crime. It’s the very reverse of what’s smart.

It’s best treated by the broad matrix we now call prevention, which largely operates at the intersection of mental health and criminal conduct. It’s now increasingly accepted that early mental health treatment can deter non-violent criminals from getting into a life of crime…which over time lowers crime rates. The flip side, however, is that if you don’t, young people may graduate towards more violent crime.

As for violent crime, classic deterrence should not mean aggressive policing or overly intrusive policing. Instead it’s putting police where the crime is —which is called “precision policing”— so the public actually sees uniformed police officers out there, whether it’s in transit systems or on the street.

Would-be criminals—like all of us in civilian life—engage in an economic theory called “behavioral risk analysis.” We gauge the risk associated with an intended course of conduct versus the benefits. And if a potential criminal sees cops, there’s a decent chance he’s not going to commit the crime.

Should someone be arrested, incarcerated and convicted for a violent crime, what do we do while they’re in prison?

Our prisons are too violent in this country. In my view, the greatest exercise of governmental power is when the government takes away the liberty of an individual. If we’re going to exercise that power, we better do so in a responsible, humane, and safe way. That means our prisons have to engage in actions that prepare inmates for when they re-enter society…which requires that we invest heavily in re-entry in order to reduce recidivism.

Let me go on now to the next topic—excessive bail. For many years it fell disproportionately and unfairly on the backs of young men of color. This system put young men of color in jail prior to conviction, that is, preventative detention. But it’s now also being done for low-level offenses as well as high-level offenses. The former need not be sent to jail or prison (jail is less than a year, prison is more than a year) since there’s little correlation between that confinement and recidivism. Remember, the core purpose of bail is to make sure that individuals show up to court, not to punish them.

For high-level or violent offenses, the data is a little bit different. It shows that if adequate bail alternatives are not given to the court, there are many violent criminals released who may well end up reoffending. But part of that reality is that the vast number of crimes are committed by a very small number of offenders. It’s the 80-20 rule of economics applied to crime—the vast number of violent crimes are committed by a small number of people. So we should focus on those individuals ideally before they commit additional violent crimes.

Finally, the thing that really drives both crime and the fear of crime is America’s addiction to guns. If you look at the rates of interpersonal violence in other Western countries, you will see that it’s essentially the same, except when it comes to gun violence—and America is far and away the most gun violent country, certainly in the Western world, and perhaps in the entire world, excluding active war zones. So both to drive down the fear of crime and the reality of crime, it is very important that localities be hyper-focused on guns. That means the police working hand in hand with the district attorneys and the courts. In New York City, we did carve out resources to accelerate gun cases through the judicial system. No curtailment of rights, no curtailment of discovery, every single constitutional right honored, but done so swiftly.

What just happened in the Supreme Court is a disaster. They ruled that the Second Amendment extends to the right to carry concealed guns. The 2008 case called Heller concluded for the first time that people had a constitutional right to have a gun in the home for self-defense. The NRA will now use that case to challenge every single gun law we’ve passed in the last twenty years, although the Heller decision itself, written by Justice Scalia, carved out exceptions from a discretionary licensing process so we can still push assault weapon bans and large magazine bans.

There is also a relatively new concept of “Red Flag” laws, which allow police to go into somebody’s home in response to a call from the community, and—if there’s a sufficient showing of imminent harm—take guns out of the home. We have one in New York and they’re very effective. They can help stop mass shootings by keeping guns out of homes with disturbed youths, like the one who killed twenty-six in Newtown, Connecticut.

Nothing we have ever proposed interferes with a law-abiding citizen’s ability to get firearms. The NRA talking-point that “the gun safety movement is out to ban all guns, and it’s just a slippery slope,” is just nonsense. The Second Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court establishes a constitutional right to have a gun at your home. Federal and state gun safety laws are not about law-abiding citizens but rather about stopping criminals from getting guns that lead to some $280 billion in costs annually—and over 40,000 gun related deaths (homicides and suicides).

Last, I helped write and enact the 1994 congressional ban on assault weapons through the Congress. We were forced to take a ten-year sunset, and here’s the data: in the ten years before the ban on assault weapons and large magazines went into effect, there were 25 percent more mass shootings than during the ten years the ban was in effect. In the ten to twenty years since the ban lapsed—and the Republican Congress chose to put those guns back on the street—mass shootings have gone up 400 percent.

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