In most parts of this country, crimes rates are at historic lows. There are many opinions—and many of them conflicting—as to why this has happened. Here’s my version based on 30-plus years of policing augmented by a graduate degree in criminology.
• Tough sentencing laws: Our society said, “Put them in a box.” It’s hard to reoffend when you’re in prison.
• Changing demographics: Fewer males in the crime-prone years relative to the overall population.
• Improved policing methodology: Accountability and targeted efforts have become more common, and combined with community partnerships, they’ve worked.
• More cops, and better educated and equipped cops: A solid economy helped attract better applicants and increased levels of training. Those same dollars helped fund computer-aided dispatch systems, hand-held radios, in-car computers and video, etc.
• Crime itself has changed: Technology has allowed victimization at a distance with greater return for the perpetrator. Here’s the dirty little secret: this type of crime seldom falls within traditional Uniformed Crime Reports Part I crime definitions (established in 1929). Consider this analogy: Measuring crime based on 1929 criteria is a little bit like determining America’s health based on the prevalence of polio, smallpox and measles.
Challenging times are ahead. Just like the powerful storm systems that have devastated much of America, we are facing a series of events that could overwhelm police capabilities and end this perceived lull in American crime.
First, there’s budget. Cuts to operating budgets of 10% and even 20% are common nowadays. Some smaller agencies have gone out of business altogether. Depending on whom you ask (and I’ve asked a lot), the number of officers in this country has decreased by approximately 100,000 or more during the last three years. Decreased staffing means fewer investigators, crime scene techs and task forces—all of whom are responsible for running down the worst bad guys. Special enforcement efforts funded by overtime have been gutted. Slashed budgets also mean that training and equipment are cut or eliminated.
Second, the public servant is now commonly vilified as being over-compensated. Pension benefits are being reduced and salaries, which determine the ultimate pension benefit, are being cut. Not surprisingly, those who can leave are doing so, resulting in some of the most experienced people heading for the exits.
Third, our prisons are on the verge of releasing thousands of prisoners because they can no longer afford to keep them for their full sentences. Meanwhile, parole funding has been dramatically cut, so monitoring of those released will be minimal at best. When good citizens are having a hard enough time finding employment, what does that mean for convicted felons?
A bleak picture, I know. But we can mitigate the damage if we are willing to invest and redirect our efforts. Yes, that takes money but good investments can provide a good return, especially in the long term. Here’s what needs to happen right now.
1. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and prioritize your resources. Don’t default to response mode. Doing so is ineffectual and only wears down your people.
2. Assess your true crime picture. Don’t look solely at Part 1 crimes. When you figure out where the problems are, develop a strategy to target the root of the problem.
3. Identify and invest in technology that improves effectiveness. Equipment like license plate readers, surveillance video and real-time crime analysis can put you on top of crime instead of chasing crime. Yes, they cost money but it can be done.
4. Keep training, just do it cheaper. Training budgets have been slashed but training has to happen and there are ways to do it for less money. Practice building response and felony stops during the early morning hours. Make briefing meaningful by assigning topics to officers for presentation.
5. Leverage the internet to your advantage. Social media is extremely powerful and it’s essentially free. Use it to network with your community, extend your reach and solve crimes.
At Law Officer, we’ll do our part to help. When we run stories on agencies using technology, we’ll share how they got their funding. We’ve added the column “Tech Talk” to help you leverage technology. Our writers will continue to suggest ways to conduct inexpensive, yet meaningful, training. Law Officer’s Below 100, our effort to reduce line-of-duty deaths and injuries, will continue with free road-show training courses around the country.
Bottom line: Times are tough. We understand, and we’re here to help.
Follow Dale on Twitter! www.Twitter.com/DaleStockton