Focus should be placed on preventative steps, experts say
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Violent crimes rose for the second year in a row in the United States in 2006, according to a report released June 4 by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report showed an increase of about 1.3 percent in homicides, robberies and other serious offenses, which follows an increase of 2.3 percent in 2005 in this country, which is already the most violent in the industrialized world.
The statistics indicate the first measurable increase in violent crime in 15 years, but they come as no surprise to some observers who keep watch on the criminal justice system. There has been far too much attention paid to “law and order,” and not enough attention to “justice for all,” according to Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, based in Washington, D.C.
“One of the problems is that with this whole ‘law and order’ mentality that has been so prevalent in our country, that it’s been sort of, ‘Get the criminals, arrest them,’ and there’s been much less focus on, ‘What are the issues that lead to this criminality? What are some of the creative steps that communities can take to become involved in preventing crime and in helping those who are at risk for crime?’” Ms. Arnwine told The Final Call.
“I think there’s just sort of a mentality that there is something that makes people criminals and that they are hopeless, and therefore the society shouldn’t expend money on preventative steps, and I think that’s a serious problem,” Ms. Arnwine continued.
Medium-sized cities were the most affected, according to the report. Law enforcement officials suggest that an increase in the juvenile population, growing numbers of released prison inmates and the rise of youth street organizations (“gangs”) in smaller locations, are responsible.
Ms. Arnwine does not agree. “Every time we fail to educate a child appropriately in our schools; every time we fail to make sure that someone is properly fed in our country, we are inviting long range problems. We see this rise in drop-out rates in our schools; it’s all leading to these problems. I also think a major part of this whole violent crime tally being up is a result of the hypocrisy that governmental entities bring to this issue,” she said.
Some observers say the crime increase has been spurred by reductions in funding from the federal government, including more than $2 billion in cuts in Justice Department law enforcement programs since the end of the Clinton administration. Police chiefs and mayors complain their budgets have been stretched thin by counter-terrorism demands in the aftermath of 9/11, and that funds President Bill Clinton budgeted for the hiring of 100,000 local police nationwide, were eliminated by President George W. Bush.
The number of violent offenses fell steadily and often dramatically from 1993 until 2003, when crime reports began to level off. The first significant increase came in 2005, driven by dramatic rises in homicides and robberies in many mid-size and large cities, from Cleveland to Houston to Phoenix, according to the FBI report. The Midwest was hit particularly hard, with a violent-crime increase twice as high as in the nation overall.
“There certainly hasn’t been the proper funding,” said Ms. Arnwine, citing another report that police were less likely to shoot and kill members of racial minority groups, if their jurisdictions spend money training them. “It just shows that in general, there is this need for greater resources and for community policing,” she said.
Less financial support from the federal government is “a big part of the equation,” for smaller jurisdictions that do not have the resources of large cities, Gene Voegtlin, legislative counsel for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said, according to a published report. “If you don’t devote resources to the problem, it’s going to come back,” Mr. Voegtlin said. “For the smaller to mid-size cities, one or two or five police officers can make a real difference.”
Another problem is the widespread availability of guns, according to Ms. Arnwine. “There is this sense that guns should be freely available to be purchased and used by whoever wants to use them, however they want to. This whole obsession with people’s right to bear and have arms, [but] on the other side, there’s the consequences of that. And I think the hypocrisy keeps hitting us in the head. The people say: ‘Guns don’t kill. People kill.’ But people kill because they have weapons to kill with,” she said.
“I think these are the contradictions in our society, and until we get a grip on all of this, we are going to continue to see a high violent crime rate, because compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is out of control. We have the most violent society, when you consider a nation that is not at civil war with itself,” said Ms. Arnwine.
The FBI’s annual crime survey is based on reports from more than 17,000 police agencies across the country. A final report will be released later this year.