Thursday, September 30, 2010

Criminal Justice Policy

Central to sound criminal justice public policy is an understanding—as the Criminal Justice Guiding Principles of the Lampstand Foundation note—that police and correctional professionals form the foundation, and shorting their numbers or resources is always weakens the structure built upon them.

This article from the Washington Post reports on the impact when police budgets are reduced.

An excerpt.

“Police chiefs across the country say that they are feeling the effects of the nation's economic downturn directly, with budget cuts forcing them to reduce their ranks and leading to fears that the downturn in crime will soon be reversed.

“In Sacramento, beset by California's financial woes, homicides are up 43 percent this year, assaults on police are up 13 percent, and Chief Rick Braziel said he had to eliminate his vice unit.

“In Phoenix, Chief Joe Harris said he does not have the funds to fill more than 10 percent of his officer jobs and knows he will not be filling any vacancies for another three years. Harris had to put 50 of his 95 school resource officers back on the streets, though school resource officers are seen as crucial tools in fighting gangs.

“In Lawrence, Mass., the need to keep officers answering 911 calls forced Chief John J. Romero to eliminate the units focused on drugs, domestic violence, auto theft, insurance fraud and gangs, he said. This summer, when the cuts took effect, auto thefts immediately soared.

"It's what's happening to all police departments, I get it," Romero said, in a city of 73,000 where crime had dropped 60 percent since 1999. "But it's had a major impact on our city."

“In Washington on Thursday, more than 100 police chiefs and law enforcement experts are gathering to discuss whether the economic downturn is fundamentally changing the way police departments do their jobs. The gathering is sponsored by the D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum, which surveyed more than 600 state and local law agencies earlier this month and found they had sustained an average budget cut of 7 percent this year. Department budgets had increased 6 percent on average the prior year.

"For the longest time," said Chuck Wexler, the forum's executive director, "people thought that the police didn't matter, didn't affect the crime rate. Now we've seen that's not true." He said improved policing helped drive the number of homicides in New York City down from 2,200 in 1990 to 466 last year. Homicides are up 13 percent in New York City so far this year, he said.

“In the District, homicides dropped from 454 in 1993 to 143 last year.

“But the tactics that reduced crime, Wexler said, such as placing officers in schools, targeting high-crime areas and focusing on particular crimes, "are now being eroded, across the country."

“In interviews, several chiefs said that their first priority was answering calls for service, and placing enough officers on the street means taking them from somewhere else. The Minneapolis police had to eliminate their narcotics unit, Wexler said, and the Boston police cut their bicycle and mounted patrol squads.

“In Montgomery County, Chief J. Thomas Manger said he once had officers in every high school in the county. Now he has none in the middle schools and is down to nine school resource officers, who must shuttle between more than 30 schools.”