Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Action, Not Press Conferences, Will Restore Public Confidence

Sometimes it’s easy to feel sympathy for our elected officials who, spending their lives in the hothouse that is Memphis politics, try to do something to show action, and in the end, it does just the opposite.

That’s what we thought when we read The Commercial Appeal article about today’s high-profile press conference on yet another crime prevention “initiative” for our community.

While intentions were good, and participants candidly acknowledged that they were reacting to the growing community outcry about rising crime, the public probably would have reacted better if the news coverage was to announce the results of actions that had already been taken, rather than about multi-layered plans for the future and a summit six months from now.

The plan, dubbed Operation Safe Community (if government wants to save money, it should shut down the committee that comes up with these names), was replete with buzzwords and stern talk, but in the end, it was lost on the participants that another press conference might not be the most effective way to send the message that we’re getting tough on crime.

After all, many of these same elected officials have had press conference in previous years on some of these same issues, notably Attorney General Bill Gibbons, who has been firing off press releases claiming credit for cracking down on gangs and domestic violence for years now.

Much of the “ambitious anti-crime initiative” seemed to be new packaging for favorite agenda items – reinstatement of the domestic violence court, a push for more and more gun crime laws, attacks on gangs and help from faith-based programs. There was something for everyone, and since The Commercial Appeal published an editorial praising the effort on the same day that the press conference story was printed, it’s pretty clear that the initiative will have a big-time cheerleader behind it.

Watching the elected officials announce that the program will make Memphis one of the safest communities of its size in the nation by the end of the decade, it was hard not to think it's too bad that the announcement wasn't made in the last decade, because some of leaders were in office then, too. Perhaps that why Attorney General Gibbons and Mayor Willie W. Herenton were happy to let new U.S. Attorney General David Kustoff take the lead, and that was good news, because he brings some fresh eyes and new thinking to these strategies.

While others were handing out bromides like “together, the community has the resources to fix it… we just need to engage the community” and “it’s going to take the rest of the community to step in,” Mr. Kustoff spoke directly, admitting there are “no easy, push-button answers.” Just telling the public like it is seems to be a dying art form, but the U.S. Attorney's candor is refreshing and encouraging.

There is broad consensus and concern within the political community that the public is fed up with crime. They are tired of the level of crime that they have to accept as a normal part of their lives. They are tired of police officers treating stolen cars as our birthright and unworthy of finger printing.

Most of all, the public doesn't want to be told that they are the answers to fighting crime. They are paying more than $250 million a year for law enforcement and criminal justice, and simply put, they want something to show for the investment.

There are a number of things that can be done that would produce a much-needed boost in public confidence for its law enforcement agencies, chiefly visible enforcement and some press conferences about actual results of new programs, rather than announcements about new plans.

The depth of public cynicism is as deep as most observers have ever seen it. Hopefully, elected officials will downplay press conferences and press releases, and perhaps even forego plans for another summit.

The sentiment of the public is unmistakable. They want to see action and results. Just do something, anything, they say, and hopefully, somebody at the podium is listening. So much is riding on it.


Anonymous said...

Widespread distribution and use of condoms in the middle and high schools of Memphis will reduce crime... in about 15-16 years or so.

mike said...

John Adams famously said that a prerequisite for a democracy was a moral people, and that without them a democratic government is wholely inadequate. We live in such times.

It began with a failure of parents and schools, which continue today. We cannot undo the damage they created, so we are stuck with their results for a couple of generations. We cannot build enough jails to house all of the criminals we have, nor should we remove our free society's benefits by handing the police draconian powers that will be subverted by the culture of corruption into tools of oppression.

Cops prevent crime only when the criminals are afraid of what will happen when they're caught. That doesn't exist today. The Memphis police today are mostly about cleaning up *after* the crime is already committed. Criminals need to be afraid of what *I'll* do when I catch them.

We need to encourage self-defense, both in the personal and in our property. We need to stop with the fantasy that we should be living in la-de-da land and it's all the criminals' fault that we don't. We should teach that we live in a dangerous time in a dangerous place and here's how to protect yourself.

And it needs to be said: The black community's "don't snitch" and "not my business" mentality must end. That's what allows crime to flourish and is what's poisoning so much of a majority of our community. It is self-destructive behavior, as is plainly evident.

Something that begs investigation is Chief Godwin's claim to FOX13 that crime is down in Memphis in the past two years. Another television station just ran a story late last week showing how teen crime is exploding. Godwin's claim was based on 2004 numbers. (He specifically said so in the interview.) Can someone research this and see if Godwin was telling the truth or just blowing PR? Based purely on the anecdotal evidence of my street and neighborhood, it's worse now than it's ever been.

Smart City Consulting said...

Mike, In answer to your question: when you compare the 2005 FBI Crime Statistics against the 2004 statistics, eight of nine major categories of crimes increased:

* violent crime - up 16%
* murder - up 25%
* rape - down 10%
* robbery - up 3%
* aggravated assault - up 27%
* property crime - up 5%
* burglary - up 7%
* theft - up 4%
* vehicle theft - up 8%

mike said...

Godwin seemed to be implying that numbers since the inception of Blue Crush, the MPD initiative to reduce crime through mass arrest sweeps, had gone down. Not sure what numbers he was using. Thanks.

Still, someone (ie. television news) should call him on this. It smells bogus.

Anonymous said...

Don't confuse the Commercial Appeal with a Big-Time anything. It's now, Once Upon A Time...

cut to the chase said...

From someone who has been following the numbers, crime went up from 2004 to 2005 and the first four months of 2006 are higher than the first four months of 2005. That's what you heard on Channel 24 and saw in the CA. What they did not report is that crime has begun to go down from February through May in the City of Memphis. The public has reason to be skeptical of press conferences, but let's not forget that a crime explosion is more exciting than a gradual but documentable decrease. We should demand more of our media.

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