Thursday, September 07, 2006

Better Research = Better Crime Fighting

It is a fundamental characteristic of government that it is reactive in nature. Nothing quite proves it as well as the recent rhetoric about Memphis’ crime rate, replete with press conferences about Operation Safe Community, calls for yet another summit and the vaunted Blue Crush assault on crime.

The mystifying thing is that if anyone in the law enforcement agencies and the DA’s office had been paying attention, they could have seen it coming. After all, most spikes in crime follow a corresponding spike in teenage population.

The tendency toward a fortress mentality by government is strange indeed, especially in light of the excellent research being done at places like Partner In Public Education (PIPE), Urban Child Institute and University of Memphis’ various specialized centers.

Stands To Reason

In fact, the Urban Child Institute’s data book on all things child-related shows that six years ago there was a significant bulge in the number of 10-14 year-olds in Memphis, so it stands to reason that we would now be experiencing a bulge in the number of 16-20 year-olds and with it an increase in crime. It is this demographic group that is the seedbed for the “crime waves” that mesmerize the news media day after day. In truth, because of it, the spike in crime is about as unexpected as the trembling of the New Madrid fault zone.

If that bit of data about teenagers wasn’t enough for an early warning, there’s more. The percent of 5-17 year-olds living in poverty is climbing steadily. In three years, it climbed from 17.5 percent to 20 percent.

And yet, there’s more. A look at crime statistics over the past six years suggests that the current rate of crime is actually a return to normal levels after an unusual decline in 2004. As a wise researcher on these questions has says: “While increasing and improving policing functions in the community is not a bad thing, looking at crime data from one year to the next makes for bad policy.”


Also, comparisons can be misleading because of the drop in Memphis’ population. Regrettably, the people responsible for most of crime aren’t moving to other places, so as the population falls, the number of crimes per 100,000 people is of course trending upward.

A look at crime statistics back to 1999 indicates that despite media hysteria, the most murders in a year took place five years ago. The 136 murders in 2005 followed an unusually low number of murders – 105 - in 2004. Yet, the 2004 number was a clear aberration. That year’s number was 20 percent lower than the previous low since 2000.

Back to the impact of increasing numbers of teenagers, USA Today reports that violent crime is rising after a decade of declining crime rates. Again, if you look at the age distribution charts for Memphis, it’s easy to identify a major cause. There are approximately 8,000 more teenage boys between the ages of 15-19 than there was just six years ago, so the rise in crime shouldn’t be unexpected at all.


In fact, a decade ago, there was an unusual decline in the number of teenage boys, and attendant with it was a decline in crime. While there are other factors that figure into the rate, notably poverty and unemployment rates and decreasing incomes for the working poor, there’s nothing quite as reliable as an early warning as population trends for teenagers.

As Salon reported recently, “in cities across the country, from Oakland, California, to Hartford, Connecticut, to Orlando, Florida, the story of summer 2006 has been one of kids and killing.” Despite this, criminologists urge caution, saying that there is no indication that cities will return to the killing fields of 20 years ago.

Most of all, they caution that a single year’s statistics should never be interpreted as reality. That said, the tinder boxes that are teenage boys do seem to be flaring up more these days, and across the U.S., mid-sized cities like ours are reporting a mystifying tendency for mild arguments to escalate into fatal stabbings.

Summer Jobs

If our problems weren’t bad enough, local government has been ineffective in creating the serious, communitywide summer jobs program that is needed for at-risk youth. Programs in other cities have shown that this can be a potent influence on crime rates and should be launched in tandem with the “get tough on crime” solutions that impress voters but do little to address the underlying causes of crime.

And most of all, it’s no coincidence that this increase in youth crime comes at a time when the U.S. Congress – at the urging of the Bush Administration - has drastically reduced youth-related and social net programs, is now considering drastic cuts to the COPS (Community Oriented Policing) program and continues to see the possession of assault weapons as the right of every red-blooded American boy.

It’s a strange anomaly of American culture that we would rather spend $35,000 to keep someone in prison than to spend a few thousand to keep him out. So on one hand, funding for youth intervention programs get the ax while the number of prison cells mushroom far beyond any commensurate increases in crime.

Perfect Storm

James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston and long involved in analyzing Memphis crime trends thanks to the support by Guardsmark founder Ira Lipman, had warned in advance that the drop in crime rates in recent years was merely the lull before the crime storm. He pointed to the rising number of young adult males (14-25 year-olds) as the reason.

Meanwhile, Princeton University professor John J. DiIulio contends that the problem is compounded by the “poverty of growing up surrounded by deviant, delinquent and criminal adults in abusive, violence-ridden, fatherless, Godless, and jobless settings.” Professor Dilulio claims that his research indicates that a small percentage of teenagers are responsible for nearly half of all crimes.

What is more troubling, he says, is that each successive generation of young offenders is approximately three times more violent and dangerous than the previous one. He says today’s criminals are more frightening because they have no sense of right and wrong and they place no value on the lives of others.

Shark Eyes

A C Wharton, when he was public defender, made the same point about six years ago. He said that when he first began his criminal law career, young offenders in Shelby County Jail were crying and feeling remorseful because they had let down their families and were scared to death. However, he said these young offenders now have the eyes of a shark, deadened and emotionless, as if the part of the brain that weighs the relationship between actions and consequences has been turned off.

Regardless of which research is read, there is one certainty for Memphis. We ignore factors such as poverty, joblessness, inequality and racism at our own peril.

While the D.A., U.S. Attorney and heads of local law enforcement agencies make pronouncements about their solutions for fighting crime, they can make a strong first step by establishing better connections with the researchers who could have told them about this year’s outbreak years before it happened.


Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent post. This editorial should be in the CA and sent to Director Godwin, Sheriff Luttrell, Mike Heidingsfield, and any other individual or groups involved in crime fighting and research.

DAD said...

If you really want to tackle crime, you need to stop driving fathers away from their children (via divorce, juvenile court, false domestic violence calls, a welfare system that replaces fathers with gov't).

Don't throw out the MYTH that fathers abandon their children.

A 1988 study found that the proportion of single parent households in a community predicts its rates of violent crime and burglary, but the area's poverty level does not.
Source: "Social Structure and Criminal Victimization. " Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 25, February 1988: 27-52.

In a re-analysis of data from a study of 500 delinquent and 500 non-delinquent youths originally conducted in the 1950's, it was found that the low supervision of adolescents frequently found in father-absent homes was more the cause of delinquency than poverty. Source: "Urban Poverty and the Family Context of Delinquency., A New Look at Structure and Process in a Classk Study. " Child Development 65, 1994: 523-540.

Anonymous said...

An uncaring society produces uncaring people. For 25 years, American society has been moving to the right, where is our conservative Utopia? Just more stratification, atomization, and decline.

autoegocrat said...

Hey DAD, you've got a great organization there, but it's no myth that fathers abandon their children. it's the reality of my daily life. I haven't seen hide nor hair of my deadbeat sperm donor in over ten years.

Of course, if I ever see the miserable bastard again, I'm as liable to knock his teeth out as look at him, so your point about violence among the fatherless is well-taken.

Anonymous said...

stupid people should not breed.

DAD said...


If your father did abandon you, then he is the exception, not the rule.

Sanford Braver conducted the largest federal study ever done to find out why fathers abandon their children. His conclusion was they were that very few married fathers abandon their children. Overwhelmingly it is mothers, not fathers, who are walking away from marriages and thus separating children from their fathers. Other studies have reached similar or more dramatic conclusions.

I can tell you that this is year is the first time in six years that I've been able to see my son. It wasn't because I didn't want to, it was because his mother didn't want me to be in his life and the court didn't care. The only thing that happen if I filed contempt was that the judge accused me of using the court system to harass her and raised my support.

So before you hit your father, ask him what happened.

Bubbah said...

So, it's "the right's" fault, or, it's "moms" fault , or, it's the cops" fault is it?
No it's not. It's your fault. What, Dad, you married that woman and now your surprised that she can't stand you so bad that she doesn't want you anywhere near your, oops, HER kids? Face it, she has custody, they're hers now. If you want to be part of a kids life you better have some kind of WOW factor. She's gotta have a darn good reason to let you be near them and it isn't gonna be fear, intimidation or court order. So, if that's where you're looking, you're wasting your time.
Do something big positive, and ongoing that's what's called for and if you ain't willing, re-examine your motives.
Prisons don't make criminals, they house them. Responsibility lies with the criminal. I don't care what your background or reason for being a criminal or a dead beat dad is, once you over the age of eighteen it's nothing more than a pitiful excuse for a failure to be what was called for to succeed.
"If TV or Society are responsible for your kids upbringing, your kid just lost" Lenny Kravitz,rockstar. Couldn't have put it better myself.
No wonder you posted anonymous. Stupid people shouldn't breed? There would be NO SOCIETY to blame if that were, what, a LAW.
You know, sometimes you just have to admit that what you're doing isn't working and back off and figure out what will work. Look for what is called for to achieve success and do that if you're willing.
Listening to a divorce lawyer's advice is a recipe for two lawyers to get payed for more work and nothing else. Either way in the end you'll be divorced.
You can choose to be friends, choose to tell your lawyer to shutup, and be a part of your kids life, but, don't come to that party with your same old self that "surprise" got you divorced because it isn't enough. That's why you're divorced. Either that or you married a NUT. Which would make you kind of a nut too wouldn't it. Better figure out what it's going to take to be your kids hero in any case no matter what.
Now it doesn't take any money to know that. Yeah, you can be poor as dirt and successfully raise a whole bunch of kids. I knew a guy who had seventeen kids! He had to have two houses to accomodate. LAUNDRY! All his kids went to really good colleges, all his kids grew up being heroes. Why? because he was one. His name was Tom Downing and he sold bug spray, Amway, fiberglass one piece tub and shower units WHATEVER IT TOOK. He had NO MONEY left over and I guarantee he will not be living under a bridge when he gets old. He made no excuses for anything. He was a scout leader extraordinaire. He never thumped a bible but anyone could feel god in him and radiating about him. He didn't waste a minute.
Police can help after its all gone wrong and somone has to be incarcerated and before that. In Memphis, all too often police accellerate the momentum of the threat instead of deflating it. Sometimes their personal feelings or quirks get the best of them. Substandard for the job. Good training and practice practice practice can overvcome those urges.
Ticketing and enforcing in a high crime area will start to deter criminals. Do it in their neighborhoods and eventually they will move. Make a town caustic to criminal intent and activity and they'll move to another town. Then you get complacent and start all over again,,,unless you build in a matrix designed to repel complacency. Once it costs a criminal more to be a criminal than to go straight, they stop being effective criminals and lose interest.
In the "Old Testament" there was a law that if you raped women or molested children you had to die. I know, you're thinking there were a lot of situations in the good book that said that. Well, you're right, but, all the other things also had accompanying "midrash" preventing it from getting that far (killing the perp), not so with those two haenous offences, it stayed "DEATH".
Guess why?
There hasn't been an instance of total lifelong reform of a molester in six thousand years. Good enough for you?
Now enforce the law. Make sure you have the right guy or girl.
Under-reporting of crime by police to make their stats look better leads you to believe you're in a better situation than you are. Not filling out reports makes it worse. Not being backed by the city mayor is no help. None of these things are the root. Your great grandma being a slave and being poor isn't.
Not having a light at the end of your tunnel is.
How would your eyes look if you had no light at the end of your tunnel, no hope for a better future for yourself or your kids? You'de become an opportunist living for the minute not caring about effects or repercussions if you can outrun them for now. A predator with pleasure as your god.
A beast. Life as you know it is over. When you no longer think like a human, you are a beast.
How many politicians and lobbyists accidentally (maybe) ruined the people they stepped on (and their families) without caring a bit about any repercussions they could squash with money and power?
How many angry people have you given cause to in your life with your aggregious single-minded over-"competitiveness" when you really didn't have a ny business doing that?
How many messes have you cleaned up? Or do you just say " aw, they're big enough to handle that" because you certainly are not?