Monday, October 13, 2014

Politicians increase crime; Grass roots efforts reduce crime; Politicians steal the credit

Slovenian criminologists made it clear that they understand a simple concept that many Americans might agree with, assuming they consider it, "Politicians have learnt that crime and especially fear of crime is also helpful to follow their own interests: to be elected again." (On Crime Policy, Crime Control and Crime Prevention–Slovenian Perspectives by Gorazd Meško and Helmut Kury)

As I pointed out in my previous post "Democrats do a bad job on crime; Republicans and the Media are worse" Slovenia is one of the European countries with murder rates less than one per hundred thousand, at only .7, compared to the United States rate of 4.7. Their criminologists may not spell the same way we do but their efforts to address crime seem to be working better than ours, for one reason or another. They also have incarceration rates that are less than one tenth of the rates in the United States.

As I indicated in the previous post one of the states with the lowest murder rates is Vermont, which probably has the most active grass roots political organization in the country. Vermont has had an active Progressive Party where citizens have been active at the grass roots level for quite some time now. Minnesota and Maine are also among the states with the lowest murder rates and they have had active grass roots organizations as well.

I'm not aware of a scientific study that indicates that these grass roots organizations are the cause of their low crime rates but it doesn't take much thinking about the details behind some of them to come to the conclusion that it is virtually guaranteed that they are. Another major contributing factor is almost certainly that the states with the lowest crime rates are mostly rural states without abandoned inner cites. In most cases these areas are more likely to have active grass roots organizations and people are more likely to know people in their own neighborhoods.

It is virtually guaranteed that these reasons do more to keep crime down than politicians lock them up and throw away the key crime policies, which appeal to emotions but have major problems and don't work.

Large cities typically have bigger crime problems but a review of United States cities by crime rate indicates that a few of them with the most progressive political organizations also have some of the lowest crime rates, especially compared to other cities. Only twenty out of seventy-four of the largest cities with populations above 250,000 have below average murder rates. Only one out of the ten states with over one million people in it has below average crime rates; and most of the others have significantly higher crime rates.

The one city over one million is San Diego, which is probably the most progressive of the ten largest cities. Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon are among the cities with the strongest grass roots political organization in the country; Seattle recently elected one of the few socialists, Kshama Sawant, to local office and they have among the lowest crime rates for large cities. Madison Wisconsin doesn't quite have enough people to cross the 250,000 mark for this list of large cities but it is only 10,000 short and it has well below average murder rates and this is where David Couper, who wrote Hazing and Bullying in the Police Academy was police chief for twenty years.

However contrary to what many people have been led to believe the police are almost certainly not the most effective crime preventors at all. The most effective way to prevent crime involves finding the contributing causes of crime and preventing those before it becomes necessary to call in the police. This is almost certainly a major part of the reason why cities and states with stronger grass roots organizations participating in politics often have lower crime rates; assuming they pursue the right policies at the grass roots levels. There are a lot of southern cities and states that pursue the politically popular policies of "lock them up and throw away the key" but they have some of the highest crime rates including murder in the country. However even in the South there are some exceptions; in Austin and El Paso Texas they both have well below average murder rates, especially for large cities in the south.

However a relatively quick search of the internet is enough to see that it appears they might have more progressive grass roots efforts than the majority of the south.

Perhaps one of the best recent examples where grass roots efforts have succeed in dramatically bringing down crime rates is Richmond, California where they elected Gayle McLaughlin, one of the few Green Party candidates, thanks to a strong grass roots effort; and some of the same grass roots efforts appear to be contributing to numerous other improvements, including standing up to corporate corruption and efforts to address the root causes of crime, not just punish people after the fact.

In addition to some of the usual problems for large cities, like home foreclosures, and lack of funds for eduction, Richmond also has had major problems with Chevron's oil refinery and the pollution it has brought especially when there have been explosions or other disasters. This ahs finally spurred many people to stand up to a lot of the corporate corruption and it has helped bring down their crime, as indicated in several articles including the following.

Richmond reports lowest homicide total in 33 years, credits multipronged efforts 01/06/2014

RICHMOND -- Just six years removed from being ranked among the nation's 10 most dangerous cities, Richmond's 2013 homicide total was its lowest in 33 years. Total reported crimes also continued a decade-long fall and were more than 40 percent lower than the 2003 total. .....

Sixteen people were killed in Richmond in 2013, the lowest total since 1980 and a far cry from the 40-plus tallies of just a few years ago.

"We have a ways to go, but we're headed in the right direction," said police Chief Chris Magnus. "The reputation of Richmond as a dangerous city is not well-deserved anymore; that is becoming the Richmond of the past."

The decline in homicides and overall crime -- Richmond has not had more than 26 homicides in any year since 2009 -- can be attributed to a range of factors, law enforcement and anti-violence officials say, including better police-community relations, improved youth-outreach programs and changing demographics.

On the police side, Magnus has reformed a long-beleaguered department with an infusion of young officers, a focus on data-driven resource deployment and an emphasis on building community trust.

"We don't cast a wide net or move into hot spots like an occupying force, which fosters distrust among community partners," Magnus said. "We are surgical; we concentrate on people that need to be focused on."

At the same time, the ONS employs agents who build relationships with more than 60 young men and teens, identified through criminal records and other data as potential violent offenders. The program includes educational, counseling and job-placement support.

Operation Ceasefire, a volunteer campaign, helps give former gang members and violent offenders job training and counseling.

"We have built relationships with the people who may have otherwise perpetrated gun violence, and helped them become influential peacemakers," Boggan said. ....

"Part of crime reduction is not incarcerating kids in awful places where they become more violent," Krisberg said.

The 16 homicides in 2013 are the lowest total since 1980, when 15 people were killed. The lowest number on record, dating to 1971, was 12 homicides in 1973. But Richmond has about 105,000 residents today, up from just under 75,000 in 1980, according to U.S. Census data, meaning the homicide rate per capita in 2013 was the lowest in the city's recorded history. Complete article

Right or wrong the media often picks up on the most dramatic aspect of events, whether it is crime prevention or anything else; and this is no exception as indicated by the following article that puts emphasis on efforts "Paying People Not to Kill," which also creates what many people may consider shock value that tehy wouldn't go for. However they're doing something right and it is worth, at least considering if this is part of it.

Did This City Bring Down Its Murder Rate by Paying People Not to Kill? August/2014

It was a crazy idea, but Richmond, California, wouldn't have signed off on DeVone Boggan's plan if it had been suffering from an abundance of sanity. For years, the Bay Area city had been battling one of the nation's worst homicide rates and spending millions of dollars on anti-crime programs to no avail. A state senator compared the city to Iraq, and the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency. In September 2006, a man was shot in the face at a funeral for a teenager who had been gunned down two weeks earlier, spurring local clergy to urge city hall to try something new—now. "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten," says Andre Shumake Sr., a 56-year-old Baptist minister whose son was shot six times while riding his bicycle. "It was time to do something different."

Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren't the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who'd been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?

Boggan submitted his proposal. He didn't expect the city to come back and ask him to make it happen. "They asked me for a three-year commitment and told me to put on my seatbelt," he recalls.

In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that's introduced the "Richmond model" for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program's street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around. While ONS is city-funded and has the blessing of the chief of police, it resolutely does not share information with the cops. "It's the only agency where you're required to have a criminal background to be an employee," Boggan jokes.

So far, the results have been promising: As this story went to press, 65 of the 68 "fellows" enrolled in the program in the previous 47 months were still alive. One had survived a shooting and three had died. In 2007, when Boggan's program began, Richmond was America's ninth most dangerous city, with 47 killings among its 106,000 residents. In 2013, it saw its lowest number of homicides in 33 years, and its homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000. Rates are dropping nationwide, but not so steeply. (In 2013, nearby Oakland's homicide rate was 23 per 100,000; Detroit's was 47 per 100,000.) Complete article

Not surprisingly there are people, like Courtland "Corky" Boozé, that think that this program isn't what is bringing the crime rate down; and they might be right. However unless their sure it probably wouldn't be in there best interest to end it too soon especially since it will almost certainly be phased out anyway. The program officially cuts off when they're 25, although they try to keep in touch anyway even if there aren't more payments. And on top of that if it doesn't continue to keep bringing crime rates down then there would be no reason to keep it; but if it does then presumably their would be fewer troubled kids in the long run that would be eligible for the payments anyway.

One other important factor that should be kept in mind is that low crime rates require a functional economic and social system, which many abandoned inner cities don't have. This isn't unique to abandoned inner cities; it is a global problem.

Off the coast of the Horn of Africa there ahve been numerous stories about problems with piracy and kidnapping for ransom. What these stories rarely ever mention is what happened prior to these events and the fact that many of the pirates are former fisherman that can no longer earn a living that way. The reason for this is because large corporations have over fished the area with industrial fishing operations and at the same time other large corporations have polluted the area making it less capable of supporting fish.

That part of the story is almost never mentioned by the traditional news media nor do they mention that they're doing something similar when they cram large number of African Americans in inner cities with little or no education or employment opportunities.

This virtually guarantees high crime rates but the impact by decisions made by politicians is rarely explained by the media to the public.

Benjamin, a student cited by Jonathan Kozal gets right to this point when he says, "Put them over there in a big housing project. Pack them tight. Don’t think about them. Keep your hands clean. Maybe they'll kill each other off." (Jonathan Kozol “Amazing Grace” 1995 p.40-1)

In the long run continuing this drop in crime and keeping it down will have to break the cycle and create a functioning economic, social and political system that functions properly and Richmond seems to being doing this in several other ways that may not seem related to reducing crime including their efforts to stand up to corporations foreclosing on homes, stop Chevrons polluting, and stand up to the expansion of charter schools that have been proven not to work and often involve an attempt to control the education system by corporations with little or no local control.

One of the most important conclusions some of my past posts on preventing crime, and at least one or two of my future posts, is that preventing white collar crime of numerous kinds will help prevent blue collar crime. For one thing white collar crime does an enormous amount to increase poverty and this is a major contributing cause to crime; and some other types of white collar crime, like gambling, also increase crime in other ways. Unlike most other politicians Gayle McLaughlin really does seem to be doing this as indicated in numerous stories including, Richmond, California Mayor Occupies Wall Street. She has also indicated that she is not willing to go along with corporate attempts to increase their control of the educations system in a letter supporting Oakland's mayor for not joining the so-called race to the top, Mayor McLaughlin of Richmond, CA objects to RTTT; and other grass roots efforts have indicated that the citizens don't support corporate take over of their schools either, Proposed charter school in Richmond, CA sparks heated debate

In New England we have a major Democratic candidate for governor spending an enormous amount of money to tell the public that she is standing up to big banks and powerful corporations; however I have no idea what she is actually doing or where she gets the money to buy all the propaganda telling us she will help us. As far as I can tell the best reason to vote for her is that her Republican opponent would be even worse, assuming you accept the false claim that we can only chose between the Democratic candidate sponsored by corporations or the Republican candidate also sponsored by some of the same corporations instead of the independent candidates that the media tells us don't have a chance.

To the best of my knowledge Mayor McLaughlin isn't spending so much money to tell her constitutes that she will represent them but she seems to be doing more to demonstrate it with her actions, and although they still have a long way to go they're going in the right direction. They could also be demonstrating for many other large cities methods that would be much more effective than going along with the traditional tactics promoted by the media and the political establishment.

These grass roots efforts that have much more impact on reducing crime are rarely ever mentioned by the media. Instead they give traditional politicians plenty of time to promote their policies; occasionally echoing the ideas that come from the grass roots level if that is what it takes to get elected. On the rare occasion that a real grass roots candidate gets elected the traditional media only pays attention that the local level; otherwise other people might get the idea they can elect their own candidates as well.

(This is part of a series of posts exploring the root causes of violent crime and ways to recognize and prevent them. Past posts on the subject include Ignored evidence linking corporal punishment, poverty and crime grows; Does lack of education increase violent crime? Religion?; How does gambling and gun control impact violent crime?; Politics, not technology, caused botched executions; Wal-Mart crime: Rolling Back Safety more than prices?; States with high murder rates have larger veteran populations; Teach a soldier to kill and he just might; How much does Income Inequality Affects Crime Rates?; and Democrats do a bad job on crime; Republicans and the Media are worse.)

Another possible contributing factor that may not seem to directly impact crime might be urban farming or the slow food movement, which encourages more community involvement in some cases. This is often accompanied by improvements in what ahs become the Slow Democracy movement described by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout in a book by that name. The following are a couple excerpts from articles describing how this might help reduce crime.

Growing Power?: Social Benefits From Urban Greening Projects by Lynne Westphal

.... This home style tree planting on America Street in Charleston, South Carolina, is a lesson in “standard sociology,” to use the words of Danny Burbank, the city’s superintendent of grounds maintenance and urban forestry. Because the event was organized and implemented entirely by members of Charleston’s East Side neighborhood, a low-income area with high crime rate, the new street trees live happily in the ground as well as in the hearts of the planters. ....

Reducing Crime and Drugs

The effects on crime are only hinted at in the Story of the East Side neighborhood in Charleston (above). Some practitioners report reduced crime and drug dealing on blocks after tree planting, although they rarely do so in print (personal communication with Susan Phillips, formerly with Philadelphia Green). There are several reasons why greening projects might reduce crime.

The new gardens and trees lead to people being outside more, sitting on their porches, talking with their neighbors, working in the garden—and more eyes to see the negative things on the block. This presence also provides social pressure against illegal activities.

Some times the police or firefighters join the greening projects (Ricard. 1994). By working together planting trees, residents and police come to know each other as people rather than as perpetrators and aggressors, which can lead to cooperation in efforts to reduce crime in the affected neighborhoods. It can also work against ‘profiling’—a procedure of guessing who is likely to be engaged in criminal activity based on external characteristics like race and gender.

Finally, trees and gardens are thought to create a higher quality neighborhood, which in turn, fosters more civil behavior. Anthony Bouza (quoted above), as a police captain in Harlem, planted trees in front of the police station houses. Asked by an officer why they were planting trees, Bouza replied “Because I want the [residents] to have beauty and nature … They lead to civilized behavior.” (Kostouros, 1989). Complete article PDF

Metro Detroit Goes Slow And Tastes The Difference Not only are poverty-stricken families provided with fresh food, but these community gardens have also been shown to have rehabilitative effects and reduce crime in their surrounding areas. They have done what food is meant to do: provide nourishment and bring people closer together.

For additional information on this subject or more back up see the following articles:

How to reduce gun crime in California? Why not pay people not to shoot each other?

Richmond California: A city that pays criminals to behave

Huffington Post: Richmond, California Mayor Occupies Wall Street

Seattle Crime Rates

Portland Oregon Crime Rates

Madison Wisconsin Crime Rates

Richmond California Crime Rates

San Diego California Crime Rates

San Francisco California Crime Rates

Community Gardens

Let them eat kale: In Harlem, a farm share for the people

Lynne Westphal

Crime Down Across California: Attorney General

San Diego County's violent crime rate dips in 2013

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