When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise, we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Friday, November 28, 2008

Crime and President Obama's Agenda: A Talking Paper


On President-elect Obama’s website there is a list of items on the agenda for his administration. As I perused these items, I noticed that there was no listing for addressing the issue of crime and the impact on society. I think as President, Obama has an historic opportunity to address a few specific social issues that no President has been able to address in the past.

The issue of crime is on that impacts all of us. Have you ever planned a trip around certain areas of town? Not shopped in a particular location after a certain time? Have you ever looked at the person behind you in line and thought they were reading your credit card number? While perhaps you have not been a direct victim of crime, you are an indirect victim because it influences your lifestyle or life habits.

As a black American and with the support in the election of the national black community, Obama can speak to the causes and solutions of crime. He could speak honestly about the breakdown of the family, the inner city mentality that can become self-perpetuating, the lack of priority on education not from the system but from the individual, and the problem of street gangs. Both the left and the right are off track when it comes to issues of crime. The right believes in retributive justice where punishment is the goal. The left believes in restorative justice and interventions. The solutions, like most other things in life, can be found somewhere in the middle and through a combination of approaches.


A relatively recent, yet not new focus in criminal justice is Community Oriented Policing, or COPS. If the new administration would take advantage of their unique ability to address issues honestly this approach could be encouraged at the national level and as a national priority.

Sir Robert Peel, known as the father of modern policing, believed in a set of nine principles for law enforcement. These principles led to the Metropolitan Police Act of London that established the first full time, professional police agency in 1829. One of his principles held that the community is the police and the police are the community. Peel meant that the police are part of the community, as they live and socialize in a place with the people who expect their service. They are also citizens, who have concerns about their neighborhoods and schools and businesses. The fact that London was to have a full time police service did not excuse the other members of the community from participating in the public interest and of assisting the police.

Community Oriented Policing (COPS) is not a program, but a philosophy. The philosophy takes Peel's principle and applies it to the entire community, and in places that have effectively implemented COPS, to the larger system of government and civilian agencies and services. COPS seeks a partnership between the community, the police, and other stakeholders (social service agencies, municipality departments such as Human Resources or sanitation, medical and psychological services) to find solutions to the problems in the community. This can include community corrections and social service programs such as the much maligned "Midnight basketball" programs. COPS programs seek to improve the quality of life for the entire community on many fronts, not just in arrests and enforcement. Law enforcement, in the perfect theoretical model of COPS, intervenes in problems before they become criminal problems.

In many places, COPS is a symbolic solution. COPS cannot be effective if a police department initiates a "Community policing officer" or a COPS Bureau. COPS must change the very focus of policing from traditional policing where officers ride around their district waiting for a call, to a very interactive style of policing that returns police officers to foot patrols and meeting business owners and other citizens.

In 2005, I had occasion to interact with the Metropolitan Police of London. It was after the terrorist attacks on the London Transit System, and the Metropolitan Police had begun to institute a COPS bureau that placed officers within each of 647 neighborhoods in Metro London. Those officers were responsible for the activities in the neighborhoods, and interacted daily with the people of the community. It has received significant support from Londoners, and had already returned good intelligence on criminal activity. It will take a couple of years to see if the advances in crime prevention are statistically supported, but the initial results proved very positive. While not the intention of the action, it also provides a good source of information for counter-terrorism purposes.

COPS can be many things, depending on the level of commitment on the part of those who implement programs under an overall umbrella of the police culture change. If a department is only making feel-good efforts to latch on to the fad, there will be little result. If a department actually attempts to change its management style, positive results can be achieved. An example of this is in New York City, where William Bratton was the head of the Transit Police. He instituted a "Fixing Broken Windows" style that sought to clean up the subways and increase enforcement of petty crimes. The graffiti was removed, turnstile jumpers were prosecuted, officers increased their presence in the system, and petty crimes were not tolerated. Through the efforts of the department that went outside the realm of traditional policing, the NYC subway system has become among the safest in the world.

Fixing Broken Windows

The noted criminologists George Kelling and John Q. Wilson published "Fixing Broken Windows", which was an approach to crime that suggested that the police can have success by enforcing petty crimes, and therefore setting standards that everyone understands. This theory was brought about by an experiment conducted by a sociologist in two locations, Palo Alto, California and New York City. In NYC, a car with a broken window was placed in a curb. Within hours the vehicle had bene vandalized, and within a week children were playing in it and it had been stripped of everything meaningful. The car In Palo Alt was placed with all windows intact and it was ignored. For days the vehicle was observed and no notice was taken of it sitting on the roadside. It was only after the sociologist broke the window that the car attracted the same attention as in NYC.

The theory is that if the small things are prevented from happening, and not tolerated, the larger things will not follow. In other words, when small crimes are tolerated, it creates an atmosphere that larger crimes are also tolerated.

COPS programs are intended to do more than just gain information. It can be a wide effort to improve the community through the presence of law enforcement working with citizens to improve the quality of life. COPS brings in resources before it is necessary to arrest an incarcerate someone. It is an attempt to work with people to improve life, as opposed to working with people to simply arrest criminals and solve crimes. The sociological theory posits that if the police and other agencies interact with the community to prevent problems, and then the police quickly deal with the problems that arise, then crime will decrease because of an environment of productivity and positive approaches. People will receive services and assistance before their needs become a case number in the criminal justice system.


1) President Obama should use his unique opportunity to honestly discuss the problems of crime and social issues in the inner city. Michelle Obama could use this as her focus during the next four years, and be a strong voice for progress.

2) President Obama should direct the Department of Justice to expand the current training programs for local law enforcement agencies. A COPS coordinator could be appointed to serve in each large city to oversee the implementation of COPS. The current structure of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) located at each U.S. Attorney’s Office already presents a relationship between federal and state/local agencies.

3) There should be bottom up review that evaluates all social service organizations at the federal and state level. These organizations should be structured to work with law enforcement and the other agencies in a COPS approach.


Clay said...

Obama's own city murder rate has skyrocketed. Failed liberal policies under the Daley adminsitraiotn and the rest of the thugs give us a good idea that Obama was too busy preparing to run for President over taking and active role as an organizer to better the community. I just moved away from Chicago, and I definitely don't miss the government.

TAO said...

It seems that while Conservatives are constantly clamoring for smaller government IN GENERAL everytime there is a conservative proposal for some SPECIFIC issue it involves the Federal government.

Basically, the Federal Government is responsible for securing the borders and all points of entry to the United States. THATS IT. That covers Homeland Security also.

The individual States and cities are responsible for their own law enforcement and any crime that does not involve interstate commerce.

If the city of Chicago and or Cook County have a horrendous murder rate then don't point fingers at the Senator of the state of Illinois...point it at the local government.

Its not the responsibility of the Federal Government to provide law enforcement assistance to every city and town in the US. Its not the responsiblity of the federal government to provide homeland security goodies for each and every city and town in the US.

All we are doing is becoming "liberalism - lite" rather than true conservatives.

Bascially, we have security liberals who are big on national defense, homeland security, and crime. Then we have social liberals who are big on social welfare programs...where are the conservatives?

rockync said...

You have laid out some interesting points on crime and how to deal with it. I hope that while you were over at the website that you submitted your observations and recommendations.
We certainly need some new ideas about dealing with crime in this country as all other initiatives to date have not been too successful.
My concern is with the level of gang activity and the increase in violent crimes.

Anonymous said...

Tao is correct that law enforcement is a “states-rights” responsibility. I do agree with Robert that the President must demonstrate leadership in arresting escalating crime, but his responsibility ends with protecting our borders from millions of illegal aliens, mostly from Mexico; if he would focus on that, then perhaps we wouldn’t have so many Hispanic gangs terrorizing our local communities. But even this won’t resolve the problem. By definition, law enforcement means that police officials react to crime. They investigate allegations of crime, arrest suspects, and prosecute law-breakers. All this really does, if you’ll pardon the expression, is shovel sand against the tide.

A pro-active approach to crime, centered within the states and local communities, is one that seeks to prevent crimes in the first place. When there are no consequences to juvenile crime, for example, the net result is to encourage escalating incidents from the petty to the extreme. Too often, public schools address assault through in-school suspension; that in itself becomes a badge of achievement: getting over on “the man.” This so-called zero tolerance business you keep hearing about is a joke.

So too is this business about “gun control.” Statistics show that there is less risk to serious crime when people are armed and empowered to use firearms to defend themselves, their families, and their homes/property. In Chicago and other major cities, gun control has not inhibited the possession and use of firearms in gang related crimes. All gun control really does is keep weapons out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.

A pro-active approach to crime might also include holding parents accountable for the behavior of their children; communities might impose curfew for people under the age of 18, and they might consider prohibitions against wearing gangster type attire in public.

A pro-active approach to crime might involve local governments working with church groups and service organizations; they could reach out to single parents in an effort to find alternatives to latch-key kids, help to reduce teenage pregnancies, and reduce opportunities for drug use and related crimes. Gangs do exist . . . so we should not pretend they don’t . . . but why don’t we work to convert illegal gang activity into a positive pro-community forum?

Until our country begins to address “crime” from a preventative standpoint, we will not reduce this behavioral abnormality.

TAO said...

Actually, I view gangs differently than alot of people do. I view them as a dysfunctional attempt at entrapreunurship. A lack of economic legitimate opportunities creates illegitimate economic opportunities.

Look at it this way, they provide a product, they have distrabution networks and they react quite quickly to issues inregards to supply and demand.

The gang leaders are actually "businessmen" and we need to work with them to develop legitimate avenues for their abilities rather than locking them up. Realistically, the gang leaders are probably the most productive members of the inner city and the most likely to change things in the inner city.

Forget the social and welfare bunch...they just keep people poor and dependant.

TRUTH-PAIN said...

I guess I hopped on this Pony too late since Tao and Mustang stole the firecracker-for-thunder argument I had, ....
This is one of those things to which I unhappily am sitting on the fence. Yes the Fed is only supposed to govern the borders, etc. But does it not behoove a nation of equal-states to stabilize and standardize their law enforcement practice so that crime cannot pick states based on their weakness? Believe me, i am in you camp (talking to Mustang and Tao here...) but in some region of my brain, the idea of having police being part of the military (regardless of Posse commitatus) is appealing to me... don't know why...
Robert, thanks for the posting. The ideas -especially the history of Police doctrine per se-, was especially enlightening.

TAO said...

Ah, Truth Pain....

It is a very enticing thought...

In theory everything sounds good.

In theory having a national educational policy can sound very convincing when framed within the context of preparing for the competition of the 21st century...blah, blah, blah...

But we now have that reality.

Having local control of education sounds pretty convincing also...but then again it is theory right now....

Robert said...

T-P, I can put you to sleep with police doctrine...trust me. It rolls from the tips of my fingers as did the die in a squadbay...

I am not advocating a national uniformed police force. The reality is that local authorities cannot possible enfore all the laws of this land, and cannot maintain the research and implementation of current philosophy and thinking by their own means. We must have local law enforcement. However, the country is served well by the FBI and other federal law enforcement arms, and to use them to assist in implementing effective and efficient programs and management styles benefits everyone, i.e. the "general welfare" of the people.

I did not assert federal control of law enforcement, but federal guidance and assistance in implementing those things that have been proven to work.