Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Preventing Crime in the SGV and Beyond [UPDATED]

[Thanks to Mayor Sam's for the link.]

Last year alone, " the area patrolled by the sheriff's Industry Station," out of "31 slayings, 24 were gang related."

"What are the solutions?
What can we do to prevent people from being locked up?"

-State Sen. Gloria Romero quoted in a Ruby Gonzales article in the SGV Tribune

I guess I know what she means, but the short answer to her question is "nothing, we hope." And, um, actually the question we want answered, Gloria, is not how we can prevent people from being locked up but rather something like "how can we prevent another 24 gang-related murders in just one part of the San Gabriel Valley from happening again next year?" Or, "how can we catch and lock up more violent offenders than we are now," the better to protect the good citizens of our impoverished and largely neglected crime-ridden cities?

In fact, the first and most immediate solution to stopping crime IS locking people up, an answer that is so obvious it is often forgotten in such debates. I know this is a debated proposition among "the wise" these days, but locking criminals up has been shown to reduce crime rates. I know, I know, this can't be the only solution, but it's a decent start, ain't it?

It's all too easy for people with letters behind their name to sit around in nice neighborhoods and talk about all manner of other, fancier solutions that sound nice and "inclusive" and call for everyone to hold hands and sing together, but when you live in an area plagued by violence the first thing you need is for the bad guys to be locked up and the rule of law to be enforced.

This is why, further on in the article, when law enforcement officials in one crime-ridden area were given the resources they needed and promptly put out "a dozen patrol cars, two-man cars, at all hours," even in the midst of "a midyear escalation of violence," says one police officer: "Crime just stopped, came to a virtual halt." Imagine that. Put enough good cops on the street and crime stops. This is a proven solution to our crime problems, but notice that all of the local "experts" and pols don't talk about it much.

So if we are going to talk about crime in, say, Pomona, the first thing we ought to ask is how well law enforcement officials are doing their job, and whether or not they have enough funds and manpower to do it well. Because if Pomona PD is currently "clos[ing] only 44 percent of its murder cases," (see Wes Woods II's article in the Daily Bulletin) I think we can have all kinds of community meetings from now till kingdom come and not much is going to change. Maybe there are good excuses for this, maybe not, but we better study the facts and the current regime and figure it out. Is Pomona putting a priority on stopping crime by spending enough money on law enforcement, as opposed to other things?

I don't deny that the real solution to the problem lies in informed, civic-minded families and communities taking back their streets, and I don't deny the value and even the necessity of good prevention programs, but local government these days (and perhaps any day) haven't proven themselves to be very good at promoting families and community self-government. And it stands to reason that governments aren't very good at creating families and communities, because governments are actually created by families and communities. And one of the clear and primary purposes of having local government in the first place is to promote the common good by enforcing the law in a just manner.

There is no doubt that it is tough, given budgetary constrictions, for cities like Pomona to juggle all these things, but when 3 year old kids are getting shot in the street one has to look a little closer at the city's budgetary priorities and effectiveness at stopping crime. It is good to look outside city hall for answers from the community, but city hall also must take a hard look at itself, because, again, one of the main reasons government exists is to enforce the rule of law. If it can't do this, don't expect much community support.

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