A pol, a cop and a prof go into a bar…

…well, into an idea, actually.  The pol is a retiring Republican state legislator from Texas, the cop is the former top boss of the Boston, New York and LA police departments and the prof is one of the country’s foremost thinkers about crime and punishment.  Thank you Rep. Ray Madden, Commissioner Bill Bratton and Dr. Franklin Zimring for making this post possible.  (If these three ever were to go into a bar together, I believe it would be a helluva conversation).

The idea is further support for the post of May 2, 2012 “We Know How to Do this.”  Each has arrived at the same conclusion from his own pathway.  Roughly put that conclusion is

We should be investing more of our scarce public dollars in prevention and deterrence in the community — featuring more police engaged in more deterrence policing — and fewer on the warehousing of people inside walls, both old and new.

When the Texas speaker assigned Mr. Madden the chair of the criminal justice committee, he defined the mission simply: no new prisons.  Madden says he had no connection to criminal justice before that moment and  did not have an opinion at that time whether the mission was smart or dumb.  But being an engineer and thus a trained problem-solver he looked at the research and determined that two things were true.  First he said, prison construction had a “Field of Dreams” quality: if you build they will come (He was born in Iowa and likes this reference).

Madden’s second discovery has put him on the lecture circuit.  (That’s where I found him, speaking at an annual meeting of a wonderful Massachusetts non-profit, ROCA, out of Chelsea, MA).  He made to his Yankee listeners the same case he made in what had been prison-happy Texas.  Texas’s tax money — and every state’s money — would be better spent on the “front-end” of the so-called “criminal justice system.”  Cops, probation officers and other community-based resources should get more investment and be deployed to keep millions of offenders out of further trouble.  He even felt a twinge or two about the moral-social cost of imprisoning so many people.

Zimring is a leader among thinkers and researchers who created the case for more investment at the “front end.” In a recent Scientific American he wrote,

 “First of all, cops matter. For at least a generation, the conventional wisdom in American criminal justice doubted the ability of urban police to make a significant or sustained dent in urban crime. The details on cost-effectiveness and best tactics have yet to be established, but investments in policing apparently carry at least as much promise as investments in other branches of crime control in the U.S.”

Bratton and company in the NYPD led this movement toward more focused, determined deterrence of crime and victimization.  Bratton, while LA police chief in 2004, led a movement under the banner, “Cops Count.” Boston under Paul Evans was in the van, too, with Evans’s push for focused interventions to prevent and deter youth firearm violence. Commissioner Evans sponsored the original work that created “CeaseFire”and its many offspring.

Zimring has compiled his work in a new book as well, The City That Became Safe.  He writes,

“Two other important lessons are that reducing crime does not require reducing the use of drugs or sending massive numbers of people to jail. Incidentally, the difference between New York’s incarceration trends and those of the rest of the nation—and the money that the city and state governments avoided pouring into the correctional business—has more than paid for the city’s expanded police force.”

Dr. Zimring argued in the early years of the NYC crime drop that the police overestimated their impact.  He had a showdown of sorts at the 1995 meeting in Boston of the American Society of Criminology.  He sat on a panel across from Commissioner Bratton and George Kelling.  Sitting ringside were the late Jack Maple, principal architect of the anti-crime strategy; Clif Krause, the NY Times reporter who exclaimed he was having the time of life covering Bratton, Maple and the NYPD at the time; and Mike Farrell, deputy commissioner for management innovation.  The super-heayweight bout never really came off, as both Zimring and Bratton-Kelling  were courteous with one another.  Instead, the discussion served to deepen the discussion, which today focuses all of us on some fundamental questions.  As I see them they are,

Do we continue to spend billions nationally on prisons?  Do we begin a paradigm shifting re-directing of these sums in the “front end?” Do we find ways to make victims and the community whole, while balancing punishment and deterrence?

My answers are No. Yes. And Absolutely.

About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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