Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Independence voters say "yes!" to crime

Indy voters shot down a 3/8 cent levy to pad the P.D. budget, including funds to hire 42 new police officers. Now, if there's one thing I learned from Kay Waldo Barnes, it's this: beware the low profile August ballot measure. And I know I'm not alone in recognizing ballot measures timed to draw little attention and only supportive voters. I suspect there are a certain number of voters who will show up in August and vote "no" regardless of the merits of the measure. Probably those same 20-25% who vote "no" on all judicial retention elections.

And maybe there is a good reason to have opposed the levy, but this isn't it:

While supporters had said the investment was imperative opponents had called the levy ill-timed, saying many Independence families already were struggling during the recession.

"Ill-timed"? The police department is like a teenager asking for a raise in his allowance when mom and dad are struggling to make ends meet? I realize that the voters weren't given the opportunity to go through the city budget and prioritize funding. But I'd like to think that public safety is one of those things it isn't acceptable to defer to flusher times.

On the bright side, according to the New York Times, the national crime rate has gone down in the first six months of this year, contrary to expectations that the recession would cause it to go up.

The surprise is yet more proof that tea leaves and sun spots may be a better predictor of crime rates than criminologists and the police. Despite the large sums the country spends on law enforcement — just last week, the Justice Department awarded the first of $1 billion in stimulus-package grants to police departments — experts are largely at a loss to explain what makes the crime rate go up or down.

So the good folks of Independence can at least comfort themselves that the recession is not a reason to vote for the levy. And speaking of saving money...

One reason for the lack of answers is lack of money, said Alfred Blumstein, a prominent criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “The National Institutes of Health spends $400 million a year on dental research,” he said. “The National Institute of Justice spends $50 million a year on criminal justice research.”

Perhaps as a result, police departments and prosecutors can be swayed by fads, spending millions on programs like Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., which came under fire from critics who said it lacked a proven success record (it later changed its strategy). “Police research is to research like military music is to music,” Mr. Krisberg said. “It has never matured to be a very sophisticated science.”

Funny how that all works.

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