I have previously addressed the politically popular strategies for reducing violent crime, and I made the argument that none of these strategies have been shown to be successful in the reduction of violent crime. Banning assault weapons, disarming law abiding citizens, hiring another 100,000 police officers, defunding the police, and building border walls are not effective strategies for lowering the violent crime in your community. However, there are effective strategies that are largely ignored by our politicians because the ideas are not part of their existing agendas, and/or because the politicians’ lack the courage and/or understanding to implement them.
As a law enforcement professional and educator for many years, I thought that I should be able to solve this problem by myself. However, I did not make any grand discoveries on my own. I actually listened to law enforcement professionals including patrol officers, narcotic detectives, K-9 officers, criminal investigators, administrators, and gang investigators in different locations around the country. I also relied on relationships with police departments, sheriff’s offices, state agencies, federal agencies, district attorneys, and other criminal justice professionals. I discussed the matter with academicians who had studied violent crime and conducted research into the causation and possible solutions to the problem. And last, but not least, I spoke with prison inmates who had committed violent crimes (mostly murders) with a particular emphasis on gangs.
The amazing thing is that the solutions are not very impressive or complicated. The concepts are quite simple, and implementation is not difficult. I have seen the successful implementation in different cities and counties in different states. However, I must caution the reader that some people may find that some of the concepts are not politically correct, and they will seek to divert attention from the ideas that are offered for your consideration.
We know that most violent crime is committed by a small number of offenders. A visit to any local police department or sheriff’s office will confirm this, and there is academic data to support this idea. Ask any local law enforcement official if they can identify the “worst of the worst” offenders in their communities, and they will not only respond in the affirmative, but they will typically start naming the offenders. The law-abiding citizens in the community also know who these offenders are, and they will be supportive of law enforcement efforts to protect the community from these predators as long as the police are professional and courteous. It is critical that community leaders are onboard, and that law enforcement officers are on their best behavior.
These offenders have repeatedly engaged in acts of predatory violence resulting in serious bodily injuries and death. They typically have local reputations for extreme violence, and a sociopathic lack of caring or empathy for others. They live by the Code of the Streets (see The Code of the Streets by Elijah Anderson), and revenge and violence are integral parts of their existence. They are a natural fit for narcotics distribution as enforcers to intimidate others and exact revenge.
One might ask why these individuals are not incarcerated. The answer is not complicated: They remain out of jail and prison by selecting their victims carefully, and by fear and intimidation. Their victims (and the witnesses) are typically drug addicts, drug dealers, and prostitutes. These people lack any credibility on the witness stand, and prosecutors need credible victims and witnesses to convict offenders. At the state level, even in the event that one of these offenders is found guilty, they rarely receive long sentences, and they only serve a fraction of the sentences. A prison sentence simply increases the street credibility and reputation of the offender.
In academic terms, we call the strategy “selective incapacitation.” Our focus is to identify the “worst of the worst” offenders, and to incapacitate them so that they are no longer able to prey on others in society.
To get started, one must obtain a buy-in from virtually all of the relevant agencies including local, state, and federal agencies… and law enforcement, prosecutors, corrections, probation and parole. The synergy of all of these groups committed to working together is critical to success. At some point in the process, there are going to be egos in the way, or misunderstandings; and some participants are going to get their feelings hurt. However, when they have made a public commitment that is bigger than any one participant, and the stakes are in fact saving lives in the community, petty differences can be overcome.
The next step is to identify the offenders, and this can be accomplished quickly with local law enforcement officials. Patrol officers, narcotics/gang investigators, criminal investigators, and others are virtually always able to provide the identities or the worst offenders, and these officers/deputies will provide details of cases, incidents, crimes, associates and affiliations, photos, and more. If desirable due to large numbers of offenders, criteria can be developed evaluate each offender based on past history of violent crime and other factors to be determined by the work group.
Once the offenders have been clearly identified based on their violent criminal behavior, it will be up to law enforcement to do their jobs and make good, valid criminal cases against these individuals. These offenders have already established a certain criminal lifestyle, and they are going to continue to commit violent crimes. All participating law enforcement agencies need to assure that their personnel know the focus offenders so that the offenders are held accountable for their crimes.
If law enforcement officials do their jobs in a professional manner, then these offenders will inevitably be identified as suspects in violent crimes. It is important that law enforcement officers maintain their professionalism and dignity. If they become overzealous, then they will lose the support of the public and the community. Anyone wanting to “kick ass and take names” has missed the point of the initiative. Restraint, professionalism, and courtesy are essential elements in maintaining community support.
Once one of these offenders has been arrested and charged with a crime, it is critical that all of the various criminal justice entities work together. Is he a flight risk? How high should bail be set? Will his release endanger victims or witnesses? Does he have a past history of tampering with witnesses? What does his past record suggest? Was the matter gang related? Was there domestic violence? Is he on probation or conditional release? Are there federal crimes that should be pursued (especially weapons violations)? The questions go on and on.
The purpose of this process is to assure that all legal and constitutional issues are explored to find the best way to deal with these individuals. Ideally, we want these offenders incarcerated so that they can no longer prey on others, including victims and witnesses. This goal extends throughout the process to include conditions of release, whether or not to allow a plea bargain, and pursuing federal charges when feasible. Even probation and parole personnel can provide invaluable assistance when dealing with known offenders. With the right dedicated professionals committed to this initiative and working together, the “worst of the worst” offenders can be effectively incapacitated, which will result in lowering the violent crime rate.
This has been adopted and implemented in different jurisdictions, and it has been successful in lowering the violent crime rates. However, it requires community partnerships, communication, and police professionalism. Perhaps it is helpful to identify what I am NOT advocating:
Zero tolerance policies;
Police crackdowns focused or targeting minority citizens;
Mandatory sentencing for non-violent offenses;
Building border walls or targeting any group of individuals due to immigration status;
Banning assault weapons;
Preventing law abiding citizens from owning firearms;
Militarizing the police;
Defunding the police; or
Simply hiring more police officers.
I have seen this successfully accomplished in high crime areas without adding a lot of personnel and equipment. Most criminal justice agencies are overworked and understaffed, but the focus of this strategy is on working together to achieve these goals. Most law criminal justice organizations have the smart, creative, dedicated personnel already on staff. With the right leadership, direction, and supervision, they may be amazed at the results!