Thursday, April 22, 2010

Seattle Brings in Expert to Address Police Hiring

The city of Seattle has done something interesting in its search for a new police chief. They have consulted a crime prevention expert. Hiring an expert "consultant" is not that unusual when trying to fill a high profile position. But, bringing that expert to town and sharing the information with the public is certainly not the norm.

According to the Seattle Times, Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor of public policy and author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, visited Seattle at the invitation of the Seattle City Council. Kleiman participated in a panel discussion at Seattle's Town Hall and he also spent time with community leaders, including the interim police chief, city attorney and the two co-chairs of the police-chief search committee.

The Kleiman's book deals with offenders who commit everyday crimes such a burglary, assaults and drug offenses — not the most violent and dangerous criminals sent away for long terms. He has a special interest in upgrading the probation and parole system.

Kleiman, according to the Times, suggested a number of ways to approach crime:

*Kleiman cited an innovative program launched in 2004 by a judge in Hawaii. The judge decided that clear rules and consequences were needed for probationers. He developed a program called HOPE. The program proposed that violators receive shorter and swifter jail sentences instead of long prison terms. The violation rate dropped dramatically, easing the burden on the entire criminal justice system as the probationers reacted to the real possibility of punishment.

*Kleiman supports lowering sentences to induce defendants to plead guilty so they serve their terms closer to the time they actually committed the crime.

*The police, instead of dispersing their resources, should carry out focused activities, including crackdowns on public drug markets and targeting offenders who commit a disproportionate amount of the crimes.

*When all offenders know there is a viable threat with real consequences, crime and its costs will drop in the long run.

*Kleiman does not support building more prisons.

*Long prison terms eat up cell space and have lost their stigma as they have become commonplace, lessening their deterrent value.

*He recommends shifting budgets toward meaningful community-corrections supervision for those on probation or released from prison.

*He favors pushing back the start and end of the school day for middle- and high-school students to prevent after-school crime and to accommodate the biological clocks of teens.

My Take

Seattle should be commended for looking at alternative crime prevention measures. However, now more than any time in recent history the focus should be how to maintain declining crime rates in difficult economic times.

Most people would agree with Kleiman that building more prisons is not prudent. Does he have an idea for policymakers that don't want be perceived as "soft" on crime, but realize the real consequences of spending public funds that just do not exist.

There are a lot of progressive, innovative ideas being proposed by criminal justice practitioners that relate to prison crowding, more effective policing and supervision of offenders. The question is how do you get lawmakers to propose legislation that is good for society by not good for their personal ambition.

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