Saturday, December 31, 2016

GateHouse: 3 things to think about in 2017

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
December 30, 2016
As 2016 comes to a close, there are three criminal justice issues that must be addressed in the coming year.
First, the uptick in homicides in major cities across the country. Homicide rose in most big cities in America, continuing a trend for police and criminologists that began last year, even as murder rates in most cities are far below the levels of two decades ago, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Sixteen of the 20 largest police departments reported a year-over-year rise in homicides as of mid-December, a Wall Street Journal survey found. Some cities had minor increases, while Chicago saw one of the most dramatic jumps, with more than 720 murders — up 56 percent from 2015.
Nationally, the murder rate rose in 2015 for the first time in nearly a decade, though it remains well below the murder rates of the 1990s.
Nationally, 37 of the 65 largest police agencies, including ones in San Antonio, Las Vegas and Memphis, Tennessee, reported year-over-year homicide increases as of Sept. 30, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Second, the state of the death penalty. The death penalty by all accounts is on the decline.
This year juries handed down 30 new death sentences — a dramatic decline from 49 in 2015. This year marked the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. That number is also far below the 315 death sentences meted out in 1995.
In 2016, 20 people were executed in the U.S., down from 28 the previous year. The high water mark for the modern death penalty was 98 executions in 1999. At the rate of 20 executions a year and 30 new death sentences, the 2,984 men and woman on death row will continue to climb without any possibility that a majority of those will ever be executed.
In light of those ridiculous numbers, voters in three states — California, Oklahoma and Nebraska — had an opportunity to abolish the death penalty. All three states voted to reinstate or continue the death penalty.
Finally, the use of lethal force by police officers.
The number of fatal shootings by officers in 2016 remained nearly unchanged from last year when a little fewer than 1,000 people were killed by police.
Through this writing, law enforcement officers fatally shot 957 people in 2016 — close to three each day — down slightly from 2015 when 991 people were shot to death by police officers, according to The Washington Post. The Post has an ongoing project that tracks the number of fatal shootings by police officers.
Also of concern, nearly half of the 135 police officers killed while working this year were fatally shot, including 21 police officers who died in ambush-style attacks carried out across the country, reported Time Magazine.
Although the number of officers killed in the line of duty pales in comparison to 1930, the deadliest year on record for U.S. law enforcement, when 307 officers were killed in the line of duty, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Some law-enforcement experts attribute the rise in violent crime to the widely debated view that increases are tied to the civil unrest that roiled numerous cities after police killings of young black men, starting with the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The theory suggests that many officers have shied away from confrontation, emboldening criminals.
The numbers do not bear that out. The police have certainly not shied away from lethal force. Some bent on killing have targeted the police and the utility of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime — namely murder — is minimal if not nonexistent.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino

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