Thursday, January 19, 2006

Crime and punishment

Yeah, JackL is back and sends in this interesting article I would have missed in the Christian Science Monitor on the difference between FBI crime data and the actual solving of violent crimes. FBI statistics tend to support the notion that the crime rate is falling.
But discussions of police performance often fail to note another important but overlooked trend, apparently unrelated to the falling crime rate: Federal statistics reveal that the nation's "clearance rate" - the percentage of cases for which police arrest or identify a suspect - has fallen dramatically. And this shift is fraught with implications.

The arrest clearance rate for reported homicides recently dropped to about 60 percent compared with about 90 percent 50 years ago. This means that a murderer today has about a 40 percent chance of avoiding arrest compared with less than 10 percent in 1950. The record for other FBI Index Crimes is even more dismal: The clearance rates have sunk to 42 percent for forcible rape, 26 percent for robbery, and 13 percent for burglary and motor vehicle theft, all way down from earlier eras.
Yet we have the largest prison system and the most inmates in the world. Arrests are up so how to explain this anomaly?
Part of the answer must involve drug law enforcement - victimless offenses that aren't reported to the police or included as FBI Index Crimes. Instead of arresting suspects for burglaries and other serious reported crimes, cops today spend much of their energy going after illegal drugs. Their arrest rate for drug possession ( especially marijuana ) has shot up more than 500 times from what it was in 1965.

And what are some possible implications of this shift? For one thing, it may give criminals the impression they can get away with nondrug related crimes.
As the author points out, one can't judge the effectiveness of law enforcement based on only one set of criteria, (although I would bet anyone who is a victim of an unsolved theft or violent crime might be willing to draw some conclusions), but the discrepancy should "prompt some serious discussion about contemporary law enforcement's priorities." And as Jack points out in his email, "if the laws were different, wouldn't cops earning overtime having to book pot smokers have to work on some more serious "unclosed" cases, the average burglaries, robberies and murders?"

Kind of puts the drug warriors adamant refusal to consider legalization as an option into a new context, doesn't it?


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