Saturday, May 28, 2011
The power of few - Part 1
Some criminologists believe a small number of places or people cause disproportionate crime. I wrote on this recently regarding Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and chronic offenders in Vancouver.
For example, Professor Lawrence Sherman now shows up on YouTube with the title, How Criminology Can Save States from Bankruptcy.
He says preventing crime is not about expanding prisons. It's about targeted incapacitation of the chronic few and reinvesting in crime prevention.
Sherman claims we'll be better off encouraging governments to "cut the prison population, save that money and invest in local policing".
He's right about misspent funds. I'm just not sure policing is where the money should go.
For example, in Toronto collective bargainers raised the police budget to almost $1 Billion dollars for 5,700 sworn cops (compared to the 2010 NYPD budget of $4.3 Billion for 47,000 cops). No doubt police there do many positive things. But it is worth $1 Billion?
Lately, the Toronto badge is a tad tarnished by scandals like the G20 fiasco, slut walks, and race issues.
To be fair, controversy is no stranger to policing anywhere. Yet spending just under $1 Billion for the 2011 police budget begs the question, What's our return on investment?
On one hand, Toronto has a persistent low crime rate compared to large US cities. On the other hand, crime rate drops are ubiquitous. It's unlikely Toronto's police budget is responsible for dropping crime - similar drops are underway everywhere, including cities where police budgets are not growing, like New York.
Consider also worsening Toronto social ills such as vertial poverty that feeds crime, rising gun violence, and persistent street gangs.
Are we really getting bang for our prevention buck?
Criminologist Irvin Waller thinks not. He says it is municipal governments themselves who need direct accountability and more competency in crime prevention.
That begins with re-allocating who should direct and administer prevention and justice funds. Unlike Sherman, Waller doesn't seem to think policing is where the money should go.
In Less Law, More Order, Waller claims that
"Americans believe two to one that more money and effort should go into education and job training than deterring crime by paying for more police, prisons and judges...the majority believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
If only our decision-makers would listen.
NEXT: What criminology can offer