Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering the Prospect of Sanction

Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering the Prospect of Sanction, by David M. Kennedy.

I’d like to post my review of this book (recommended by a commenter on my earlier post on Trump and Chicago) in the form of an open letter to Donald Trump.

Dear President Trump,

Since your election as President you have often mentioned your desire to help Chicago bring its obscenely high murder rate under control. I believe you are in a uniquely powerful position to do so.

While nobody is sure what initially caused the dramatic uptick in homicide in Chicago in the last few years, gang-related gun violence clearly has spiraled into an ever-widening vicious circle. The sheer number of shootings has outstripped city resources and overwhelmed the CPD’s ability to effectively identify and prosecute suspects. Fewer than 11% of Chicago homicides have been cleared with the charging of a suspect so far in 2017.

Study after study has shown that both swiftness and certainty of punishment are needed to effectively deter criminal activity. The CPD has been unable to provide either for homicide. Thus, murder is effectively legal in many Chicago neighborhoods, and murderers are free to kill again and again.

The resulting lawlessness feeds on itself. Witnesses are more certain that they will be killed if they “snitch” than that their testimony would secure jail time for the murderer they could identify. Gang associates of victims, if there are any, take justice in their own hands in order to protect their own since the police cannot, and their surviving targets come back and do the same, in a never-ending cycle of revenge killings.

In his comprehensive review of deterrence data for many types of crime, Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering the Prospect of Sanction, David M. Kennedy argues that police departments can restart a deterrence regime by articulating a clear, credible intention to investigate and punish the NEXT several instances of a crime that previously has been committed with impunity in a given area. For example, in an initiative in Boston called Operation Ceasefire, police held a series of meetings with known drug gang members, informing them that the next shooting involving a member would result in enhanced enforcement efforts against the entire gang across the gamut of possible charges against them. Several months passed before the next drug gang shooting; one year out, gang-related homicides had dropped to a third of the previous year’s rate.

What took Boston police months of man-hours, to identify gang members and set up face-to-face meetings with them, could be accomplished by you in a single tweet. Nobody is able to speak directly to so many people as you are, and nobody in political life has as much credibility in following up on promises as you do either.

I sincerely believe that if you announced that you would send a team of FBI investigators to assist the CPD with the next 10 shooting deaths in Chicago, with the full resources of the federal witness protection program at their disposal, the gang-related shooting homicide rate in Chicago would drop to zero overnight. If it then began creeping up slowly, CPD would have a renewed opportunity to enforce the law and maintain a credible deterrence regime against homicide.

If the program were successful it could be replicated in a number of other American cities which are experiencing similar crises, saving thousands of lives and transforming countless violence-blighted neighborhoods into peaceful communities. If it is not, all you’ve lost is a few work weeks for a handful of investigators and a small drop in the ocean of the federal law enforcement budget.

This could be huge!

Sincerely yours,
Sheila Ralston, Chicago.


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