Invest In Police Protection Now Or Pay For Crime Later

December 01, 1991|By J. BOLTON MADDOX

"You get what you pay for!"

In a free-market economy like ours, that statement is highly accurate. It applies negatively to the unwiseconsumer who doesn't shop around or allows his/her emotions instead of the brain to spend the money. It also applies negatively to the "bean counter" who can't separate necessary from unnecessary purchases.

American business is failing because the bean counters are in charge -- financial management is American management. Did you know thatthe best-made cars and trucks are made in America? Honda and Nissan have plants here because the combination of Japanese management and American workers builds trouble-free vehicles that sell. Bean countersdo not manage Japanese companies.

The Capital and The Sun have run a series of articles about dramatically increasing crime rates. Thecauses offered: declining economy and increasing drug use. Those arefactors, but not necessary ones. The primary factor was, is, and will be a criminal justice system that doesn't work well enough to control crime.

Crime is a fact in open societies -- especially free-market socioeconomic systems. Freedom to choose also means freedom to choose crime as a means of economic gain and power.

A crime is what "we the people" say is a crime by passing laws. The difficulty only begins by passing a criminal law. We must enforce it and punish offenders. That costs money, pure and simple.

Crime rates are directly linked to police activity and jail. A few years ago, crime was going down as a result of increased enforcement and increased prison space. Now that government budgets are being squeezed, crime is going up as police and corrections budgets are victims of across-the-board cuts by state and county bean counters.

A recent article in the Washington Post points out some real-life actual examples. The state of Michigan had a tax revolt of sorts in the 1970s and decided not to build prisons. By 1986, the violent crime rate was up 25 percent. Michigan doubled its prison space (at 1980s inflated construction prices, I might add), and robbery and burglary rates dropped 25 percent. A bean counter for the government costed out the crimes in Detroit alone: crime costs to citizens dropped $113,546,000 in one year. You get what you pay for.

Jail works. Diversion from jail doesn't. Diversion programs to keep criminals out of jail generally only provide a bed and meals at taxpayer expense for persons out committing crimes in the community. The last big series of vicious street robberies I cracked as a police captain were committed by a guy in a diversion program. He was not a druggie, just a vicious human being who should have been in jail. The system was overcrowded, so he was let out.

Finding ways to keep people out of jail and finding ways to get those in jail out has been what's going on recently in the Maryland correctional system. Texas tried this approach. In the face of rising cost-per-prisoner factors, Texas adopted a "turn 'em loose faster" approach. While the number of convicts grew two and a half times, the sentences dropped from 55 percent of time given at sentencing to 15 percent, and parole rates rose 21 times. Result: Crime in the 1980s soared a whopping 29 percent.

I can tell you that the Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services hates to release any of these vicious criminals. Like me, he's an ex-cop now dealing with corrections and he knows exactly what these people are capable of inflicting on innocent victims.But when some bean counter in Annapolis says, "Cut the jail budget by x percent," he has no choice.

The jail crisis is accelerated by the police crisis. I read in the Capital recently that the county executive was thinking of ending the take-home car program. How penny-wise and dollar-foolish can you get? Take-home cars are the cheapest police protection you can buy. The cars are parked in neighborhoods andshopping centers and travel up and down the roads. We are getting all this extra patrol for no salary.

Are these people nuts? Police work is largely a self-initiated process. The cop can as easily ignorea problem as investigate it. Thus, the geniuses at county and city hall demoralize the police force. What good will jails do if cops don't arrest the criminals?

I understand tax revolts. In fact, Anne Arundel County's leading tax revolt spokesman and I once belonged to the same novel writer's group. It's not just a simple as an across-the-board tax cut, Bob Schaefer. That approach simply throws out the babywith the bath water.

And now for the governor. I'm amazed that anelected public official had the courage to show the public what an across-the-board reduction would do. But all it has brought him is enmity and grief. After all those years of public service, for 30 piecesof taxpayer silver, he is vilified and made a laughing stock. He does not deserve that.

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