Fighting crime takes a bite of our tax dollars

MIKE ROYKO

January 15, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Worried about crime? A silly question. Of course you are. Who isn't, with children being shot in street-gang wars, drug addicts murdering for the price of a fix, and motorists blasting each other for traffic insults.

But I bring good news. Better times may be ahead.

Yes, your tax dollars are at work in the war against crime.

As TV viewers know, there is a cartoon character named McGruff -- a hound dog who wears a trench coat and a fedora like a private eye.

McGruff appears in public-service announcements, giving advice on how people can avoid being crime victims.

He tells us that we should lock our doors, which is really good thinking. Until McGruff told me about that, I used to sleep with all of my doors wide open, with a sign on the porch saying: "Welcome thieves."

McGruff is a creation of something called the National Crime Prevention Council, which receives about $600,000 a year from the Department of Justice.

Over the last five years, the government has given the National Crime Prevention Council about $3 million. They didn't have any figures on how much was spent on McGruff during the previous seven years, but it was probably another few million.

It appears that nobody knows for sure. So your tax dollars are again being put to work.

I discovered this in looking over a copy of a publication called the Medillian, which is an alumni newsletter put out by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

It contained this story:

"McGruff has been urging America to 'take a bite out of crime' for 12 years. Is America listening?

"... The law-and-order bassett hound has been the central character of one of the most visible public-service announcement campaigns since the early 1980s.

"Now, the U.S. Justice Department, with the help of Professor Paul Lavrakas, wants to find out how effective it has been in preventing crime.

"The agency, which funds the campaign, has awarded Lavrakas a portion of a $350,000 University of Wisconsin grant to conduct a two-year study to examine the campaign's effectiveness. The Northwestern portion of the funding totals $131,000.

"Lavrakas, who is also director of Northwestern's Survey Laboratory, is working on the project with Garrett O'Keefe of the University of Wisconsin and Dennis Rosenbaum of the University of Illinois.

"'What the campaign has done so far is laudable and has involved a lot of work. Our job is to find out if it accomplished the Department of Justice's goals related to crime prevention,' Lavrakas explained.

"... The study began in February 1991, and the research team plans to present their data and recommendations to the government by June of 1993. Whatever their findings, Lavrakas expects that they will have an impact on public policy.

"'We are planning on writing at least two books on our findings, and there is already talk of future funding for a follow-up study to look at the other aspects of public-service announcement campaigns such as this one,' Lavrakas explained.

"These two years of study will generate a decade's worth of research."

This is the sort of thing that should silence those critics who think that the bureaucrats in Washington just sit around shuffling papers.

To the contrary. This shows that some alert Justice Department official must have said something like: "Say, how much have we spent on this McGruff character?"

"Oh, 5 or 6 million, give or take a few."

"Is it working? Are we making the streets safer? Is McGruff causing the drug lords and the gangbangers to shiver and shake?"

"I don't know."

"Then let's find out. We owe it to the taxpayers. So let's toss $350,000 of their money at some universities and have a few professors -- who are renowned for their street smarts and crime savvy -- conduct a study."

So we can all sleep a little sounder, knowing that McGruff and the professors are on the job.

And as the Northwestern professor said, "These two years of study will generate a decade's worth of research."

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