U.S. stresses crime effort

Programs target gangs, juveniles amid rising city violence

January 17, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Bush administration officials are scrambling to demonstrate that they're addressing sharp jumps in violent crime in some cities, in an attempt to reclaim a traditionally Republican issue amid criticism from some Democrats, mayors and police chiefs.

Senior Justice Department officials sought yesterday to highlight the administration's multipronged programs for combating growing gang violence and outbreaks of juvenile crime. The renewed emphasis comes as some experts, as well as politicians, cite federal cuts in city and state law enforcement funding as a possible contributor to spikes in murders, robberies and assaults in medium-sized cities.

While criminal justice experts stress that the jumps in crime over the past 18 months in cities such as Cleveland and Minneapolis may not represent a long-term upswing, they're watching to see if President Bush proposes more anti-crime funding in his State of the Union address next week.

"There's no locomotive coming down the track saying we have to have a high homicide rate," Lawrence Sherman, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, said yesterday. "What it's more like is a bubbling caldron that could either boil over or go back down to simmer."

After 14 years of declines in crime, police in some communities began to report double-digit increases. That left the administration vulnerable to criticism because the crime jumps came after the White House instigated $1 billion in cuts in anti-crime funding since 2001 as it shifted its focus to the war on terrorism.

Sherman said that while federal funding would help police patrol hot spots during high-crime periods, local police departments could address the issue by renegotiating police union contracts that limit officers' shifts.

Other researchers agree that the reasons for the rise in crime are more complicated than money, and they vary from city to city. They point to factors such as increasing gun-, gang- and drug-related violence; growing juvenile crime; a deep hopelessness among poor, young black men; and an upsurge in prison releases.

The rise in gang activity, in particular, has drawn the attention of the Justice Department and the FBI. At a briefing yesterday, Alice Fisher, chief of the department's Criminal Division, Assistant FBI Director Chip Burrus and two other officials described efforts to crack down on gangs, especially national and international gangs, such as the Salvadoran la Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.

Unlike the centralized, crack-dealing gangs of the 1990s, Burrus said today's gangs are more neighborhood-based.

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