December 15, 1996

December 15, 1996 | Commentary on Crime

ED121596c: Crime Can Be Whipped

The federal government has invested billions of dollars in so-called crime-fighting programs -- remember "midnight basketball" and (an alleged) 100,000 more cops on the beat? -- with little or no tangible results. But what can local officials with limited resources do to fight crime in their own neighborhoods?

Plenty, according to a recent study by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Heritage Foundation Deputy Director of Domestic Policy Studies Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D. The two have outlined a common-sense management plan that puts local officials in charge of their own reforms. For starters, Meese and Moffit say, hire the best qualified police officers and then have them patrol the high crime neighborhoods. Sound too simple? It worked in crime-ravaged New York City.

Since 1993, the "Big Apple" saw a 36 percent drop in serious crimes, including a 44 percent drop in auto theft and a 45 percent drop in murder. William Bratton, the New York City police commissioner and architect of the improvements, insisted on simple, relatively inexpensive reforms such as police officers walking the beat in their patrol areas instead of sitting in a station house filling out paperwork, and a zero-tolerance policy for graffiti and public drunkenness.

"You don't need to have a bigger policy budget and more overtime to fight crime, just a commitment to the community," Moffit says. Every policy department -- large or small -- can:

  • Target "hot spots" of crime and career criminals. Research shows that more than half of all serious crime is concentrated in less than 3 percent of the addresses in a city. Most crimes also are committed by a small criminal class: just 6 percent of the male population is responsible for about 50 percent of serious crime.
  • Raise the recruitment standards of police officers. Communities must demand the highest physical, intellectual and character standards within the police force and not accept anything less in the name of "diversity." Initial standardized screenings for psychological and physical requirements are essential. Poor personnel practices result in bad, brutal or incompetent police officers.
  • Have police officers walk a beat, getting to know neighbors and a neighborhood instead of sitting behind a desk or cruising the streets in a police car. Administrative duties should be performed by clerical or support staff to free up officers.
  • Recruit police from the ranks of the military. In addition to getting a "sure thing," in terms of discipline and training, hiring former military personnel increases the pool of qualified minority applicants.

Of course, it doesn't help matters when courts practice "revolving door" justice, allowing criminals back on the streets. Meese and Moffit say lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels should block the appointment of judges who place the rights of criminals over the rights of victims. For state and local officials the heart of police reform is personnel management: knowing where to assign extra police officers, providing adequate training and hiring only the best and the brightest. "These back-to-basics reforms rely on innovative policing -- not more federal money -- and will have a real affect on fighting crime," Moffit says.

The amazing thing is not that the war on crime can be won by such common-sense measures. The amazing thing is that communities -- large and small -- haven't been doing these things all along.

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office