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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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U.S. should follow Dallas’ lead to combat crime wave

Every week more innocent lives are lost to violent crime, spurring calls for tougher policies from some on the right even as some on the left are advocating for defunding the police. Neither approach addresses the complex challenges of policing and crime prevention today. Instead, it is time to get smart on crime through proven methods to improve policing, address the root causes of crime and make communities safer. And in that regard, Dallas is setting the pace.

The campaign to defund the police denies the training and resources police departments need to keep us safe and to prevent and solve the most serious crimes. Defunding the police undermines law enforcement, destroys police morale and weakens the public agencies that keep us safe. This bad progressive idea, however, does not automatically vindicate the tough-on-crime policy preferences of some conservatives. Policies that toughen punishments were tried in the 1980s and proved ineffective. More than 95% of incarcerated people will one day be released into their communities and a law enforcement approach that focuses on punishment rather than rehabilitation does little to prepare individuals for successful reintegration into society.

The 21st century demands a smart-on-crime approach built on policies that build stronger communities.

The first step must be to properly fund police departments. Placing more officers in high-crime areas reduces crime. A better trained and educated police force is more effective and less likely to act inappropriately. A 2010 study found that college-educated police are 40% less likely to use force. Ben Stickle, an associate professor of criminal justice administration at Middle Tennessee State University, wrote that past research found “college-educated police are less likely to fire their weapons, more likely to use ‘reasonable force,’ maintain better communication skills with the community, and are less likely to receive citizens’ complaints.”

The way police departments are funded matters too. Hundreds of local governments rely heavily on fines and fees enforced by local law enforcement to fund their budgets — in some cases, more than half of their budgets originate in this manner.

Police should be protectors rather than tax collectors. Two of the nation’s leading criminologists found a mere 4% of police time is spent on violent crime. That is why funding police from local government budgets is a critical step. Instead of focusing resources on traffic tickets and non-criminal complaints, the police could turn their attention to keeping us safe.

In doing so, the police must focus on evidence-based policies that reduce and prevent violent crime. These policies, frequently called hot-spot policing and focused deterrence, identify high crime locations to target limited police resources, address environmental factors that contribute to crime, and utilize trusted community members to help disrupt cycles of violence. These strategies have been found to be effective in multiple studies and at least one researcher has noted that these methods have “the strongest collective evidence of police effectiveness that is now available.”

Policymakers aiming to beat back crime spikes need look no further than Dallas, where Police Chief Eddie García and the Dallas Police Department have deployed these research-backed strategies. As crime surges across the country, Dallas is bucking the trend because its leaders implemented these effective solutions.

Many American cities broke their all-time homicide records again in 2021. New York City has seen crime skyrocket 36% over the past year. Cities like Virginia Beach (87%), Colorado Springs (85%) and Milwaukee (38%) have seen unprecedented spikes in murders during 2022.

While many cities had their sharpest violent crime spike in history in 2021, violent crime fell 9% in Dallas and has already declined another 4% this year. These proven policies and the resulting success have not gone unnoticed. News outlets around the country from Bloomberg to the New York Post have praised our city.

While Dallas has succeeded on a tactical level at curbing violent crime through smart policing, there are plenty of policy areas that lawmakers can focus on to head off future violence in our communities. Public officials, local governments and community organizations must also step up and invest in strategies to address the root causes of crime, such as homelessness, drug addiction and mental health.

Too often police officers are forced to fill the gaps in our mental health care system, rather than trained professionals. Combating violent crime extends to the aftermath of an arrest, as well. When someone commits a crime, they must be prosecuted and punished, but punishment must be individualized and proportional to the crime. Those who pose a threat to society should not be released, but those who have been rehabilitated should be given appropriate second chances. Alternatives to incarceration should be used for those who pose no public threat.

As crime waves wreak havoc on our nation, Dallas is a shining example of good and smart policies that work. Other cities and communities must do the same. Weakening police or imposing tough sentences is not a long-term solution. Focusing the police on serious crime, expanding the role of community-based nonprofit solutions, and deploying data-driven programs is the best path forward to safer and stronger communities.

Haley Jensen is president of Membership Insurance Group, based in Irving, and an advocate for criminal justice reform.

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