More Problems with Alternative Approaches to Addressing Crime?

Gun Rights

NRA, as well as many involved both with combatting violent crime and studying ways to reduce it, have long held that imposing restrictions on gun ownership does nothing to deter violent criminals from committing crimes while using firearms.  As we have said time and time again, those who are already law-abiding will tend to obey “gun control” laws, while criminals will ignore them.

They are, after all, criminals.

Besides trying to impose new restrictions, though, many anti-gun “progressives” have also promoted alternative approaches to criminal justice.  Most readers of our alerts are familiar with many of those alternative approaches that are obviously flawed.

“No cash” bail policies turn violent criminals loose on our streets to prey on the law-abiding, often mere hours after being arrested for serious crimes.  During the COVID pandemic, some “progressives” chose to release many convicted criminals early from their incarceration; with many of these same criminals, if not most, being later arrested for committing new crimes.  In some areas with “progressive” approaches to criminal justice, some serious crimes have been downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors, or mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes have been reduced.  Again, this allows violent offenders to be released onto our streets after far-too-brief prison sentences.

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But there are relatively innocuous alternatives to criminal justice that may also be problematic.

One type of program involves hiring community activists to work in their neighborhoods to try to deter criminal activity.  These individuals are often hired because of their knowledge of the neighborhood, and their status or recognition within the neighborhood.  In some cases, those hired are former gang members, or have had other involvement in criminal activity, but are now expected to work on the side of law and order, and to use their previous connections as a way to make inroads into the criminal community to try to dissuade others from committing violent acts.

Depending on the program, participants are sometimes referred to as “peacekeepers,” “violence disruptors,” or something similar.  As we have reported before, they know their neighborhoods, know the bad actors (and often once were the bad actors), and may be able to identify and intercede if there is any threat that a violent incident may be about to take place.

Unfortunately, as you will note in our previous coverage of such a program in Chicago, the plan doesn’t always work as intended.

Recently, the “Safe Streets” program in Baltimore, which calls its participants “violence interrupters” and is similar to the one in Chicago, has come under scrutiny.  Local media began reporting of an October 26 FBI raid on a Northeast Baltimore office of “Safe Streets,” as well other raids that included a visit to the home of a supervisor of that office.  While the full extent of what was uncovered in this law enforcement operation has yet to be revealed, initial reports indicate some of the items seized include a handgun “with an obliterated serial number” and “narcotics packaging materials.”

In light of this ongoing investigation, former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who launched “Safe Streets” in 2007, called for the program to be suspended, at least temporarily.

 “I believe we ought to just put it on hold, have the audit done, re-assess it, and determine if this mechanism is really helping us fight crime,” said Dixon, as reported by local FOX45 News.

FOX45 News also reported that three staffers from the Northeast Baltimore “Safe Streets” location are currently on leave while the investigation proceeds, and that a source has told the news outlet that part of the investigation involves looking into connections to a notorious Baltimore street gang.

Even with the ongoing investigation and questions about the program’s efficacy, however, the Baltimore Board of Estimates unanimously approved a $3.5 million state grant for “Safe Streets” on November 1.

Whatever the investigation produces, this story is yet another cautionary tale about putting too much emphasis on “progressive” crime fighting approaches, rather than sticking with proven strategies like catching, holding on to, prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating violent criminals.

Violent crime in Baltimore is a major problem, and has been for decades.  The “Safe Streets” program doesn’t appear to be having a positive impact, but perhaps an audit of it will prove that it is at least helping in some small way.  The FBI investigation could show a systemic problem with the program, or it could reveal something isolated that involves a handful of individuals.  Or it could reveal nothing.

Whatever the case, perhaps now is not the time to commit millions of dollars to a program under such scrutiny.  If the audit shows effectiveness, and the FBI investigation roots out isolated bad actors—or even exonerates those under investigation—maybe then consider spending those millions of tax dollars.

In the meantime, there’s always the novel idea of targeting violent criminals and putting them behind bars.  Incarceration will certainly “interrupt” or “disrupt” any “violence” they planned on committing against law-abiding citizens.

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