Take better aim with anti-crime dollars

Excerpts from testimony before the Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Juidiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives Oct. 28

Half of all homicides in the U.S occur in the 63 largest cities, which house only 16 percent of the population. Most of the homicides in those cities occur in a handful of concentrated poverty areas, which in turn may constitute some 15 to 20 percent of the populations of those cities. Our national rates of serious crime are heavily determined by what happens in our most violent census tracts. With very few exceptions, however, federal policy does not focus funding on those areas where the most violence occurs.

The mismatching of federal funds and the problem of violence is not the policy of any federal agency, but of the legislative formulas used to allocate the funding. Most of those formulas are based on population, and give zero weight to the per capita level of violence in a state or community.

The formulas put violence prevention funding where the votes are, not where the violence is. ...

What doesn’t work

Research has shown that more police, if properly deployed, can reduce crime. But the existing body of evidence doesn’t speak well for two other police efforts: the D.A.R.E. program and gun buybacks. ...

Several ... studies have show D.A.R.E. as commonly implemented to be ineffective in preventing future substance abuse. ... It is a program supported by strong advocates, not strong evidence.

President Clinton’s recent decision to spend $15 million on gun buybacks for public housing projects is a step in the right direction in putting the money where the crime is. However, it is the right place but the wrong program. Several scientific studies have shown that gun buybacks do not work. It is a sellout to doing what works to make news, not public safety. ...

Restore youth justice

Far beneath the tip of the iceberg in Littleton and other schools lie the nonviolent 95 percent of the 3 million juvenile arrests each year. The vast majority of these arrests result in no action taken against the juvenile. ... This situation ... is feeding a rapidly growing social movement in the U.S.: restorative juvenile justice. Congress should fund pilot programs of this innovative idea. Inspired in part by recent innovations in New Zealand and Australia, this movement is diverting juvenile cases from court in order to hold conferences involving offenders and their families, victims and their families, and other concerned parties. The conferences are far more emotionally intense than court, and focus on the moral duty of offenders to repair the harm they have caused. The conferences result in a restitution agreement, the completion of which will lead to dropping charges and a clean criminal record. ...

School safety

Youth violence knows no boundaries, but governments at all levels can take steps to work more closely to prevent youth violence. Confidentiality laws and turf battles often keep law enforcement and education leaders from working together. In the spirit of innovation and evaluation, I would encourage Congress to create demonstration sites where computer networks — with strong safeguards against privacy violations — be created to allow local officials to work together more closely to share information and work together toward common goals. Federal incentives attached to the $4 billion in annual federal funding for crime prevention programs would be a strong way to ensure cooperation and innovation in the area of data sharing.

Lawrence Sherman, Ph.D., is the director of the Fels Center of Government and Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations. See his report, “Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising,” at www.preventingcrime.org.

  • What’s bugging you? You can contribute a column on a general interest or University-related subject. Call us first, 215-898-1426.

Originally published on November 11, 1999