Proactive Policing: The Key to Successful Crime Prevention and Control

By Stephens, Gene | USA TODAY, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Proactive Policing: The Key to Successful Crime Prevention and Control


Stephens, Gene, USA TODAY


PROACTIVE is not merely a buzzword in the American criminal justice system today. It appears to be the key to a successful future in crime prevention and control.

Where police aggressively conduct needs analyses and work with citizens and social service groups to contain crime-breeding situations, street crime rates drop, often dramatically. Similarly, where alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation, arbitration, and offender-victim conferencing are substituted for adversarial court proceedings to handle the majority of cases--crimes involving people who know one another--victims and community are compensated by offenders who are simultaneously reclaimed through community-developed programs, curtailing future crime.

The major stumbling blocks that could slow this trend are hanging on to old attitudes about crime and punishment and their companion war-model methods of "fighting" crime that have resulted in development of massive criminal justice industrial complexes in nations such as the U.S. Police, courts, and corrections are big business and are not likely to go away or voluntarily accept a diminished role. As long as the emphasis is on repressing crime by catching and punishing individual offenders, a little success (such as currently falling "street" crime rates) will result in the criminal justice complex lobbying for more crimes to feed its monetary needs to support its huge overhead--millions of employees, structures ranging from courthouses to jails and prisons, and equipment from police cruisers to body armor and a plethora of weaponry. Some see the current drug war as an example of a social/medical problem being criminalized to provide billions in funding for criminal justice.

In fact, research indicates the current falling street crime rate is not a result of the reactive war model methods at all. Whereas "get tough" advocates cite the "three strikes" laws and the bulging prison population as reasons for the dramatic decreases, the statistics tell a different story.

For decades, the cleared-by-arrest rate reported in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports for the eight major crimes has continuously been in the 20% range, meaning just one in five major crimes lead to an arrest of a suspect--hardly enough to strike fear into the hearts of would-be offenders, and certainly not enough to deter them or prevent crime.

As for the offenders behind bars, 25% in state prisons are there on drug convictions, as are a whopping 80% in Federal prisons. The overwhelming majority of these inmates are addicts serving time for possession of illegal drags, as dealers are much more difficult to capture and convict. The increase in drug offenders accounts for most of the prison population explosion.

The real change in the 1990s and continuing today has been the citizen response to crime, spearheaded by community action. A majority of the nation's police agencies aspire to be model community-oriented police (COP) operations, and well over 1,000 alternative dispute resolution programs handle criminal as well as civil complaints. While most efforts are far from the headlines and newscasts, they appear to be quietly transforming America into an effective, efficient crime preventing and controlling society. It is these crimes prevented that are reflected in statistics as nonevents--thus lowering overall crime rates.

If crime does not occur, tremendous savings result. There is no harm to victims, offenders, or community, and no private or public dollars are necessary to repair harm and extract "justice." Beyond this, no socioeconomic costs are created by trauma, fear, and distress. Possibly even more important, the criminal justice industrial complex is funded for doing something positive for the citizenry, rather than left embroiled in what many see as race/class warfare in the streets.

The formula of desire + opportunity = crime has long been used in the crime prevention field, but the emphasis has traditionally been on opportunity reduction through target hardening via approaches such as installing better locks and alarms and avoiding being out alone after dark. …

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