Crime Control Strategies – Myth, Magic and Metaphor

The latest fad, gadget or gizmo is not the basis for controlling crime. Or, the coolest technique used in some gee-whiz crime drama. Policing communities cannot be driven by polls, ratings or media sensationalism. We cannot address neighborhood crime problems by believing in myth, magic or metaphor. And, techno wizardry is only a small portion of the crime fighting picture. There is no doubt that gadgets and gizmos are important. But, techno-savvy policing, in the real world, is only as good as the cops that have the know how. Crime control strategies boil down to effective and efficient police work. This means the cop on the street or in the jail facility. The man or woman on the front lines, he or she are the people who really count. Effective police work requires competent police officers. To get them, you need high standards, effective recruitment and exemplary training. Once on the job, they need sufficient funding, resources and leadership. After that, the criminal justice continuum relies on inter-agency cooperation and coordination. Within that framework, cops hope there is a huge amount of competence and aggressive dedication on the part of prosecutors and judges. For some officers, that is a lot of wishful thinking. But, aside from politics, fighting crime means responding to the crime with an array of tactical and technical weaponry. Once into the process, identifying the criminal transforms the mission. Ultimately, putting a stop to his or her behavior, by sure and swift means, becomes the goal. Unfortunately, the goal is tainted by misguided perceptions.

Sad but true, we are deceived by our own fantasies. In the process of crime fighting, the entertainment media pursues a relentless quest of myth and magic. Supported by career minded politicians, metaphor becomes the expression of making the myth and magic appear real. Reality is blurred and merged with symbolism over substance. Misleading the public has potentially adverse consequences as it applies to the law enforcement function. People come to believe that policing is magic. And, psychics, profilers and crime solving gurus leap into action to protect us from the forces of evil. By the legerdemain of such antics, all our criminal behavior problems are solved. Sleight of hand skill has become more effective in the modern information age. The American public relies heavily on the airways for all sorts of information. Many people shape their beliefs by what they see and hear from the various media services. From movies to news reporting, the public often assumes the information they receive is based on fact not fiction. We are inundated every day by all sorts of tactics and techniques. Yet, information is transmitted for entertainment purposes, not for educational enlightenment. Lies, myths, and misconceptions become part of a process of changing our reality into sound bites, or staged story scenes. The dividing line between entertainment and news merges with mass marketing and salesmanship. Using those outlets for mass dissemination, politicians, activists and retailers perform clever tricks of the trade to misinform and manipulate. Entertainment comes across as a disguise for sensationalism. Ratings and polls become the barometric pressure of success or failure in an arena of mass media competition.

Law enforcement does not escape the bombardment of media and politics. Often it seems we are deceived by good intentions masquerading as myth, magic and metaphor. Again, looking good, for bureaucrats, the media and politicians, is better than actually being good. Subsequently, our systems of justice falter. Sure and swift prosecution, conviction and punitive retribution fail to reinforce the hard work done by the police work. So, if we are going to have an effective and efficient approach to crime control, then we are going to have to face reality. First, we have to find it. Second, we have to read between the lines by separating the pages where myth and reality merge. Third, we have to be on guard against an over-zealous media, sensational movie productions and career minded politicians. We also have to focus on recruiting, training and educating the best and the brightest law enforcement officers possible. Once on the job, then we have to give them every possible resource available. In the meantime, we try to find exceptional leaders to lead them. In addition, controlling criminal behavior requires that we look at ourselves. From politics to the corporate boardroom, criminal behavior permeates every level of society. Criminals are no different from the rest of us. In fact, they are us.

At the local level, the need for exceptional training for law enforcement personnel is essential. Officers must be highly skilled, educated and well-trained to deal with deviant anti-social behaviors. Crime, and the deviant behavior that goes with it, is typically a local government problem. As a local community issue, the police have to rely on the competence of local politicians. No doubt, a scary thought. Elected officials on city councils, county commissions on so on, decide the budgetary processes. In many cases, local law enforcement relies on low pay and benefits, limited material resources and ongoing shortages of qualified personnel. Such limitations strain police services. Many of the problems concern growth management issues. Growth management problems stem from political decisions. Criminals can easily figure out how this works. The more you grow the more material gain there is. And, if, while growing, you fail to plan for the public service infrastructure, the more there is to steal. In simple terms, budget constraints equal fewer cops and equipment, because that means more taxes to meet growth demands. Fewer cops and equipment mean fewer personnel for street or jail duty. For the criminal, mismanaged community growth and fewer cops mean more opportunities to find vulnerable targets to express criminal behavior. Urbanization of the community, with sprawling shopping centers, miles of highways and endless housing developments invite criminogenic problems. That is because more property and more people provide more targets of opportunity.

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