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What to Do About Crime
January 19, 1995
Robert Higgs, Don B. Kates, Jr., Chris Killough, William I. Koch, Joseph D. McNamara


Introductory Remarks

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux, I am the president of The Independent Institute, and I am delighted to welcome you to our Independent Policy Forum program today.

As many of you know, the Institute regularly sponsors programs featuring outstanding experts to address major social and economic issues, especially as they may relate to important new books. And, today is certainly no exception.

For those of you new to the Institute, you will find background information on our program in the packet at your seat. The Independent Institute is a non-profit, non-politicized, scholarly research and educational organization which sponsors comprehensive studies of critical public issues. The Institute’s program adheres to the highest standards of independent inquiry, and the resulting studies are widely distributed as books, our quarterly journal, The Independent Review, and other publications, and are publicly debated through numerous conference and media programs, such as in our forum today.

Our purpose is a Jeffersonian one of seeking the truth regarding the impact of government policies, and not necessarily to just tell people what they might want to hear. In so doing, we will not take the public pronouncements of government officials at face value, nor the conventional wisdom over serious public problems. Hence, we invite your involvement, but be prepared for new and challenging perspectives.

Neither seeking nor accepting government funding, the Institute draws its support from a diverse range of foundations, businesses, and individuals, and we invite you to join with us as a tax-deductible Independent Institute Associate Member. Also in your packet, you will find information on the benefits in becoming a Member including receipt of a free copy of our award-winning book on unemployment and the economy, Out of Work, by Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway, or our newest book, Beyond Politics.

The Institute is currently engaged in a special series of twelve comprehensive studies on the many aspects of crime reduction and prevention, and the studies are being completed by leading scholars around the country. For those of you interested in further information on this program, please contact us at the Institute.

In examining the problem of crime, it is first important to note that our prosperity and mobility have emancipated people from the traditional bonds of family and village, producing an explosion of artistic creativity, entrepreneurial zeal, and criminal activity. And as the criminal justice system has become increasingly politicized and bureaucratized, crime has become the number one issue.

How does crime affect our communities and the economy? Why do some people become chronic, persistent criminals? Has the rise in single-parent families and the welfare state caused a rise in crime rates? Does the U.S. rely more on prisons than other western nations? Would more police on the streets reduce crime? What about TV violence, guns, etc.? Would swifter and more certain justice make a difference? How about the death penalty, bootcamps and “three-strikes-and-you’re-out?” Is privatization an option?

From cover stories in Time and Commentary to the current PBS series on controlling criminal violence, James Q. Wilson has become the most sought-after expert on how to systematically grapple with the persistent and controversial problem of crime and violence.

We are truly delighted to be sponsoring this program today. James Q. Wilson is the James Collins Professor of Management at UCLA, and was formerly the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government at Harvard University. Among his many books are Bureaucracy, The Moral Sense, Thinking About Crime, The Politics of Regulation, On Character, Crime and Human Nature, Crime and Public Policy, From Children to Citizens, Understanding and Controlling Crime, and the newest, Crime. Educated at the University of Redlands, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Professor Wilson has been chairman of the White House Task Force on Crime and the Police Foundation. Past president of the American Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, he has received six honorary degrees and is the recipient of the James Madison Award from the American Political Science Association.

I am very pleased to introduce him now to speak on “What to Do About Crime,” after which we will hear from a distinguished panel of experts. May I now present Jim Wilson.

James Q. Wilson

Crime is a subject akin to, “What is wrong with the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Cubs?” Everyone has an opinion, and I want to give you as many opportunities as you need to express those opinions. Much of what I am going to say is drawn from the last chapter of the book that I edited with Joan Petersilia, Crime, with preceding chapters written by other scholars, some of whom I agree with, but all distinguished in their field.

When we think about crime, we must realize that this nation faces not one crime problem, but two. The first is a problem that is nearly universal, affecting virtually all industrialized societies. It is the enormous increase in the rate of property crime that has occurred since the late 1950’s.

Today, the United States does not stand alone as the most crime-ridden industrialized nation in the world. It stands shoulder to shoulder with Sweden, Germany, Spain, England, Wales and the Netherlands as one of many crime-ridden nations. Today, the burglary rate is about as high in Sweden as it is in the United States. The chances of having your car stolen are about the same in London as they are in New York City. The drug problem is everywhere. These facts must reflect some profound cultural change in the West, a cultural change for which I doubt there are any governmental solutions.

The United States, however, does stand alone in one respect, and that is our second crime problem, the problem of violence and especially juvenile violence. Beginning about 1985, coincident with the advent of crack cocaine on the streets of many large American cities, juvenile homicide rates, that had been declining for five years (as adult homicide rates had been declining for five years), began to escalate. Between 1985 and 1990, the juvenile homicide rate for white youths increased by about 50%, and among African-American youths it tripled. There are some indications, in the last few months, that these rates of violent crime, particularly among juveniles, have begun to come down. But, if they do come down, I doubt very much that they will ever come down to the low levels they were once at—what now seems in retrospect to be the “benign 1960’s.”

When we think about the problem of solving crime, therefore, we have to be clear about which one we’re trying to solve. The first problem, the universal property crime problem, is one that we each “solve” by means of personal protection. We make ourselves prisoners in our own home. We lock up everything we have. We hire private security guards. The second problem, that of rising levels of juvenile violence, demands a different approach. In thinking about this subject, most people find themselves divided into one of two camps: those who believe that we must attack the root causes of crime, and those who believe that we must employ the criminal justice system. Of course everyone who thinks about this might say we should do a bit of both, but in the area of crime, as with “What’s wrong with the Boston Celtics?”, people have very firm views. We each have an ideology on this matter that makes us akin to the man holding a hammer for whom all the world looks like a nail. We either wish to use punishment because we are punitive, or we wish to attack root causes because we consider ourselves tender-hearted.

What can we say about these two approaches? First, with respect to punishment there are certain myths that Americans have allowed themselves to believe that I believe ought to be dispelled. It is often said, for example, that the United States imprisons more people in proportion to its population than any other country except South Africa and the former Soviet Union. This statement is false. Worse than false, it is meaningless because the key issue is not how many people in proportion to the population are in prison but what proportion of crimes committed lead to incarceration. If you look at violent crime rates, our use of prison is not very different from that to be found in Canada, England or Australia. With respect to property crimes, we do use prison more frequently than England and Sweden, and that may be one of the reasons why their property crime rates are going up while our property crime rates are going down.

A second myth is that we have increased dramatically the number of people in prison and gotten nothing for return. Crime, it is said, has remained high despite escalating prison populations. This is a proposition that cannot be conclusively tested because we cannot conduct a controlled experiment in which half the states imprison people, the other half do not, and we observe the consequences. But it is a fact that coincident with rising prison population there began in 1979-80, a steep reduction in the crime rate as reported by the victimization surveys. This reduction in the crime rate was, I believe, the result of three factors: First, the population was getting older, but this only explains a small part of the decline. Second, there was an increase in the probability of going to prison and this increased the deterrent value of the criminal justice system. Third, the aggregate number of people in prison increased the incapacitation value of the criminal justice system even though time served in state prison has been going down more or less steadily for 40 years. In the 1950’s, the median burglar released from prison in the United States served 24 months. By 1985, that figure was down to 14 months, even though the median burglar today has typically a much longer rap sheet than the median burglar of 30 years ago. By contrast, England and Sweden have been reducing the probability of going to prison, and their crime rates have been going up. We cannot prove from that correlation that less prison has caused more crime, but at least we can say that these relationships are not consistent with the proposition that we have purchased nothing by our increase in the prison population.

However, there are some limitations to prison which need to be examined seriously. One is the fact that until 1985, only about 8% of the inmates of state prisons were drug offenders. Today 25% are, and in the federal system, the percentage is over 60%. We began to take the matter seriously owing to the advent of crack cocaine and the complaints in neighborhoods about crack dealing and the juvenile violence associated with it. We have dramatically increased the use of prison for drug offenders, and we cannot be certain what we have purchased because drug offending, unlike armed robbery or homicide, is a business, and if you take one dealer off the street, one or more dealers will rise up to take his place. It is my view that if you wish to control drug abuse, you must reduce demand. It is my view that prison or other forms of punishment must be part of a demand-reduction strategy, because young people ordinarily will not voluntarily remain in drug treatment programs. Whether the use of prison space is the best way to link sanctions to a drug demand-reduction strategy is unclear, and a good deal of creative thought needs to be devoted to the question of how best to make demand-reduction strategies effective.

Another criticism of our increased use of prison is that it has not adequately addressed the juvenile problem, and I believe that this is correct. I believe that young people are calculating, just as older people are calculating, and sometimes they calculate with far greater precision than we. Nonetheless, it remains the case that young persons are more impulsive than older ones and thus distant penalties are less likely to make a difference. Moreover, because of the conditions in inner-city communities owing to the escalation of gang violence and its association with crack dealing, gun ownership has become necessary in the eyes of many juveniles for reasons of self-defense. The situation in many inner-city neighborhoods is not radically different from that in Beirut or Bosnia. Finally, young people have, like all people, a demand for respect. When respect is no longer given by the conventional sources or when those conventional sources are themselves no longer highly regarded, respect may take the form of exaggerated manhood—the ability to display force and use it credibly, and the ability to wear proudly the fact that one has done time in juvenile hall. For all of these reasons, we have not yet adequately accessed the role the criminal justice system can play in controlling the most explosive part of our crime problem, juvenile violence.

Let me turn now to the subject of root causes. Some of you may know that I am not a great admirer of most “root cause” theories of crime. It turns out that what many people who have this view mean by “root causes” are those things that they don’t like about society. If they can blame crime on these factors, perhaps they can get more government efforts directed at those things. The difficulty is that though there is some relationship between poverty and crime, it is not a very close one. There is only a very weak relationship between crime and unemployment or the business cycle. There are many good reasons for trying to do something about poverty and providing jobs, but ending crime is the worse possible reason. Indeed, much of the increase in crime around the world has occurred at a time of enormous gains in national prosperity and national well-being, so much so that in this century, unlike in the previous century, the crime rate has become unhinged from the business cycle. Crime is more likely to go up in periods of prosperity today than it is in periods of depression—a reversal of the situation that existed, so far as we can tell, in the previous century.

But there are root causes of crime even though they are sometimes misidentified. These causes are family and neighborhood. We are beginning now for the first time to talk candidly about family conditions in the United States. For some time in the 60’s and 70’s, people who criticized single-parent families or out-of-wedlock births were themselves criticized for stigmatizing an “alternative lifestyle” or an “alternative family arrangement,” as if all family arrangements were equally valid, and one could choose among them the way you may choose among Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavors. But, the family as we know it, as indeed every culture in every civilization in the world now knows it, is the product of tens of thousands of years of evolution and painful trial-and-error. The only family that has survived the test of this evolutionary experience has been the two-parent family, sometimes extended, sometimes nuclear, but always with a father and mother, always with a marital commitment designed to preserve and enhance the well-being of the child.

There are now data that show any fair-minded observer rather conclusively that after controlling for income, and for every racial or ethnic group, children raised in single-parent families headed by never-married young women, are materially worse off in terms of school achievements, delinquency, emotional problems. These risks are greater for boys than for girls.

If this is the case, then we ought not to think of the problem of family structure as a black problem, a white problem, or a problem of any particular color. It transcends color and affects all segments of society. Nor should we think of it simply as a problem of financial support because, except at the very highest income level, a level achieved among women only by “Murphy Brown” and a few others, a child raised in a never-married mother’s home is materially worse off. What can we do about this? As many politicians have said, accurately, governments don’t raise children, families do. Nonetheless, government policy can create conditions in which families are more or less likely to be healthy. We have created conditions in which families are less likely to be healthy. I do not assert that the existence of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC) or welfare has caused an increase in illegitimacy. I do believe it has helped make it possible, but I do not believe that it is the sole cause. Nor do I believe that the business cycle is the sole cause. If you try to explain the growth of single-parent families from the early 1960’s until today, it turns out that neither economic factors nor changes in the inflation-adjusted value of welfare payments can explain more than a part of the increase.

The culture has changed, not only here but abroad. The stigma attached to an out-of-wedlock birth has gone. The sense that a male who has impregnated a female has an obligation, enforceable either by law, custom, or by the female’s tough brothers, to marry the young woman has been profoundly weakened. As a consequence, young men now have at a young age what they always wanted, action and no commitment. Young girls want something else. I am not suggesting that young girls are uninterested in action, but most would like a separate household as well, out from under the thumb of their parents. Many of them would like babies because they find babies appealing, and they want to care for them. But, having grown up in a household headed by a young unmarried women who herself got pregnant at an early age, having now gotten pregnant at an early age in her own case, they discover government programs that promise, via AFDC, food stamps, housing subsidies, and Medicaid, that they can have an independent household. They often jump at the chance and take some delight in the fact that they can do this without the services of a male to assist them. The ones who lose are the children.

In my view, the current national debate over welfare reform is miscast. It is miscast because of the phrase, “welfare reform.” Many people believe that what is at stake here is how many tax dollars are being spent on enabling poor people not to work. Now these matters are at stake, but there is something more fundamental here and that is the well-being of these children—children who are the unintended victims of a culture that no longer produces with much surety intact, two-parent families whose concern is the well-being of children. How can government change this? One view says that we can change it by going cold turkey: “Let’s end all welfare! Throw people on general county relief if necessary, but send the unmistakable message that you cannot use public money to support the consequences of your sexual indiscretions.” That may work, almost surely in the long run would work, but at what cost we do not know. Then there are those who say that welfare recipients must work to earn their welfare payments. That may be a desirable goal, but one has to ask whether we really want the mothers of newborn infants working when there is not another parent at home to take care of the child. Do we wish to move from single-parent families to no-parent families? Possibly, but I doubt it.

A third alternative is to say, “What can we do to supply an adequate environment for these children?” Our goal should be to alter expectations, so that boys will not grow up believing that sexual exploitation and the reputation thereby acquired is their main object, and girls will not think that sexual experimentation leading to the formation of independent households is their goal. Boys and girls will grow up thinking that romance and commitment and marriage are the goals they ought to seek. One possibility is to create arrangements whereby young girls who are pregnant, without a husband and who apply for welfare are told that they may have all the benefits provided they do not set up an independent household. This might mean living with their own parents. In some cases of course, their own parents are either abusive or have proved incompetent. One alternative would be improved adoption laws, making it easier to adopt, even trans-racially. Another alternative would be the use of family shelters or group homes in which the mother and her child would live, so that real adults who really understand how children have to be cared for will be supervising the behavior of young girls who in many cases do not know this. There would be no drugs, no alcohol, and no boyfriends on the premises.

You may think that this a radically new idea, but it is as old as the country itself. The Florence Crittendon Homes have been doing this for decades. There are family shelters in every part of this country. They have been doing it with private money, as charities. When the 800 pound gorilla called government walks into the middle of the room, it ignores history, ignores private initiatives, and says, “We know best.” Liberals want to give the women the money without any strings attached, conservatives want to make the women work for it. But neither ask, what will this do to the child? How can such children be saved? What lessons have we learned from history as to how to do it better?

I believe that welfare reform ought to be linked to crime control, and we ought to understand that the two are part of a indissoluble whole. I believe that this might help the acute American problem of juvenile violence. I am not convinced that it would help the worldwide problem of property crime. In other countries, we have many different kinds of welfare systems, yet they, too, have rapidly escalating rates of property crime and drug abuse. I have no idea how to deal with that large problem. That is a problem of western culture, at this particular time in its development.

Has western culture, born with the enthusiasm, excitement and insight of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, having given us economic prosperity, technological advancement, scientific invention, material progress, and personal freedom, exhausted its moral capital? Our critics in this world, in Islamic nations, and Confucian nations, are watching us, and they believe we have made the wrong decision. I don’t believe that we have made the wrong decision; I believe that a free people in a prosperous economy have enormous capacities for self-correction that are not available to less-free people. In the next century, we will find out whether I am right.

David J. Theroux:

Thank you Jim for a wonderful talk. We are very privileged to have with us today a panel of distinguished group of experts in the field of criminal justice. In your packets, you will find information on each of their backgrounds. Each has kindly agreed to speak briefly on Jim’s work and topics related to our theme today. Just as Jim’s new book, Crime, includes a diversity of views on the complex issue of crime, our panel today includes expertise from a range of backgrounds and approaches.

I would like to first introduce Judge Joseph Sneed, who is Circuit Judge for the U. S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. Formerly Deputy Attorney General for the U. S. Department of Justice, he is a graduate of the University of Texas Law School and Harvard University. Judge Sneed has been President of the Executive Committee for the Association of American Law Schools, and a member of the California Law Revision Commission, the Select Committee on Supreme Court Procedures, and the Independent Counsel Panel of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia.

Joseph Sneed

Professor Wilson, I want to congratulate you for being a true leader. My work primarily deals with the criminal side of jurisprudence, for which the criminal caseload in the federal courts has increased enormously since I came on the court in 1973. I too have very little hope that criminal law is going to change the second problem that Professor Wilson addressed, that is, the problem of the family. I believe his focus is correct, and that being on the children. I do think however he neglected to point out that part of the reason for the decline of the family goes back to the fact that it is no longer regarded as a sacrament in the religious sense. It is regarded as a status one can choose or not, as the case may be. It is also true that the family has ceased to be the kind of self-supporting unit that it was in rural times.

One looks at a family today and the mother may work, the father certainly works, and the child or the children, from time to time are cared for by others. No one in the family unit really depends upon the other. It is a kind of artificial gathering maintained by culture and habit, by tradition. We don’t have the glue that holds it together. Now, Professor Wilson is correct that the focus has to be upon children. And, I would suggest that the focus perhaps ought to be on the men. How do you get them back? Is it at all possible? I don’t know. But I do know they are not there now, whether some kind of subsidization of their attending to their duties would help, I don’t know. But I do know this, Professor Wilson is correct in his suggestion that we take the mother and the child and put them in an environment where the child can be protected and developed. And I would urge that the money we spend in this area ought to go in part to focusing on the man, but ultimately on the children. Care for them at public expense, see that they get pediatric care, see that they are screened for capacity as early as possible. And that they are followed and the bright ones are ensured admission into schools, not on an affirmative action basis, but on the mere fact that they are as good as anybody else.

David J. Theroux

Our next panelist is Joseph McNamara, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and for fifteen years, Chief of Police for the City of San Jose, California. He received his Ph.D. in public administration under Professor Wilson at Harvard University, and he has also served as Deputy Inspector of Crime Analysis for New York City and Police Chief for Kansas City, Missouri. The author of four books, his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications.

Joseph D. McNamara

Of course you have just heard one of Jim Wilson’s most closely held secrets—that I was one of his students. But I have to say that he was a rather odd professor at Harvard, for a member of the faculty: he actually taught classes. And I was one of those very fortunate people who had a chance to attend them and learn a lot of things that I thought were very realistic, compared to some of the more abstract, academic presentations related to crime and public policy. And Jim Wilson has of course continued to be outstandingly stubborn, writing in English and speaking in English all of these years, despite some of his colleagues.

I’d like to talk just for a minute about “community policing,” because as Professor Wilson said, this 800 pound gorilla of the federal government is now spending billions of dollars of your money on something called “community policing.” Last year, I was driving in that upscale community down the road, Palo Alto, and I pulled up to a red light and a moment later a police car pulled up next to me with a uniformed officer behind the wheel. I glanced over, and there on the door of the police car was a sign that said “Community Service Officer.” I looked at that sign for a moment and I had this tremendous temptation to ask the police officer, “Whom do the other officers serve?” However, there is one piece of expert advice that I have for you today, and that is: limit the amount of communication that you have with police officers when you are behind the wheel of a vehicle. So I never did ask him.

But I do a lot of research throughout the country in many cities, including San Francisco. After you ride with the officers on patrol for a while, you slip in the question, “What do you think of community policing?” And if you’ve properly convinced them that you can be trusted to speak the truth, they will quickly tell you, “Well, we answer the calls, and we do the police work, and the community police officers attend meetings.” So what we are finding is the credibility gap between this panacea that is being presented and the reality of policing.

Now, one is hard pressed to get a universal definition of community policing, despite the fact that billions of dollars have been allocated to this by the federal government. In general, they will say that it is a partnership with the community, and it is playing an active role. Well, in my experience both as police chief and since then, this role steps on a lot of toes. It steps on the toes of the police bureaucracy, and it certainly creates a great deal of uneasiness in city hall. My mayor, Tom McHenry, was very supportive of the community policing that we had in San Jose, but some of his colleagues on the city council were very threatened by it.

We’re talking today about the need for a grassroots kind of political movement that goes far beyond policing, and I believe as Professor Wilson indicates, that if we are going to see any significant change in crime in America, we are going to have to see some cultural changes, and that doesn’t come from government. It comes from the communities themselves.

The real challenge to government is to find ways to encourage those positive changes and not to be fooled by the easy, quick slogans that locking up more people, building more prisons are the answer. It certainly is part of the answer, and we need to do a much better job at focusing on the really violent offenders and making sure that they are locked up. My problem with the recent Crime Bill is that we are spending $30 billion subsidizing what by and large is inefficient law enforcement across America—cops making hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests a year. Marc Klaas is here, and I don’t wish to add to the grief of his personal experience, but the fact is that Marc, in America, you will find that there are some twenty times more officers assigned to traffic enforcement and ten times more officers assigned to investigate non-violent narcotics crimes than there are assigned to look for missing children. So at a time when America is concerned about violence, it seems to me that we need to pay a little better attention to what not just the police, but the other agencies of criminal justice are doing in setting priorities, and not merely to throwing money at these problems from Washington.

David J. Theroux

Our next speaker is Dr. William I. Koch, president of the Oxbow Group of companies and chairman of the Koch Crime Commission for the State of Kansas. The Commission was established by Governor Joan Finney in February 1994 to assess crime reduction and prevention strategies. A member of the Board of Directors for The Independent Institute, he received his Ph.D. from M.I.T., and he is the recipient of the 1994 Karl Menninger Award for his work in examining crime problems. But, Bill is probably most widely known for his dramatic win of the 1992 America’s Cup, and his historic current sponsorship of the All-Women’s Team in San Diego to defend the Cup.

William I. Koch

First of all, I will give you a report on the racing in San Diego. The women have a fast boat. They’re getting a faster one, which will be much faster than the any of the challengers or the other defenders, and the women are tough enough to win.

However, I would like to compliment Jim Wilson. All of his books and all of his articles are required reading for each member of our crime commission, primarily because he tries to look at crime in a rational way, not in abstract philosophical ways, and I believe that his approach is absolutely necessary to solving the problem of crime. There are a couple of issues I would like to augment in what he has said, and that is about the probability of getting caught as a criminal.

Our studies have shown that for every thousand crimes committed, only four hundred are reported to the police. Of those four hundred, only about 200 result in arrest. And of those 200 arrests, only 8 lead to a conviction. So, there exists a 99.2 percent chance that you will get away with a crime if you commit it. And just from a business standpoint in committing a crime, those odds are excellent ones, any day of the week.

Another matter that we found is also noteworthy. A lot of work has confirmed over and over that 7% of the criminals commit 70% of the crimes, and the average number of crimes committed per one of these criminals is 180. Furthermore in the State of Kansas, the rate of violent crimes committed by kids 8 to 14 years old is 32% compounded annually and the rate of violent crimes committed by kids 8 years old or younger in Kansas is growing at the rate of 22% compounded annually. So, we’re sitting on a time bomb with these kids. They are growing up thinking that crime and violence and theft is a way of life. And, they are going to become the 7% who are causing 70% of the crimes. Now, there is a real reason for this situation. Most of these kids are in gangs, and the gangs have become the family, run by “o.g.’s” (old gang members), who look at these young kids as a business opportunity because the juvenile justice system punishes kids much less than the adult justice system. The “o.g.’s” use these young kids to go out and perform all the heinous crimes. They’ve put in a system which is quite disturbing, in that the level of a kid’s “rep,” or reputation, depends entirely on the volume of the most heinous crime that he can commit.

The way we’ve approached the criminal justice system is absolutely absurd. The system has created both incentives for kids to commit crimes and for criminals to exist and thrive. And this problem exists, despite the availability of laws and tools in states around the country to solve all crime problems. And the reason it doesn’t get solved is bureaucratic turf and lack of individual accountability. For example, there is a law in the State of Kansas that schools and the Justice Department must share information, yet they don’t even talk to one another. In Kansas, the police have a computer system alright, but they have eight data bases that can’t interact with one another, and the entire data bank is at least 2 years out of date. As a result, the local police in Wichita, Kansas, not having current information available, hired a known felon from Nebraska to be one of their officers.

One other point that’s interesting about this lack of accountability is clear when we look at the police. We found that the police of Althea, Kansas, for example, spend only 7 percent of their time dealing with crime. The rest of the time was spent dealing with numerous bureaucracies. In fact, the police in Kansas view their customers not as the citizens, but as the state and federal bureaucrats who give them grants.

I firmly believe that the problem of crime can be solved. However, the government will not and cannot solve it. The people have to solve it. The people who have neighborhoods and who have families. And along these lines, I will mention just one example. Probably, the most effective group in fighting gangs around the country has been an organization in Baltimore called Grandmothers Against Gangs. When they sight a bunch of kids selling drugs on street corners, they run out with brooms and chase them away. No bureaucracy, no government grants, no political turf battles. If we can get the government out of our lives, we can make crime control a reality.

David J. Theroux

Thank you Bill. Our next speaker is Robert Higgs, research director for the Independent Institute. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation. His many books include Arms, Politics and the Economy, published by The Independent Institute, The Transformation of the American Economy, Competition and Coercion, and Crisis and Leviathan.

Robert Higgs

Crime is a terribly big and difficult subject and Professor Wilson has given us a number of very wise and provocative observations, particularly with regard to cultural decay and the role of the underclass in increasing the crime rates. I want to speak in the next few minutes about something that Professor Wilson only touched upon, but which I think is a central aspect of the crime problem plaguing the United States right now. Let me just string together three quotations, two from a chapter in the book Crime, edited by Professor Wilson, and one from his article which you have in your packets.

First from Boyum and Kleiman’s chapter in the book Crime, that says, “There are more than a million drug arrests a year in the United States. Without question, this imposes a tremendous burden on police, courts, and prisons.” It’s noted in Professor Wilson’s article that by 1994, 60 percent of all federal and about 25 percent of all state prisoners were there on drug charges. And finally, back in Boyum and Kleiman again, we have a statement that more crimes, and especially violent crimes, are committed under the influence of alcohol than under the influence of all illegal drugs combined. I’m trying to provoke your thinking about drugs and about whether the great problems we face with crime in the United States may have something to do with the fact that some drugs have been made illegal, even though tens of millions of Americans want to use these substances, and so we have an enormous black market flourishing. It’s clearly a market that cannot be suppressed without truly extraordinary and draconian means being taken. I only hope that such means will never be resorted to.

Back in the Vietnam War, opponents of the war sometimes urged that the way to get out of that quagmire was to declare victory and leave. And, I’d like to suggest that that might be a way to make a great contribution to the crime problem—declaring that these drugs and the use and transacting in them no longer be crimes. Professor Wilson noted that he would like to see the demand for drugs reduced and that one way to do that includes use of prisons. I’d like to just observe that tens of millions of people use drugs, if not regularly, at least episodically. And that the great, great majority of those drug users do not commit crimes, that placing drug users and drug dealers in prison is a kind of prior restraint, which itself should be a crime. It seems to me to run wholly against our legal traditions and our belief in due process by imprisoning people who deprive no one else of their rights merely by the use or transaction of drugs.

I believe that the war on drugs is doing tremendous harm to our Constitution in combination with asset forfeiture laws. We’ve created a disastrous set of incentives for police authorities all over the country, who sometimes mistakenly and sometimes by design are committing what in all rights ought to be classified as crimes themselves, but are not being so classified. So I believe that we’re moving toward a very ironic situation, which is we’re moving toward creating a Police State in the United States, without doing anything in the process to suppress the use of drugs and the transacting in drugs that ostensibly justifies this war. We ought to consider declaring victory and leaving.

David J. Theroux

Don B. Kates, Jr., is a San Francisco criminologist and civil rights and constitutional lawyer. A graduate of Yale Law School, he completed civil rights work in the South and with New York lawyer William Kunstler. He subsequently served as director of legal research with California Rural Legal Assistance and the San Mateo County Legal Aid Society. His books include Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out and Firearms and Violence.

Don B. Kates, Jr.

I want to expand on some remarks that Professor Wilson has made on the subject of gun control. Twenty-five years of serious research has forced criminologists, often very reluctantly, to four very negative conclusions about gun control. First, there is no persuasive evidence that having guns causes ordinary, law-abiding people to commit crimes, although it certainly does allow criminals to commit crimes that they were otherwise inclined to commit. It is a myth that murders occur because law-abiding people have a gun available when they get mad. Every homicide study shows that murderers are very extraordinary people with life-long records of felony, violence against those around them, drug abuse and dangerous accidents with guns, cars etc. It is also the case that the people who have fatal gun accidents have the same kind of background. What acquaintance-homicide actually means is not responsible people killing each other, but rather abusive men eventually killing the women they have beating on innumerable prior occasions, gangs and organized crime figures killing each other, drug addicts and drug dealers killing each other, and so on.

Second, the value of firearms in defending victims has been greatly underestimated. The best available evidence shows that guns are used approximately three times as often by law-abiding citizens to defeat crime, as by criminals to commit crime.

Third, the theoretical value of gun control is undercut by the difficulty of enforcement. Unfortunately, there was an almost perfectly inverse correlation between who we want to disarm, and who we can disarm. Yes, lots of law-abiding people will give up guns if we pass a law against guns. But, that will do no good at all.

What would do good would be to take the guns out of the hands of the criminals, but unfortunately, that is unlikely. The leading English analyst of gun control comments pessimistically, “In any society, the number of guns always suffices to arm the few who want to obtain and use them illegally.” So the fourth conclusion that criminological research forces upon us is that yes, if we have gun control laws that are targeted only at criminals, those laws can do some good, but they will only do a marginal amount of good because unfortunately, we cannot enforce them against criminals any better than we can enforce the rest of the laws that the criminals are violating.

I want to move briefly to another topic, drug laws, on which I wish most respectfully to disagree with Professor Wilson, and also to some extent with my predecessor, Dr. Higgs. The civil liberties costs of our failed drug war are prohibitive. I say that very reluctantly. I am a liberal, not a libertarian; I do not think that there is any liberty to take drugs. I do not think putting violent criminals in jail who take drugs is a bad thing. And, I would be absolutely delighted if we could abolish the drug culture. But we can’t.

David J. Theroux

Chris Killough is the chairman of Phoenix Operations, a private security firm based here in San Francisco. A former police officer in San Francisco and a correctional officer for the California Department of Corrections, Mr. Killough is the recipient of many awards for police work including the Citizen’s Meritorious Award from the City of San Francisco and the Proclamation Honor for Outstanding Contributions to the City and County of San Francisco.

J. Chris Killough

As a former police officer, it’s quite a humbling experience to sit up here with such a distinguished group of scholars. The best thing I can do is to speak a little bit from my own experience on the line as a prison guard, a correctional counselor, a deputy sheriff, a private security officer moonlighting while I was a police officers, and then for the last 8 years, the owner and the president of a rapidly growing security guard firm.

As was alluded to earlier, we are in a growth industry, and I don’t delight in that. Most of my life, I have spent dealing with the symptoms of crime. And it was only approximately three or four years after I had gotten involved as a peace officer that I realized that as a correctional officer, for example, we were only dealing with the symptoms of crime. When I was a correctional counselor at San Quentin, I studied what we used to call the B files, each case history of the men there, was about four inches thick.

And it was like a history of these men’s entire lives. And it was heartbreaking. What I found just experientially, proved to be true as I began studying the criminal problem. I started studying officially when the warden of San Quentin, George Sumner, commissioned me to write a history of the prison. So, I became very interested in the study of criminology and penology. What I found, and this has been reinforced by Professor Wilson, is that the vast majority of the people who I was dealing with had been unwanted children. At some point, they were just as innocent as my little two-year old boy is today, but nobody wanted them. These children grew up in fragmented, totally disenfranchised environments, and they became criminals. Now, I believe that that probably is the root cause for most of our crime, and AFDC is supporting this entire criminal process. But on the other hand, as Dr. Koch remarked, only about 7 percent of the people are committing most of the crimes. And so even in this huge underclass, it’s still a relatively small minority who are committing most of the crimes.

There has been some talk today of prisons. What good do prisons do? I thought that it was particularly important that Professor Wilson pointed out the observation that I hear so often, and that I find so infuriating. Do we have more people in prison in America than so many other places in the world? Well, there is one thing I know for sure, and that’s that while those people are in prison, they’re not committing crimes. When they’re out of prison, they’re committing crimes. I learned this from the prisoners who I worked with at San Quentin. They told me this, “The day I hit the streets, I’m going to start robbing again, because I want to get another shot of heroin.” Or cocaine, or whatever it is that they enjoyed so much that caused them to commit crimes every day of their life, when they were awake enough to resupply themselves with dope.

And that touches on the subject of legalization. I would like to hear more on this debate. I must frankly tell you that I am undecided on that issue. Most of the people I have dealt with in my life as a police officer were people who abused drugs or alcohol, so there is a big question there, and there might be something to the argument for legalization.

The other point that I want to touch on which I was particularly glad that Doctors Koch and McNamara both brought up, is the problem we are facing with the misuse of the bureaucratic law enforcement of our government to police crimes. What I have found in the San Francisco Police Department, for example, is that out of a few thousand police officers, we only have about three or four hundred officers on the streets at any one time. And there were only a total of 800 assigned to the street, of which about one third are supervisors.

When I was an officer, I was making about $25 an hour, not counting overtime. When I drove down Market Street on my way to this meeting today, I saw cops about every 3 or 4 blocks, and they’re all on overtime. What were they doing? They’re making sure that cars don’t drive into the holes in the street. Is it any wonder that we have a crime problem?

David J. Theroux

Thank you to all our panelists who have raised a wide range of important issues. Jim, do you have any comments you would wish to make?

James Q. Wilson

I’ll just make one remark. I don’t want to address the issue of drug legalization, because to do justice to either side of that debate, really takes an extended presentation. And neither Dr. Higgs had enough time, nor do I have enough time. A full cost accounting of the drug war has to take into account the damage that drugs do, including alcohol, and including the efforts to suppress them. That cost accounting is difficult to do. But it does not lead in my view unambiguously to the argument that the costs of the suppression vastly exceed the costs of the inevitably expanded use that I believe would come from their legalization. However, I believe that most people will make up their minds probably on the basis of their own philosophical predispositions.

David J. Theroux

Thank you again Jim and to our wonderful panel for their marvelous assistance. I want to thank each of you for joining with us today, and we look forward to seeing you again soon at another Independent Institute program.


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