June 25, 2009

Sustainable Safety

Ralph Carmona from Gold River thinks we "are losing all sense of local public governance" because law enforcement staff are getting a budget haircut along with everyone else. He suggests that street chaos will result. But according to Tom Tyler, "people obey the law if they believe it's legitimate." He suggests that law enforcement "would do much better to make legal systems worthy of respect than to try to instill fear of punishment."
There are 5 principles of effective deterrence; the classic requirements of severity, certainty, and speed of punishment have been identified by many, and more recently 2 more have been added: provision of acceptable alternatives (to crime) and the credibility of punishers to those punished. Without these factors, deterrence won't influence potential offenders.
When people are deprived of the basics of survival, such as healthy food and shelter, 2 of the most important alternatives to crimes (such as shoplifting bread in Gold River) are MIA. Making sure people have enough good food, and a place to get out of the heat and the cold, are much more at the "heart of Sacramento County's social compact."
Providing for the survival needs of people who are homeless, unskilled, and/or unemployed will be more effective at avoiding chaos than protecting current law enforcement budgets. Community gardens, affordable housing, and a role in society are surely more cost-effective ways to prevent crime. We could even declare a truce in the War on Drugs, perhaps the most counter-productive law enforcement strategy ever devised.
After all, when this country was founded, we did just fine without any cops at all.

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