Outstater: The Crime-Fighting Pose
by Craig Ladwig
The times are too serious to take potshots at politicians for being politicians. But the constant and empty promises to “fight” for us on issues ranging from ethanol pumps to unisex bathrooms to mortgage rates beg comment. And when it comes to an issue in which the allusion of fighting is apt — crime — they are frozen in a pose.
Yes, they launch training programs and expand the rolls of the local police union. That, however, has not lowered citizen angst. And they may throw statistics at us like confetti but at certain times and at certain places, increasingly in our homes and businesses, we are certain we are unsafe. Murder rates in select American cities are from 46 to 83 percent higher than last year. We drive through our own town and can see how crime taxes to despair those on the economic margin.
Faced with this reality, outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis dedicated his administration to finding ways to provide more mental-health resources and more food for needy children in high-crime areas. He proclaimed this the “more holistic” way to address crime. Those who would succeed him vie only in their agreement with his approach.
And in Fort Wayne, with a steady rise in murder and robbery, the mayor’s “district-policing” system seems to work best in the district encompassing a favorite stool at a northside tavern — there and the district with a shiny new baseball stadium and other crony-capitalist venues. His challenger takes a more broad-based approach but makes sure to throw a “community-policing” bone to those who treat their officers as armed sociologists.
Such tippy-toeing is understandable — at least if you are an ambitious political consultant with the morals of a squid. Fighting crime uses up political energy that otherwise could leverage self-advancement. And it’s hard work; you have to involve yourself in the messy business of actually identifying, arresting and prosecuting criminals, who, to your opponent’s glee, will be referred to as “youth” or even “kids” in the morning newspaper. You will hear the word “racist.” You will have to grapple with gun “control.”
And after all of this, your efforts will seem for naught. That’s because the benefits of crime-fighting are economically obtuse and delayed to the point of political invisibility. Michael Barone, a political analyst, notes that the current resurgence of the once dangerous South Bronx, a heroic feat accomplished over a quarter-century by two successive administrations, is taken for granted by the current generation of New York voters.
Barone critiques a New York Times report on the point: “Left unmentioned (in the newspaper’s account of the resurgence) is the five-letter word that explained the ‘blight’ and ‘burning’ of the South Bronx — crime. Very high rates of homicide, robbery and burglary, committed almost entirely by young males, caused law-abiding citizens to flee the South Bronx whenever they could.”
Now that investment is returning, the long-suffering citizens there who could only watch as crime rates destroyed their property values — a hidden cost of mock crime-fighting — should not be begrudged huge profits. “Good luck to all involved in this virtuous cycle,” Barone cheers.
Without such wise leadership, the high-crime sections of Indianapolis and Fort Wayne might not experience any cycle whatsoever, only a flat-line malaise. If so, our prospects are grim, says political scientist James Q. Wilson, quoted in “Still Pretending to Help,” the current issue of The Indiana Policy Review:
“If there are no fathers who will help raise their children, acquire jobs and protect their neighborhoods; if boys become young men with no preparation for work; if school achievement is regarded as a sign of having ‘sold out’ to a dominant culture; if powerful gangs replace weak families — if all these things are true, then the chances of reducing by plan and in the near future the crime rate of low-income youth are slim.”
It will require true political grit to minimize the damage, let alone inspire a change. We should stand ready after the elections next month to applaud those politicians, once in office, who actually do fight for us on this all-important issue.
Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.