Background: Reducing Crime
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The report released yesterday by the FBI is based on crimes reported to police and measures eight serious crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, and assault, along with the property crimes of burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Overall, these crimes decreased 2 percent nationwide last year, with violent crimes down 4 percent. The drop reflected, among other factors, some new policing strategies. It’s happening in big cities all across the country. Law enforcement officials experimenting with new ways to fight the war on crime.
LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL: We found out that not only the drug dealers not only deal drugs, they drink beer in public. When we stop them and we give them tickets, and do warrant checks in the field, what happens is, is that the drug dealers who have probably more of a probability to use weapons than anybody else know that their probability of being stopped now for minor violations is much greater, therefore, they carry less guns. So that brings the shooting down.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In New York City, police are cracking down on even minor infractions, issuing tickets for drinking in public, urinating on the sidewalks, or vending without a license. Every week, police hold strategy sessions looking at crime statistics in different parts of the city. Then they move personnel where police are most needed.
LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL: Can we weave this into other strategies to strengthen them?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It’s part of a comprehensive effort New York has been making to reduce violent crime. And while other factors may be involved, last year, according to the new FBI report, the city saw the number of murders drop 25 percent, robberies 18 percent, and overall serious crime defined by the FBI as involving violence and property, 15 percent. It’s the same story in Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. Since 1992, Houston has put 1,000 more cops on the street, and since then, violent crime has steadily decreased. In fact, in American cities with a population of more than 1 million, the decrease in serious crime last year was 6 percent. Nationally, murders fell 8 percent. But some say the drop in crime figures is not a cause for rejoicing. Austin, Texas police chief Elizabeth Watson.
ELIZABETH WATSON, Police Chief, Austin: I am not at all comfortable that because the crime is down today that it’s going to stay down tomorrow, that it is in any way a measure of police effectiveness unilaterally because my feeling is that the crime problem of tomorrow is growing up today on the streets of America here and elsewhere. We have a really serious problem with youth crime.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Indeed, the most recent FBI report on youth crime showed that the number of teenagers arrested for murder rose 150 percent from 1985 through 1994 at a time when the teenage population of the country was declining. That’s one reason Austin instituted a daytime curfew for kids in August 1994. Mayor Bruce Todd spoke to Correspondent Betty Ann Bowser.
BRUCE TODD, Mayor, Austin: What we have is a curfew that says to the police officers that they’re allowed to question and pick up any child who is not in school without a valid excuse. Teachers have told me stories about kids coming back into class and almost reintroducing themselves to the teacher because they haven’t been there in two or three weeks.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Police say that so far the curfew has resulted in a significant reduction in burglaries, shoplifting, and auto theft, but in Jacksonville, Florida, where huge numbers of teenagers are being tried as adults, overall juvenile crime is down 30 percent.
SPOKESMAN: Where a lot of people feel that if a teenager or juvenile commits a crime, nothing will happen to him, in this jurisdiction, as you know, something will happen to you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Since 1991, State Attorney Harry Shorstein has been trying violent juvenile offenders as adults, and when they are convicted, most are sentenced to the Duvalle County Jail, where they will serve six months to a year of hard time. They are housed in a separate area at the jail from adult prisoners, but there’s no TV, no cigarettes.
HARRY SHORSTEIN, Florida State Attorney: It is an adult prison that truly does incarcerate them and take away their rights. We continue to send the wrong message to these children. What we’re telling them is that there are no consequences for criminal activity, and what’ll happen is they’ll continue to build a record that will not give them any punishment until the record essentially consumes them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Violent juvenile crime is down elsewhere too. In Houston, for example. But the trend nationwide remains ominous.