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December 20, 2006

How the war on terror impacts the politics of crime

This article from the Washington Post discussing the latest crime statistics from the FBI spotlights ways in which the war on terror seems to be impacting the politics of crime.  In the not-too-distant past, any increase in crime rates would usually lead to calls for tougher sentencing laws.  But now the new crime data is leading to criticisms of shifting priorities:

A surge in violent crime that began last year accelerated in the first half of 2006, the FBI reported yesterday, providing the clearest signal yet that the historic drop in the U.S. crime rate has ended and is being reversed....

The numbers are certain to increase pressure on the Bush administration, whose detractors say local police concerns have been slighted by the focus on homeland security and counterterrorism. The Justice Department inspector general's office has reported sharp declines in the number of FBI agents and investigations dedicated to traditional crimes since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In addition, the International Association of Chiefs of Police says that law enforcement programs at the Justice Department have been cut by more than $2 billion since 2002 and that overall funding for such programs has been reduced to levels of a decade ago. "We've been looking at some pretty discouraging numbers, and we've always been concerned that as funding decreases, crime rates will increase," said Gene Voegtlin, the association's legislative counsel.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston who has been critical of the Bush administration's crime-fighting strategies, said the overall rise in violent crime should be expected given dramatic cuts in assistance to local police and simultaneous increases in the population of males in their teens and 20s. "We have many high-crime areas where gangs have made a comeback, where police resources are down and where whatever resources there are have been shifted to anti-terrorism activity," Fox said. "It's robbing Peter, and maybe even murdering Peter, to pay Paul."

Justice Department officials have repeatedly rejected such criticism, arguing that the causes and trajectory of the crime increase is still unclear.  Nonetheless, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has launched a series of anti-drug and anti-gang initiatives at Justice, and he acknowledged at a crime conference in Boston last week that local police are struggling with "increased responsibilities" since Sept. 11, 2001.

December 20, 2006 at 08:28 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston who has been critical of the Bush administration's crime-fighting strategies, said the overall rise in violent crime should be expected given dramatic cuts in assistance to local police"

I think this is partisan BS. Much of the reduction he's talking about are to the federal Byrne grant program that funds Tulia-style drug task forces. In Texas we abolished those completely and saw no evidence of such a violent crime correlation. Much of that money goes to rural areas, anyway, not "high-crime areas where gangs have made a comeback."

$2 billion is the cost of one week in Iraq, so sure there are opportunity costs. But pegging violent crime increases to these narrow budget cuts is foolishness, mere guesswork with no empirical basis, IMO.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Dec 24, 2006 10:10:14 AM

Unfortunately the real crime has been terrorism politics in three elections running. That misplaced resources because of terrorism politics may end up exacerbating crime is an extremely grotesque irony.

Posted by: Criminal Terrorism Politics | Apr 12, 2008 9:51:49 PM

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