Why most violent crime reductions plans don’t work and criteria for ones that do

Over the past thirty years many large municipalities and counties in the United States have experimented with violent crime reduction plans. These approaches have included, but are not limited to gun buyback programs, Weed and Seed, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, pulling levers, and numerous others. Some of them have been very well thought out, while others such as an emphasis on Stop and Frisk, have violated the constitutional rights of the citizens in the jurisdictions in which they were enacted.

Very few of these plans however, have led to their intended results.

A number of explanations can be advanced to explain why these violent crime reduction plans did not achieve their desired goals. Some of the reasons are more helpful than others.

To begin with, we might be quick to blame the lack of positive results on the poor training of law enforcement officers. This may explain some of the reasons why there were some initial missteps, but on the whole we can probably discount this idea.

In complimentary fashion, sometimes observers argue that there are not enough appropriate criminal justice practitioners (specifically law enforcement, prosecutors, probation officers, etc.) to properly do the job. Usually, however, it’s not because we don’t have sufficiently capable people to do the job properly. Resources can almost always be shifted around. It may be challenging but not impossible.

Sometimes violent crime reduction plans are criticized because they fail to consider the input from the communities that are most effected. In this day and age, few big city police departments or large county police departments make this kind of mistake. By the same token it must also be realized that the public sometimes has both unrealistic expectations of their law enforcement officers, and the strategies that they sometimes propose may be unconstitutional.

Another explanation is that the plans were not based on criminological theory, or on peer-reviewed criminal justice research, and were simply what some might call a preoccupation with a flavor of the day approach. In these cases, the mayor or county executive go to a conference, or somebody or some organization catches the ear of the city or county leadership, they hear about a violent crime reduction program that sounded promising (usually based on anecdotal evidence) in another jurisdiction that seems to be working, are appropriately persuaded (or smitten), and then suggest to the chief of police or head of public safety that it will work.

The two most important reasons, however, why violent crime reduction programs fail is because of the continuously changing leadership of the police department or the mayor, and the inflexibility of the plan. This is certainly the case with the city of Baltimore, where I work. Over the past two decades the city has had countless crime prevention plans, and approximately ten new commissioners of police. Shortly after the new well-meaning and intentioned police commissioner takes the job, they are suspended, resign or fired, and thus the plans that they were trying to implement are not given enough time to work before they are abandoned and something new is tried. This leads to decrease in morale among the rank and file and they approach each new crime fighting plan as one that will be soon abandoned. Thus for any new violent crime fighting approach that is going to be implemented, they need to sustain themselves past changing administrations.

In the case of inflexibility, police officers and commissioners must be given room to innovate in small doses. Crimes rates go up and down. Criminals come and go. They get arrested, go to jail or prison and some of them are released back into the community. Some of them become gainfully employed, while others get back in the game. Thus law enforcement needs to be flexible in order to adapt to changing circumstances. Thus stating that a crime reduction plan must work immediately or by one, two or three years’ time is unrealistic. We must give violent crime reduction plans time, we must continuously and systematically monitor their progress (preferably by outside experts), and quickly make appropriate adjustments when they do not appear to achieve their goals.

photo credit: Office of Public Affairs
title: VR12 Oakland – 48

Why most graduate school requirements do not adequately prepare doctoral students for the academic job market and what can be done about it?

Although I can’t really speak to the ability of doctoral education requirements to assist someone seeking a nonacademic job, most of what I was required to do in grad school, in order to earn my Ph.D., neither adequately prepared me to be a scholar, nor a professor.

Sure, I enrolled in and completed graduate seminars, submitted term papers, finished my written and oral exams, and wrote and defended a dissertation. I also served as a teaching assistant and helped the departmental secretaries register undergraduates each semester.

But I wasn’t really taught how to conduct scholarly research, teach a class, and engage in departmental, college, university and professional service. I had to learn these three pillars of a traditional academic career on my own, and primarily on the job.

I know I’m not unique. Now that I have been a full professor for some years, and having talked to numerous colleagues, I’m convinced that the graduate school requirements that most Canadian and American graduate students were subjected to were primarily poorly thought-out exercises, which graduate students had to do to leave the school with a Ph.D. in their hands.

Yet, there is still a widely held belief that the majority of tasks that graduate students are required to complete, somehow, perhaps by osmosis, helps them become scholars, instructors, or even service minded individuals.

There are probably four arguments that support the traditional practices: these methods are the only way we know how to best train graduate students to best prepare them for life beyond the protective shield of graduate school (aka we don’t have anything better to replace it); these practices were good enough for us and our contemporaries when we did our Ph.D., so you just have to buckle down, and grin and bear it too; and we are too busy, uncreative, etc. and thus we are going to continue to do as we’ve always done.

I would argue, on the other hand that, in general, the big four requirements (i.e., graduate seminars, term papers, comprehensive examinations, and writing dissertations) are a complete waste of time.

Graduate seminars, the ones that were in the catalogue, that appeared to interest me were rarely offered. And the ones that we were required to take or were available were mostly dull exercises. Few of the students who attended did the reading, and over time the instructors were about as bored of the process as the majority of students. I learned next to nothing. And what I was required to know, bore little resemblance to what I needed for my comprehensive examinations.

Sure, sometimes you can flip a term paper and after considerable revision submit it to a journal, hope that it will not incur a bench reject, and benefit from unbiased feedback, that allows you to dig deeper into your subject matter, and maybe even get the paper published.

Comprehensive exams were the ultimate garbage in garbage out process. It really doesn’t actually teach you how to read broadly in a way that is useful for your own future research and teaching. Despite focusing on three areas and learning the major literature in these fields, most of the jobs that I interviewed for asked me to teach subjects unrelated to this preparation.

Although I was able to successfully “publish out of my dissertation” and later get it published as a book, this does not always happen. Most people who complete the dissertation are by the end totally bored with the subject, only chose the subject for expediency sake, or the topic is too narrow to interest a book publisher.

Instead, we should seriously rethink our current model, subject the requirements, as some other graduate schools have, to empirical analysis, ditch or modify the ones that don’t produce the desired outcomes, and experiment with others.

Perhaps requiring our grad students to write grant proposals, get them funded, and then publish three or more articles in highly ranked peer review journals is better. (In fact, some places say three published articles – or documentation from editors indicating that the papers have been accepted for publication- equals a dissertation or something like that). After all, you need to do those things if you want to have any chance at a dwindling academic market that is hyper-competitive.

Hopefully this approach will minimize the hazing aspects of graduate education and have candidates better suited to a life as a scholar and professor.

Photo credit: Keith Lam
Graduation Ceremony

Fighting extradition back to the United States: The basics

Every day, across the United States, a percentage of people who are suspected of committing crimes, and know that they are wanted by law enforcement, (or have been released on bail or on their own recognizance) attempt to evade arrest, or delay proceedings, by relocating to other cities, counties, states, or countries.

Individuals who have fled may enter another country undetected, or be nabbed at the border by customs and immigration agents of the foreign state. If the suspect manages to bypass detection at the border, they may engage in another crime (typically a petty one like shoplifting), get arrested, and after their name (including other identifying details) is run through a database, the local police notice that there is an outstanding warrant for them back in the United States.

And so starts a long involved judicial process. The United States government is contacted, and an extradition warrant is issued. This situation is framed by the following facts.

It’s in the best interests of the foreign government to return the person to the United States to face trial as soon as possible, as it’s costing them resources (i.e., a prison cell, feeding the person, time for their legal department to process paperwork, etc.).

But they are not going to immediately ship the suspect back home if there is a possibility that the individual is going receive the death penalty or that the prison conditions in the state or federal bureau of prisons violate national, regional and international human rights standards that they are signatories to.

Most foreign nationals, who are in this situation, try to block their extradition back to the United States. If they are not able to do this themselves, which is usually the case, it’s primarily their loved ones (typically parents or spouses), or legal aid lawyers in the guest country who do this work.

The loved ones, (who are formally known clients), in the United States, usually have little experience in these matters and few economic resources try to find an interested and competent lawyer/law firm. Few lawyers/law firms, however, have experience in international extradition matters and the ones that do can be quite pricey. This can set up lots of frustrating dynamics for the suspects, loved ones and the lawyers. In general, in these matters, you get what you pay for. If the law firm that is chosen lacks expertise it will mean a lot of wasted resources (i.e., time, money, emotional anguish, etc.).

Once the client makes a decision about which legal counsel to use, the lawyer/law firm takes a retainer, and then starts gathering evidence and filing forms. During this process, they may partner with a lawyer or law firm in the foreign country. They may also subcontract with a number of experts (i.e., death penalty, corrections, psychologists/psychiatrists, doctors, etc.)

One of the ways they do this is by delaying the process as much as legally possible. In this situation, delay is your friend. It gives the defense more time to put on a spirited defense.

The passage of time also increases the possibility that memory of witnesses to the alleged crime/s will fade, and they may forget important details of the case; they may even pass away or in the case of law enforcement, may change jobs, quit policing, or be convicted of a crime and thus their reliability as a witness may be jeopardized. All this works typically works to the accused benefit.

If there is a possibility that the suspect may be sentenced to the death penalty, then the competent lawyer may also be able to negotiate this off the table.

On the other hand, clients sometimes hire a legal professional who is not a good fit to assist them. This scenario often leads to bad advice, poor legal strategy, considerable confusion, unnecessary emotional turmoil, and wasted resources.

On rare occasions the defense can prevent the extradition of an individuals who is wanted for extradition from being sent back to the United States.

But the reality is that sooner or later the person under whose name the extradition has been issued, will most likely be returned to the United States to face trial. A competent lawyer/law firm, with the assistance of appropriate subcontracted expertise, however, can manage the process in order to minimize the legal consequences that the accused will eventually face.