Now that most people have wandered back home after the holidays, it’s time to crank up the new year.
We mark this transition with appropriate hopes, resolutions and predictions. In keeping with tradition, I’ve put together a list of what I consider the top five public safety priorities this year. These are issues that contribute to the violence, theft and a rate of incarceration that has failed to diminish crime while it drains our wallets.
5 Public Safety Ideas for 2013 (in no particular order)
Gun buy-back: For all of the talking points tossed around by gun rights advocates in recent weeks, there are many, many firearms in the possession of people who do not a) store guns safely; b) train properly; c) develop a safe tactical plan. Irresponsible owners are more likely to have their weapons stolen. These often wind up in the hands of gang members, curious children or unstable individuals with a propensity for violence.
The best place for these weapons is a depository at the local police department. Gun buy back programs have been a successful, if expensive method to reduce the street level availability of firearms. In what may be the only silver lining to the national tragedy in Newtown, The Atlantic Journal reports that buy back programs are surging. Our own police agencies should step up, take the lead and provide a suitable outlet for the community’s good will.
Mental health courts: Individuals with psychological disorders are the veritable square peg in the round hole of the criminal justice system. The rise of mental health courts, which includes a Seattle program, follows the successful model of drug courts. When offenses are linked to mental illness, this program redirects offenders into community-based treatment where they are more likely to stay medicated and out of trouble.
Pierce County currently spends money it can’t afford housing mentally ill offenders- it’s time to follow Seattle’s lead and set up our own mental health court.
Home detention for drug offenses: Speaking of budget-busting incarceration, many cash-starved agencies have already transitioned to home monitoring. With jail costs running upwards of $100 per day for an inmate, the ankle bracelet has proven to be a cheaper, mostly palatable option. As overcrowding forces jail supervisors to release prisoners on a daily basis, the need to expand this service – especially for nonviolent drug offenses – should be evident to even the most conservative chiefs and sheriffs.
Hands off DOC: If ever there was a time for public supervision of violent individuals, that time is now. The Department of Corrections, through its community corrections officers, is responsible for monitoring felons on early release from prison. The problem is that few people appreciate their work, especially when DOC is often named as the plaintiff in multi-million dollar judgments for allegedly failing to monitor a killer.
Police officers, who often work side-by-side with CCO’s, know the real story. Tasked with babysitting the worst of the worst, most CCO’s have a huge caseload of offenders and too little time. The spiraling cost of lawsuits against this agency have created a vicious cycle, where fewer dollars means fewer officers to supervise an increasing number of offenders on supervision.
Tort reform and a resurgent DOC are necessary to ensure that violent felons released into the community have the opportunity and the oversight to stay out of trouble.
Proper implementation of marijuana dispensaries: As everyone who didn’t sleep through 2012 knows, marijuana is legal in Washington. The next major hurdle is to set up a professional system for dispensing this drug without involving organized crime or without legitimizing shady businesses that attract the criminal element. Hopefully, the legislature will follow the tight script set up in I-502 and finish what they started.
These five recommendations address the most vital problems facing modern day law enforcement. Gun violence is an epidemic, and increasingly is committed at the hands of disturbed individuals. Keeping tabs on violent criminals, both inside and outside prison walls, is a costly but significant topic for police administrators concerned with community safety amid shrinking budgets.
No, these are not the only challenges we face at the beginning of 2013. But it’s a start.