Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: crime


Stop outrageous lawsuits against crime victims

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

It’s bad enough that Larry Shandola gunned down Paula Henry’s husband, Robert, in a Tacoma parking lot, then tormented her for five years as authorities sought enough evidence to get him convicted in 2001.

But now, as he serves a 31-year sentence for the 1995 killing, Shandola has found a way to keep on hurting Henry. He’s suing her, two of her friends and a victim’s advocate for $100,000 each, alleging that they violated his privacy rights and inflicted emotional distress.

The lawsuit is outrageous, but it’s accomplishing exactly what Shandola probably hopes it would do: allow him to continue inflicting pain and suffering from behind prison walls. Read more »


Traffic cameras can be crime-busters

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Seattle police think a red-light camera might have helped catch whoever killed 21-year-old Nicole Westbrook in a drive-by shooting last spring. They figured someone who has that much disregard for human life might also disregard traffic lights, and the camera might have captured a license plate number.

But state law prohibits access to those cameras for anything other than issuing a traffic citation, so Westbrook’s killer is still at large.

That should change. Society’s interest in identifying killers far outweighs protecting the privacy of a red-light runner’s license plate number – on a public street at that.
Read more »


Mental health court could cut jail costs

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

In the aftermath of the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., most of the focus has been on guns – and how easy it is for disturbed individuals to obtain them. But that tragedy – as well as earlier mass killings – have also shone a light on weaknesses in mental health treatment in the United States.

In the South Sound, high-profile tragedies in the past few months have revealed the difficulties in getting help for troubled family members: the murder of Rob Meline of Tacoma, allegedly by his mentally ill son, as well as the shooting incident in a store near Wauna. A woman whose family had tried to get mental health treatment for her has been charged with killing David Long and injuring two other men.

Too often, mental illness in this country is something that is “treated” behind bars rather than in therapeutic settings. A 2006 Department of Justice study found that 64 percent of jail inmates and 56 percent of state prison inmates have mental health issues. Mentally ill inmates cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $9 billion a year.
Read more »


Perception vs. reality in Pierce County’s crime trends

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

When it comes to violent crime, appearances can deceive.

Sometimes it feels as if every third or fourth infamous murder in the entire nation has a Pierce County connection.

Most recent is what may be the single worst U.S. war atrocity since Vietnam – the slaughter of 17 villagers in Afghanistan. It happened on the other side of the world, but the accused is a Lake Tapps man, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Before that came Josh Powell’s immolation of himself and his two sons. Before that, Maurice Clemmons’ murder of four Lakewood police officers. Before that, David Brame; there can’t be many police chiefs of mid-sized American cities who’ve killed their wives and committed suicide.

Before that, Beltway Sniper John Allen Muhammad. All the way back to Tacoma native Ted Bundy.

Such nation-shocking killings – combined with the less spectacular homicides, home invasions, robberies and assaults – can leave the impression of a crescendo of crime.

Diminuendo is more like it, looking at the actual statistics.

Every year about this time, The Washington State Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs releases an immense summary of crimes in Washington’s cities and across the state.

Comparatively, Tacoma and Pierce County never come off looking good in these reports.
Read more »


Tough conclusions about race and crime

State Supreme Court justices Richard Sanders and Jim Johnson sailed into a squall a couple weeks ago when they disputed claims that racism explains the disproportionate rate of black imprisonment. The remarks prompted the Seattle Times to withdraw its endorsement of Sanders’ re-election almost as fast as NPR fired Juan Williams.

We wound up editorializing that a single-minded focus on racism can obscure more concrete problems, such as poverty and lack of legal representation, that might have concrete solutions. Centuries of institutional racism – especially slavery and Jim Crow – may have created the problem, but remedies must be found in the here-and-now.

The most ferocious challenge to the racism-only paradigm I’ve run into comes from Heather MacDonald of the conservative Manhattan Institute, who published a statistically dense rebuttal in the Spring 2008 issue of City Journal. Some of her points:

• Criminals strongly tend to be fingered by victims of the same race.

• Multiple studies by liberal scholars have found that conviction rates are driven by actual crimes, not bias.

• The disparity in federal penalties for crack and cocaine possession, sometimes cited as a factor in disparate racial imprisonment rates, has an almost negligible effect. In any event, black leaders originally called for the crackdown on crack: “It takes shameless sleight of hand to turn an effort to protect blacks into a conspiracy against them.”
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Why let thugs practice shooting? Or give gun permits to the witless?

Last weeks’ fatal shooting of Lisa Marie Melancon – and a lot of other casual and criminal gun play that happens around here – has me thinking about two possible ways to save a few lives.

Start with the casual.

Insane as it is, some otherwise law-abiding people handle guns sloppily or pull them out in disputes that could either could have been avoided or don’t involve a credible claim of self-defense. In a particularly stupid case, one of last year’s candidates for the Puyallup City Council drew a pistol in a school parking lot while arguing with someone he saw dent someone else’s car.

That’s like using a torpedo to settle a dispute over fishing rights.

You can’t pass a law against foolishness, but you can make a dent in ignorance. Some other states don’t issue permits carry a concealed weapon unless applicants have taken a serious course in firearms safety and the laws governing self-defense. Some require that you actually know which end the bullet comes out.

Washington’s instruction requirement: zero. To get a permit in this state, you merely have to fill out an application and not have record of criminality or involuntary commitment. What reasonable objection could there be to making the permit contingent on a few hours of safety training?

Then there’s the criminal issue.
Read more »


Criminals, too, love the Internet

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

You can’t blame the Web for the brutal home invasion that left an Edgewood father dead Wednesday – but you can’t ignore its role, either.

The murder was inhuman and purely gratuitous. The four killers reportedly tied up James Sanders and his wife, forced them to the floor, then began pistol-whipping their 14-year-old son in front of them. When Sanders struggled helplessly to protect the boy, the intruders shot him repeatedly.

Craigslist was the matchmaker that brought killers and victims together.

Sanders had advertised an heirloom diamond ring and other valuables on the site; a woman responded and reportedly said she wanted to buy the ring for Mother’s Day. Sanders – described by all as a caring, devout Christian – trusted her with his home address. The “sale” turned into the robbery-murder.

Some other reports of Craigslist-enabled crime in recent weeks, all from The Associated Press:

• Hartford, Conn.: “A Connecticut man who was feuding with his neighbor targeted her in an explicit online posting that invited strangers to a rowdy orgy with a bored soccer mom, police said. …”
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Washington pays twice for parolee trade deficit

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The assassinations of four Lakewood police officers last month has revealed many ugly truths about the criminal justice system.

The latest: Cop killer Maurice Clemmons, who moved here as an Arkansas parolee, is far from the only problem foisted on Washington by other states.

Washington, it would seem, is a popular destination for ex-cons. As The News Tribune’s Sean Robinson reported Monday, the state has responsibility for supervising 2,393 offenders from other states. But only 1,046 of this state’s offenders are doing their probation in other states.

Read more »