OEDEL: Reducing our crime

May 11, 2014 

Last week, I sketched some outlines of Macon’s crime problem (it’s big), and suggested that hard sentencing for questionable crimes may counterproductively bolster gang cohesiveness.

Recognizing that rebuilding families, repairing morals, conjuring edu-miracles and turbocharging the economy are beyond our immediate capabilities, what might work better to reduce Macon’s crime rate now?

We might begin with improved analysis of crime. When former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram took office there, she was amazed by the dearth of data about what crimes were being committed, by whom, when and where.

Milgram advocates “moneyballing” crime information -- thoughtfully cataloging the most detailed data you can collect -- to help crime fighters see the whole field, identify key issues, measure trends and deploy enforcement more strategically. Milgram has a good TED talk on the web that alert Telegraph reader Lee Martin suggested as relevant for Macon. Mercer law school hopes to invite Milgram to Macon to share her insights.

After sizing up the biggest criminal categories, hottest spots, most dangerous times, most-frequently implicated suspects and various combinations of such data, we might then target the highest enforcement priorities. But we can already identify the highest priority of all. It’s something relatively mundane, something preventive. It’s certainly not drug-law enforcement.

People in the affected neighborhoods rank one need tops -- to disarm young men and boys who are menacingly, unlawfully carrying concealed weapons. We widely agree on that goal. Still, achieving it will take finesse.

For instance, we might even try to get the gangs to go along. That’s not as silly as it sounds, because gang members themselves are at gravest risk of dying from other gangsters’ use of unlawfully concealed weapons. If gang leaders could agree to accept mutual disarmament, other crime rates also would likely plummet.

Of course, gangs can’t be expected to monitor disarmament themselves, but it might help if the gangs and their enablers would concede without dispute that police can legitimately search for and confiscate unlawfully carried weapons in hot zones and suspicious circumstances.

Georgia’s new gun bill may disable police from detaining people for weapons license checks, but there’s no law against confiscating weapons concealed by young people without licenses.

Right now, too many of our officers are scared badgeless, reduced to processing speeding tickets, writing reports after crimes occur and generally proving ineffectual. You can’t really blame the officers. Ill-conceived, poorly executed challenges to the baddest guys in dangerous places at dark times can get an officer killed in a flash. That happened to Bibb Deputy Sheriff Joe Whitehead in 2006. Whitehead was shot dead by drug dealer Damon Jolly during a 1 a.m. no-knock raid on Jolly’s gang’s Unionville lair. Perhaps recalling Whitehead, Macon-Bibb sheriffs are wary of confronting suspected gangsters.

Nonetheless, more predictable, routine police engagement with citizens, including suspected gangsters, remains critical to effective policing. Gun searches can be done safely. New York City proved that with its no-tolerance policy for small infractions, and its related stop-question-frisk procedure. Using that protocol, New York, in short order, went from among the most dangerous big cities to among the least dangerous.

Japan’s “Koban” police-box program further demonstrates the value of a routine, consistent, permanent police presence. Koban installs officers in small, visible, fixed locations in problematic areas. Its results are excellent.

Longstanding Village Green residents in Bloomfield claim that devoted policing there initiated during Jim Marshall’s mayoral administration meaningfully enhanced that neighborhood’s security. When subsequent administrations spurned that approach as racially insensitive, crime crept back.

If the criminal hot spots are where we expect, we might fairly introduce police boxes or bike-riding beats in neighborhoods from East Macon to Bloomfield, Houston Avenue to Mumford Road and places like Unionville in between.

Bibb’s individual deputies need to be known better by our citizens. Our citizens are overwhelmingly law abiding. Everyone should feel free from the terror of a few gangsters’ illegally concealed guns.

In sum, it makes sense to admit and study our crime problem, meanwhile visibly deploying and concentrating police in the hottest spots -- with emphasis on confiscating unlawfully concealed guns.

David Oedel teaches at Mercer University Law School.

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