Top police officials would reply to rise in violent crime
"I'm not sure what the answer is, but there are clearly just too many guns in circulation," reports Chief Ortega. The Phoenix police department's top officer says exploring the social causes of crime --But he sees that as a long-term exercise and a "luxury we can no longer afford."
He is a big supporter of more community-based volunteer programs. Phoenix has initiated a "block watch program" and some 1,000 neighborhoods are participating. Residents, after meeting with police officials for guidance, set up their own patrols. Police provide the groups with lists of suspected criminals, and the kinds of automobiles they drive. Residents are told not to take enforcement action themselves, but to notify police in the event of a crime.
One neighborhood in northeast Phoenix plagued by property crimes has had a blockwatch for two months, and burglaries are down 50 percent compared to the same period last year, according to Ortega. Phoenix also is finding that greater visibility of police officers is an effective deterrent. Ortega has assigned 5 percent of his officers to a duty he calls "preventive patrol." The officers respond only to emergency calls and spend the rest of their time cruising, providing random traffic checks, and looking for potential problems -- all with the aim of keeping a very high visibility. Bruce R. Baker chief of police, Portland, Ore.
"Anyone who anticipates an overnight cure for the problem [of violent crime] is not being realistic," says Chief Baker.
"it's the American way to propose instant solutions," he continues. "and there aren't any."
But there are immediate steps that can be taken, he says, including educational classes on self-protection. In Portland, for example, police have sponsored an aggressive program on rape protection -- a program which Baker says is at least partially responsible for the city's slight decline in rapes last year, compared to a 13 percent increase in other major crimes.
Other self-protection steps, he says, could include self-defense classes or the use of the disabling chemical Mace -- but only with proper, police-supervised instruction in the case of the latter.
Chief Baker also endorses the concept of neighborhood watch groups, but like his colleagues elsewhere, he warns against vigilanteeism: "There's a big difference," he notes, "between people taking the law into their own hands and serving as an augmentation to the police."
Detention facilities in Portland, he says, are so overcrowded that there have been times when sentenced criminals have been put on probation rather than in prison because there is no room, and even occasions when corrections institutions have asked police officers to issue citations instead of making arrests because detention facilities are packed to the limit.
At the same time that the public complains of what it perceives as laxness in the judicial system, he notes, Oregon voters last November refused to pass a state measure that would have authorized spending up to $85 million for increasing the number of prisons.
"We're just going to have to recognize as a nation that we can't ignore the prison situation," he says. "We have to face the fact that we're going to have to spend some money." William B. Kolender chief of police, San Diego
"Any officer in his right mind would like to see guns off the street," says Chief Kolender. "But you have to face the fact that, administratively and politically, it's virtually impossible."
One suggestion -- admittedly controversial, says Kolender -- would be licensing a handgun owner in much the same way states issue licenses to automobile drivers.
"In order to drive a car," he says, "you have to know the legal, safety, and moral aspects of driving a car. It should be the same thing with a gun -- people would be licensed by the state in the same way.
"And if they violate any of those aspects --legal, moral, or safety -- in using their gun, then the license could be taken away, just as it is with a driver's license," he says.
Since 1975, the San Diego Police Department and the local community college have been offering a class on handgun use in terms of the legal, moral, and safety aspects outlined by Kolender. There has been a "big demand" for the class, says the chief, who would like to see such a class become mandatory on a statewide level for would-be handgun owners.
Like many of his counterparts across the state, the San Diego police chief is harsh in his criticism of the California Supreme Court, which he contends has focused its judicial concern on the rights of the individual at the expense of the rights of society.
"We have to look at the system," he says, "There are so many loopholes, it just keeps justice from happening." Kenneth Harms chief of police, Miami
Violent crime will not be reduced "until we as a country are willing to deal in a very harsh manner" with the guilty, asserts Chief Harms. This involves abandoning the "great American myth" that rehabilitation is possible in prisons. Instead, "harsh, physical --but humane -- sentences" are needed with greater use of "road gangs and some form of physical labor," he says.
The potential criminal must get the message that "jails are not a nice place to be."
(Though the Texas prison system was recently ruled to be unconstitutional in its harsh treatment of prisoners, Chief Harms praises that system. A revamping of the constitutional rights of prisoners is needed, he says.)
"The average person serving a 15-year sentence in Florida gets out in less than 40 months. The average sentence or possenssion, distribution, or use of hard narcotics is 1.3 years," says Harms. That is "not much" considering the amount of money drug dealers make, he says.
"People are committing murder and getting away with it. Swift, severe sanctions" --including the death penalty -- are needed, according to the Miami chief. (Florida has a death penalty but it has seldom been carried out.)
"We've never given capital punishment a realistic measure against other effects. It is used so infrequently, you can't measure its effect."
"The [criminal justice] system we're operating now," he says, "is ineffective." Of some 450 persons arrested in Miami between April 1980 and February 1981, about 350 had a total of about 3,600 arrests on record (an average of 10 each). But "for every crime they were arrested for, they [ probably] perpetrated five times that many."
Chief Harms favors "gun management as opposed to gun control." This would include (1) registration of all weapons; (2) certification, or licensing for possession of weapons; (3) a process to be sure the owner knew the legal and moral implications of weapons use; and (4) fees paid by owners to cover insurance costs of anyone they might kill.
In the courtroom, "nonunanimous juries" should be allowed. "Why should we have to have 12 people in a group all agreeing to do the same thing." The US Constitution probably does not guarantee the need for unanimous juries, according to Harms.
He also believes the public should support legislation allowing easier introduction of evidence obtained by a search warrant even if the warrant has a "technical" violation. Jack Warren acting police chief, Birmingham, Ala.
"Guns were made but for one reason," says acting chief Warren, "to kill people or animals. As long as we allow people to carry [hand]guns on the street and in their cars, people are going to continue to be killed . . . and some of them are going to be Presidents."
The shooting of a President gets national publicity but "the poor little man on the street that gets shot with a gun, . . . that gets [only] local publicity."
"Police and soldiers are the only ones that should carry guns on the street." The right to bear arms was written into the Constitution during a time when "there was a need for it" due to a lack of soldiers and police.
Legislation is needed, says Warren, requiring that "if you have a gun and are caught, you should go to jail for a year." (Some states already have or are considering such measures.)
Americans must support "simple discipline" -- in the military, police, and schools, says Warren. "Your police departments are fighting wars. They have to be [more] disciplined. They are in some communities."
Birmingham's police force, now at full strength with 700 officers, has "muscle" but not "unlimited funds." To get the most out of funds, some department offices have been combined with others.
"You change your tactics" with the need. Among tactics that can be used to fight violent crime: adding personnel to the homocide units, "saturating" high-crime areas with patrolmen, greater use of decoys -- even hanging a police hat in a conspicuous place in some stores in high-crimes areas. E. W. Chapman director of police, Memphis
"The [criminal justice] system is not working," says Mr. Chapman, who is a member of President Reagan's national advisory commission on law enforcement. "The system itself is like a huge gristmill that had been loaded with corn and the wheels are slowed down."
"Police departments will never curb crime," he says. "They protect and apprehend. The solution to crime lies in the courts and corrections."
Criminals are "coming back out [of prison] to repeat their crimes over and over again.We can't have a cop on every corner -- we don't want a police state."
Chapman advocates greater use of the death penalty to deter crime. "To have it [capital punishment] and not use it is worse than not having it at all. We've got to put a few people to death."
Certain crimes must be selected for which there will be severe consequences. More "timely" punishment is also a key.
Prison is "no deterrence -- harsher punishment" is needed, he says. Putting some criminals to work -- on chain gangs, for example -- is "a consequence they [the criminals] don't want to deal with."
"The vast majority of criminals don't need rehabilitation. The vast majority of criminals are mean, anti-social, macho types." In the courtroom, juries should not be so reluctant to "mete out harsh punishment."
Judges should not allow so many delays in trials, he says. Evidence gathered by search warrants that may have a "technical" flaw should be allowed in trials anyway. Harold A. Breier chief of police, Milwaukee
"The problem is that we long ago stopped being really serious about curbing violent crime," says Chief Breier. "I firmly favor preventive detention in some cases. We need strict prosecution and speedier trials. Those convicted of violent crimes should be incarcerated -- build more prisons, so be it. Some criticize prisons as bad because they don't reform. It seems to me that the purpose of a jail sentence is to punish a criminal and protect the public from him. If there is to be any rehabilitation, it can come after he has served his time . . . . What we need is strict prosecution of state and federal laws already on the books."
"WE had a grocery store holdup in the middle of the city. A couple of officers saw a man holding a gun to the grocer's neck. They couldn't go in because they knew they'd either be hostages or the grocer would get shot. When the man did come out, he was pointing a gun at him [the grocer] and they were forced to shoot him. We later found that man was out on parole on one armed robbery charge and out on bail on another armed robbery charge.
"The same situation applies to juveniles.Eighty percent of our crime in the city is committed by juveniles. Few of them see juvenile judges. Most cases are handled by probation officers who mark the cases 'counseled' and 'closed.'" Robert Heuck chief of police, San Antonio, Texas
"The laws are adequate but the enforcement of them is not," asserts Chief Heuck. "We must have courts willing to give out stiffer penalties."
He cites as an example a Texas law that makes it a felony to carry a gun on the premises of an establishment licensed to sell liquor. But in fact, he says, most offenders are charged with only a misdemeanor. Arthur G. Dill chief of police, Denver
"We've got to take away the maze effect [in the courts]," says Chief Dill. As it is now, "You just keep going 'round and 'round and you don't know where you're at."
It's not necessarily individual judges who are at fault, he says. Many jurists, he notes, have their hands tied by state and federal decisions that have focused on the process and technicalities of administering law -- a focus many law-enforcement officials say has been concentrated too narrowly on the rights of alleged criminals.
"We . . . owe something to our victims and our witnesses," he says.
Chief Dill, a member of the Law Enforcement Task Force set up by President Reagan, outlines these points, included in the task force's report, as areas where the judicial system could be improved:
* Bail reform: Although he does not advocate eliminating bail, Dill says a bail-screening process should be introduced that would allow law-enforcement authorities to detain offenders who have already been arrested and released on bail in cases that are still pending. Under such a process, he says, second offenders would be held until their first case had come to trial rather than being released again on a second bail bond.
* Uniform sentencing: Under current laws, says Dill, an individual who commits a crime in one part of a state, such as an urban area, may receive a substantially lighter sentence than an individual who commits the same crime in a rural part of the state -- a judicial inequity that contributes to prison revolts, he says.
Although he agrees certain flexibility in sentencing must be given to individual judges, he contends there must be some form of uniform-sentencing guidelines on a statewide basis.
* Exclusionary rules: One of the frustrations many law-enforcement authorities say they confront, he notes, is the fact that many times evidence is thrown out or a case overturned on the basis of a strictly procedural technicality -- something as trivial as a typographical error, he says.
By setting forth a "reasonableness test" in determining procedural errors, "fewer loopholes for the exclusion of evidence" would exist and fewer cases would be thrown out on the basis of "tiny details." Richard J. Brzeczek Superintendent of police, Chicago:
Superintendent Brzeczek offers no easy answer to the problem of escalating violence nationwide, calling it "unrealistic" to "start talking about taking specific measures to solve all the problems."
Violence, the young police superintendent asserts, stems from "a condition in the country that has been permitted to grow over a substantial period of time. Violence hasn't become a phenomenon of our way of life in the last week, last month, or last year. It has been going on for the last generation."
Brzeczek believes the battle to control violence has been complicated by growing support "in the past several decades for alternatives to incarceration."
"While that may be the avant-garde way for dealing with some of these problems, I think that we have to face the reality that some offenses, such as murder, rape, armed robbery, weapons offenses, do not lend themselves to probation, parole, and other forms of alternative sentencing."
Brzeczek does not blame lack of funding: "We have less manpower now than we did five years ago. But I think if you double the size of any police force, it would have very little effect on the crime rate."
Brzeczek blames much of today's violence on public attitudes: "Why has narcotics taken such a meteoric rise in terms of trafficing say in the last fifteen years? Prior to the mid-60s people looked upon narcotics as a real social stigma, limited to those in inner-city communities, ghettoes, that were using narcotics. Now it's part of the 'in group,' the jet sets, and people like that, the people who use cocaine, halucinogenics, depressants, stimulants, cannabis, and other types of narcotics."
Brzeczek is a strong advocate of stiffer sentencing: "Why can't we say that if you commit an armed robbery, you are going to be punished by going to jail for 10 to 15 years and we are not going to try to rehabilitate you, you are just going to have to sit there and think about straightening your own act up?"
He asserts that "measures like the Free-dom of Information and Privacy acts have had devastating effects on law enforcement, especially at the federal level. The application of those act has gone in my opinion way beyond the intent of Congress."
"In terms of the Freedom of Information act, you are very cautious in terms of what you collect intelligence on, and more importantly, what you put down on paper as a result of these operations."
Brzeczek supports limits on handguns, explaining that "I am an advocate of the position that we need some type of legislative action, whether the end result be a statute or a constitutional amendment, which is going to reduce the availability of handguns."
"Handguns are the key," says Brzeczek. He believes more must be done than simply eliminating the so-called "Saturday night specials," the cheap handguns blamed for many murders. He says that in Chicago, "We have more people in this city killed with .38-caliber revolvers than with all guns which would fall into that generic category of 'Saturday night specials.'" Col. Myron Leistler chief of police, Cincinnati
"The law has lost its credibility," says Chief Leistler. "We have to put respect back into it by reinstating its premise that you will get the punishment prescribed for the crime --tences and other shortcuts.
"The people who violate the law have learned how to use, the system to defeat the system and often escape retribution altogether. People see others violating the law with impunity and those obeying it are beginning to lose respect for it as well."
He says gun control measures are "a shallow approach -- like treating the symptom rather than the cause. Guns lead the pack in homicides, but there are plenty of other means . . . even something as innocuous as a baseball bat. It's the person not the device." Joseph McAtwe chief of police, Indianapolis
Indianapolis is a city where the crime rate is down slightly this year and has had a decrease in three of the last six years. Chief McAtwe attributes some of that change for the better to active block clubs in the city which meet regularly and are involved in fighting crime. Also helping is stepped-up cooperation between state and city law-enforcement authorities -- "Better than I've ever seen it."
"I think the certainty of arrest and the certainty of a speedy trial would do more than any other one thing to curb at least the preventable crimes like robbery and burglary that we can patrol against. It really takes much too long to complete a trial." The chief notes that too often trials that should be completed in 30-to-60 days are drawn out and continued over long periods until witnesses are missing and other problems crop up for the prosecution. Col. Jon H. Higgins chief of police, Louisville
When the public gets fed up, says Colonel Higgins, there will be a shift in support back toward the death penalty and away from the courtrooms' tendency to "put criminals right back on our streets."
"It is rather depressing to police officers," says Higgings, "to see the man he has arrested and who has been convicted, right back on the streets again."
Stiffer sentencing, Higgins believes is best supported by such measures as Kentucky's "career criminal program." Under this system, operated by the state attorney's office, serious offenders are "not only sentenced as habitual criminals, they generally stay in prison much longer," he says. Henry M. Morris acting superintendent of police, New Orleans
"One way or the other, we pay for crime," acting Superintendent Morris. He asserts flatly that more funding is the answer. The choice, in his view, is more prison space, police manpower, and prosecutors, or more locks on the door, higher theft insurance premiums, and more-costly private security systems.
Police alone cannot do this job [stop the growth of crime]," says Morris. "We need help from the schools, churches, homes, and the courts," he says. Eugene Camp chief of police, St. Louis
Mix criminals on the streets with freely available weapons, Chief Camp says, "and then you can only expect this sort of thing."
He criticizes recent restrictions on police intelligence gathering activities. He calls for a computerized system to list dangerous persons in a national file to keep close tabs on "millions of people with problem backgrounds who have been allowed to move around freely and then have committed acts of violence."
Violence also has spread because of "manpower problems, affecting every major police department in the country."