Friday, December 21, 2012

Lasting change

I truly believe we all want to make lasting change in reducing violence.  Trust me, as a cop on the street you will not find someone more motivated than me to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill persons.  As a street cop and negotiator on the SWAT team, its a good chance I will be dealing with them at the worst of times.  However I think there are many layers to the issue but the easy path is to ban weapons used in tragedies.  Will that have an impact?  I assume it will have about as much impact as it did the last time they were banned. Yes, assault weapons and high capacity magazines were not able to be produced or sold to the public in the US from 1994-2004 and murder rate average for this 10 years was 7.3 per 100,000 people with a high of 9 and a low of 5.5 per 100,000.  From 2005-2011 with no ban and people being able to buy any assault weapon and high capacity magazine they wanted the murder rate averaged 5.5 per 100,000 people with a high 5.7 and a low of 4.7. As you might imagine when you look at just firearm related deaths it mirrors murder in general stats according to the CDC stats. So what is the impact of banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines?  It is my opinion that it has little or no effect on crime.

Does this mean more guns, assault weapons, and high cap mags means less crime?  Not necessarily.  In my opinion, the reason crime rate, especially violent crime is down is due to mandatory stiffer sentences and three strikes laws and such.  If you notice, as prison populations have increased, crime certainly violent crime has gone down.  Why, because as we all know there is a certain segment in the population that we in law enforcement refer to as the "10%" which are the 10% that commit the crimes while 90% of the population are good law abiding people.  Of that 10% 1% of those are the true criminals where nearly all they do is commit crime.  They steal or rob nearly every day if not more than once a day.  They are predators and they prey on the rest of the population.  Keeping the 10% and more importantly the 1% locked up is the key to reducing gun violence among the criminal element.

 Let’s look at bans success in general.  Alcohol, how successful was prohibition?  There are currently many counties in the southern states and Alaska that ban alcohol, where does the term moonshiner come from?  How should success be judged?  How about drugs, as most of you know illegal drugs like methamphetamine and heroin are banned here in the US, but for some reason I still keep finding them on people when I arrest them.  I think it’s safe to say bans have had a lack luster success in the US.

Think of it like this.  If I were looking to reduce speed related traffic fatalities should we ban cars?  No of course not that is ridiculous.  Should we impose speed governors that restrict the speed that vehicles can go?  No, that too would be ridiculous.  But what about steeper fines for speeders and more traffic enforcement?  Do you think that when a person gets a big fat ticket they may slow them down, at least for a while? 

The vast majority of murders of victims by an unknown suspect are committed by persons on parole or probation.  That means they have been convicted of a crime and are subject to court supervision in lieu of incarceration.  Parole being for a prison sentence (felony crimes) and probation being for a jail sentence (Misdemeanor crimes).  As much as we would like to believe otherwise there is a certain section of society that is just bad and are going to do bad things to people.  For example, of the last five law enforcement officers murdered in the state of Arizona, 4 were by subjects with a violent past and were on parole or probation at the time of the murder.  All four should have been incarcerated at the time of the murder but were out on a plea deal or overcrowding issues.  One was just plain crazy.  He talked to aliens and feared the world was ending and went on a murderous rampage.  Now this is reflective of society when it comes to murders by unknown subjects.  The vast majority have been and should be incarcerated at the time of the violent act.  Some are just seriously mentally ill.  Now obviously not all mentally ill persons are violent, we all know that. 

So how can we make lasting change?  First of all we need to stop treating mental illness like an STD.  We NEED to treat mental illness like medical illness so by removing the stigma so that parents feel comfortable getting their kids that need treatment the treatment they need without fear of the social stigma that is currently attached to mental illness.  It’s no different for adults either.  The vast majority of people who find out someone has mental illness seek to stay away.  I once took some training with the state mental health provider and one exercise we had to wear a headband with a diagnosis on it and see how people treated us.  It was astonishing to see even when people in the class that knew it was an exercise saw your diagnosis still responded with a facial expression.  People until this changes, we might as well buy guns and bullets for the mentally ill persons with violent tendencies.  What needs to happen is a link to firearms background checks that those that have been petitioned against their will or institutionalized for mental health have a flag pop up on a background check just like a criminal or domestic violence history does.  Now In addition I think that the address mentally ill persons live at needs to be flagged as well so no guns are sold to the rest of the household unless it has been petitioned and approved by the court.  And down the road the person who has been institutionalized as well can apply to get his rights restored if he chooses to, and if approved by a court order can again purchase guns.  Until we do this, there will be no lasting change.

As far as the most violent among us.  I firmly believe that there are two parts wrong with the judicial system.  First, County/District Attorneys are elected and not appointed.  This makes a scenario where in order to get re-elected, they push for a high “conviction rate” by offering sweetheart plea deals to get a “win”.  When they go looking for votes they can tout their high conviction rate.  Now the second part I think would cure that problem as well as the rest of what I consider the problem.  If Judges, Prosecutors, Department of corrections and parole boards were able to be held civilly liable for going outside of the sentencing guidelines, they may second guess putting violent people back on the street. 

I think back to a public sexual indecency case I had where a subject would expose his genitals to women and children.  In this case the child was five years old.  When it went to trial I testified as well as other witnesses but the case was heard by a judge not a jury.  And in the end the judge said, “I’m pretty sure you did what you are accused of, but you are a young man and I don’t want to ruin your life so I am going to find you not guilty and hopefully this is a learning experience for you”.  WHAT??? How would you feel if when he progresses his sexual perversion molests your child? I also had an armed robbery suspect that was caught on video robbing a pizza store; the video was so good that I recognized him by name.  A photo lineup was shown to the victims and they all picked out the suspect.  He was caught the next day with the gun, the money and the pizza box.  Now understand that the state legislature and passed law in sentencing guidelines that the presumptive minimum for this type of offence is 3.5 years in prison for a first offense and 7.5 years with previous felony history.  This suspect had multiple felony burglary and drug charges in his recent past.  He pleads guilty to armed robbery a class 2 felony.  His sentence??? 3 years probation.  He gets to live out in the free world check in with his PO once a month and promise not to commit any crime or do drugs.  Well, even after 4 drug arrests later do you think he stayed incarcerated?  Nope.  If you were the three victims he robbed after this, wouldn’t you have some words for the court personnel who let him back out? 
If we remove the immunity from the judges and prosecutors whenever they go outside the statutory minimums set forth by the legislature, the streets would be safer.  That’s not saying they don’t have discretion, they can still go outside for persons they feel deserve the discretionary relief.  But they can just be liable just like the rest of us are when we do stupid stuff.  Now I fully understand that not all persons that commit crimes are evil people and don’t deserve a chance.  I think in those situations the judge can offer a reduced sentence.  It’s just if that guy goes out and rapes or kills someone, the family is allowed to seek civil remedy.  That’s what happens when I go outside of the laws and policies of my agency.  It’s not like I’m asking for anything that we as police officers don’t live with every day. 

I truly believe that this would have a significant impact on keeping the most violent among us, behind bars longer and keeping less of us from becoming victims.  I think this would have a lasting impact.  Let’s face it, when I pull a car full of gangsters over, can I assume that they A) are abiding by the law that they are prohibited from possessing firearms and B) are not going to have a high capacity magazine or assault weapon?  No, because my experience and history has shown the only people affected by bans on weapons are those that obey the law.  Criminals for some reason don’t seem to share the same concern for obedience to firearms laws or any laws for that matter.  But in prison it’s next to impossible to get a firearm and certainly harder to store in your “prison wallet” than a shank.  But prisoners still violently assault each other on a daily basis.  Why would you expect them to not do this on the outside?

So keep those that seek to do evil locked away longer.  In a pre Donaldson v. O’Conner world that is what we did with our mentally ill.  Surprisingly mass acts of violence are on the rise after we stopped doing this and cut funding for the mentally ill among us.  If we take better care of our mentally ill and lock those away that have proven themselves unworthy to live among us.  Now understand, there are good people who make bad choices and end up in prison.  Those are the ones that deserve the exception on sentencing, not the violent career criminal.