Monday, July 26, 2010

Do People Not See That We Have A Problem?

I have to admit upfront. I do subscribe to the broken window theory on policing. Either you treat all crimes as important or no crime is important.

That's why I am troubled with the attitude that San Francisco is taking to crime. First, it was announced earlier this summer that, because of perceived racism, Muni was ending its program to crack down on fare jumpers. And before you start to protest, getting on any Muni vehicle and not paying is a crime. You are stealing. It really is that simple.

Then today, there was the announcement by the SFPD that they wanted to embark on a new program. Basically, they have decided that property crimes really are not to be prioritized by the police department. In fact, they will be so de-prioritized that they will no longer be responded to by sworn peace officers (i.e. police with badges). Instead, reports, and investigations apparently, will be done by a civilian investigator.

The idea behind this is that there are cases that happened too long ago, or for property that was taken a while. Also, its to improve "customer service".

Here I thought the goal of policing was the prevention of crime or arresting those who commit it.

The message this sends is that there are crimes which matter, and rate a police officer, and there are crimes which do not matter, so you get a civilian. Now, this is not the first time this program has been tried. In fact, they use it in the United Kingdom. There the program was sold originally as a way of freeing up sworn officers for "important" cases. This was five years ago. As with most things when a government program starts, it did not stop there. Seen as a way to balance their books, the civilian investigators are being used more and more on serious crimes, such as rape and murder.

Try and convince me that in a town like San Francisco, where our elected officials are desperate for ways to cut on essential services in order to keep their own pet projects afloat, that there will not be pressure to use the cheaper civilian investigators more and more. Go on. I dare you. Because, its just never happened before, right?

Now Chief Gascón argues that there is nothing to worry about. For these types of crimes he is promising to use them, there is little danger that anyone will notice any difference. In fact, he opined, when questioned about this, that people would be better served because they would a more certain (and possibly quicker) response time.

Intrestingly, Chief Gascon made the state that, "There's nothing magic about having a police officer testify in court." I beg to differ, but there is. Police officers go through a lot of training. They typically have a college degree, followed by the police academy. Then they serve two years as probationary officers. In order to testify about certain topics, they need to have certain, specialized training. And lets face it, a sworn officer impresses a jury in most cases. They know how to testify. They do it regularly as part of their job. They do the rest of things required for successful prosecutions as part of their job.

It is promised that these civilian investigators will have the same training. But somehow, they're going to cost less. Now, how is this going to happen?

This just does not make any sense. Somehow, we are going to have better policing, at a lower price, with no downside by using unsworn civilians. This seems like fiscal dreams.

But back to my initial point, how is this going to be seen by the people it affects the most? If you know that the crime you intend to commit is not going to get a police response, would that make you more or less likely to take the risk?

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