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Sunday, December 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Feds shouldn’t overreact to crime data

Last week, the FBI reported that that the U.S. violent crime rate rose in 2016 for the second consecutive year. But is two a trend?

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks so.

“This is a frightening trend that threatens to erode so much progress that had made our neighborhoods and communities safer – over 30 years declines in crime are being replaced by increases.”

He added, “We cannot accept this as the new normal.”

That would be fine if he weren’t advocating the crime policies of the 1980s, including a resumption of the “War on Drugs.” That didn’t work, which is why so many communities have switched to “smart justice,” which uses evidence-based solutions that draw on the connections between crime and other factors. The focus is the offender, not the offense.

Plus, fighting crime is a local concern requiring solutions that make sense for particular communities.

The rise in murders in Chicago and Baltimore is alarming, but murders dropped from 12 to eight in Spokane last year. They dropped in other cities as well. “America’s carnage,” as President Donald Trump has dubbed it, isn’t across the board and isn’t historically high.

Talk to most people in this region, and you’d probably find that the No. 1 concern is property crimes, such as car and home break-ins. The city and state rank high in those offenses.

Federal edicts get in the way of flexible policing. Federal funds that are assigned with one-size-fits-all thinking may miss the key problems in some communities. Or the lure of grants may encourage law enforcement to pursue crime-fighting areas that wouldn’t otherwise be high priorities.

In the “War on Drugs” era, some law enforcement agencies mounted big efforts to bust marijuana operations even though their communities had bigger problems. Federal grants dictated that direction. Pot-smoking continued apace, but many lives were ruined over something that is now legal in several states.

It was not money well spent.

The Trump administration wants to respond to the recent violent crime increase with more arrests and tougher sentencing. This would reverse the trend of lowering incarceration rates and funneling people into services designed to turn their lives around. The administration should study the results from these efforts before making sweeping changes.

Local communities should ask themselves whether they’re ready to raise taxes to handle all of these new prosecutions and inmates. Have you seen the price tag for a new jail? Don’t expect federal funds for that.

The Charles Koch Institute, which works on criminal justice reform, told Newsweek: “From 2010-2015, the crime rate fell by an average of 14.4 percent in the 10 states with the largest imprisonment declines, and it fell by only 8.1 percent in the 10 states with the largest growth in imprisonment.”

Plus, the violent crime rate is much lower than it was 30 years ago. These are the trends that matter.

So if Sessions doesn’t want to erode progress, as he has stated, he will back off knee-jerk responses that led to past failures.

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