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Violent and juvenile crime on the rise

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Posted: Thursday, November 9, 2006 12:00 am

Of the NNPA

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Although St. Louis and Detroit took first- and second-place “dishonors” on Morgan Quinto’s 13th annual Most Dangerous Cities list this year, crime prevention and law enforcement experts say American cities everywhere—not just the top 25—need to be concerned with a growing trend of increasing violent crime.

“For a number of cities across the country, we’re seeing a significant increase in violent crime in three major areas: in robberies, in aggravated assaults and in murder,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based law enforcement think tank.

According to a PERF report released earlier this year, “A Gathering Storm: Violent Crime in America,” 2005 numbers from the FBI showed the “largest single year percent increase in violent crime in 14 years.”

Nationally, homicide increased by 3.4 percent, robberies (3.9 percent) and aggravated assaults (1.8 percent). In 2005, more than 30,600 people were murdered, robbed and assaulted than in 2004, the report said.

“(For) A number of the cities, we’re seeing those increases are five, 10, 20-year highs and in some places, all-time highs. This is significantly different from what had been a pretty stable period of either decreasing crime or increases that were not as significant as we’ve seen in the past 18-24 months,” Wexler said.

Nearly 14 cities/metropolitan areas reported they experienced those types of “crime milestones.” Orlando, Fla., Prince George’s County, Md., and Trenton, N.J. reported being at an all-time high in violent crime.

Wexler and other crime prevention experts agree an increase in juvenile crime along with other social problems happening particularly in low income communities and communities of color are at the root causes of these current crime trends.

“Those are the communities where the schools aren’t up to par. Those are the communities with the highest amount of unemployment. Those are the communities with the least amount of government services, (and) the slowest responses even from the police,” said Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association.

Hampton, a retired officer of 24-years from Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department remembers Washington’s toughest years in the 1980s when the crack-cocaine epidemic devastated the majority-Black Capital city, making Washington often at the top of the nation’s crime lists. This year, Washington was number 19 on the list, dropping from 13th place in 2005 and the sixth most dangerous city in 2004.

Hampton believes part of Washington’s decline on the list is because of a recent influx of White professionals tired of commuting from Northern Va. and Md. and buying homes and condos in historically Black neighborhoods, there is a greater police presence now.

He’s even skeptical of recent crime prevention tactics when the city declared a crime emergency earlier this year to address crime wave of violence and robberies. City officials quickly approved street surveillance cameras, curfews for young people and increased police presence.

Even though Wexler applauds the city’s efforts, Hampton said with elections on the horizon, local politicians had no choice.

He said recent sweeps reminded him of crime sweeps in the late 80s early 90s when the police boasted the arrests of more than 53,000 people. But Hampton said it was merely a “feel good” tactic because most of the arrests were misdemeanors and not felonies associated with the violent crimes that held the city hostage at the time.

“That didn’t have anything to do with stopping crime,” Hampton said of the sweeps both then and now. “But it was sold and the reason why it was sold was because everybody who had something to do with it just about was running for office.”

In D.C., Wexler said 42 percent of robbery arrests last year were juveniles. He said cities like Minneapolis and Boston are among many U.S. cities dealing with juvenile crime and an increase in gang activity. In comparison to 2004, murder arrests of juveniles climbed 20 percent in 2005.

Although young people are increasingly getting involved in criminal activity, Wexler said they are only one part of the problem.

“In the 90s a number of people went to prison in record numbers and I think we’re seeing them coming out of prison now some 10-12 years later. So you’ve got an increase in juveniles and an increase in the population that is in many cases coming out of prison not any better educated or prepared for the workforce,” he said. “So they’re older. And if they are not able to find a job and they don’t have the necessary skills, regrettably the chances of them becoming involved in crime again are higher.”

Wexler’s organization studies these trends and also organizes events like the “Violent Crime Summit” that took place this summer where more than 170 mayors and police chiefs from all over the country and Canada came to share ideas.

Douglas Palmer, Trenton’s first Black mayor was one of the mayors in attendance. He is also the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

According to this year’s Morgan Quinto list, Trenton is the 14th most dangerous city in the nation, but Palmer said the city is making great progress despite its national ranking.

“I don’t measure our crime by other cities or where we are on a list. I measure our crime by what we’re doing in Trenton each and every year and how those numbers change and if we’re more engaged and if we’re using approaches that will help us reduce crime,” Palmer said.

“Since 2003, our crime has been reduced by nearly 43 percent. And from last year’s statistics even to this year’s we’ve reduced crime 23 percent. But we recognize that we have to continue to do more because we still have too much crime.”

By doing more, Palmer means creating a “holistic” menu of programs ranging from ex-offender employment to giving providing Trenton’s kids with a choice of more than 80 after school programs and free transportation to take them there. Palmer is also proud of a truancy program that does neighborhood sweeps daily instead of weekly.

“You need a comprehensive approach. The police can’t do it alone. You need drug treatment, you need jobs, job training. You also need to crack down hard on people who use illegal guns and you need the justice system to help in terms of prosecuting these individuals in a timely manner. It’s more than just a police problem you have to involve every aspect of our community,” said Palmer, who has served as Trenton’s mayor since 1990.

Palmer said Trenton has also launched programs to attack gang violence by tracking more than 200 young people believed to be associated with gangs and a program called Ceasefire where victims of crimes are counseled not to retaliate. He as also joined with mayors in neighboring states to ask the Pennsylvania legislature to stiffen gun laws. According to Palmer, a Pennsylvania resident can buy as many as several guns in one day allowing enterprising individuals to sell them on the street in New Jersey and New York.

He said random car stops have helped catch 374 illegal guns last year—nearly 40 percent of which came from Pennsylvania.

Wexler said the sacrifices made in the name of Homeland Security have hurt local law enforcement in a number of cities. Some cities, he said, like Cleveland and Minneapolis have had to cut officers because of a lack of funds.

Wexler named several cities in the U.S. suffering from crime increases and said they weren’t limited to one region. In fact, the “Most Dangerous Cities” top 25 is peppered with cities from all regions. St. Louis, Mo.; Detroit, Mich., Flint, Mich.; Compton, Calif.; and Camden, N.J. were the top five this year.

“We’re on the front end of a tipping point for violence,” Wexler said. “It’s not like we’re back in the 90s but we’re seeing some very significant signs that cities are changing and that this is an important wake up call to do something about it.”

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