“They Can’t Touch the Criminals. They Know They’re Untouchable.”

The headline is from a recent Washington Post article co-authored by Peter Hermann regarding criminality in Baltimore. A businessperson states that offenders believe that they operate without fear of societal or formal sanctions. In other words, they are above or beyond the law.

If the businessman is correct, how did we get to this point? With violent crime rising, Crime in America, have we changed the national dialog to the point where offenders believe that they are free of constraints?

At what point does society send the wrong messages to violent offenders? Do we contribute to violent victimization through lack of a uniform message condemning their actions? Is that communication embodied in the national debate over crime?

We have made great strides as to domestic violence, violence against women, drinking and driving, substance abuse (beyond marijuana) and general criminality based on societal messages reinforcing what is expected.

No means no. Striking or abusing loved one is wrong. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Meth kills.

Where I live in the Appalachian Mountains, people take to Facebook and publicly shame criminality or misdeeds. An abused woman posts photos of the injuries sustained. The alleged offender is publicly shunned. Stolen items are publicized and often returned, Facebook and Crime. Violent crime here is low regardless of challenging economic and social problems. There are no mixed messages.

If offenders really believe that they are beyond the control of society and the justice system, and if we refuse to send clear messages, we are in deep trouble.

The National Debate About Offenders

There’s nothing wrong in addressing offender accountability.

Expiations as to the social contract are a hallmark of any functioning society.

There are honorable, legitimate efforts to ease the burden of offenders reintegrating into society, which I support. The same can be said for the children and families of those caught up in the criminal justice system.

There are advocates for alternate approaches to traditional crime control who also note that the US has the world’s highest rate of incarceration.

People throughout the country justifiably ask questions regarding improper police shootings. We’ve been in a heated national dialog regarding policing for the past two years.

Endless advocates insist that cops “backing down (not being aggressively proactive) has nothing to do with the national increases in violent crime. They maintain that their harsh criticism has little to do with disorder.

There are major websites whose sole mission is to criticize criminal justice practices.

All the above is necessary, right and proper in a free society. But there is a difference between debate, advocacy and sending mixed messages regarding violence.

At what point do offenders believe that they are free of society’s constraints?

At what point do criminals feel that the justice system lacks the power to control their actions?

Washington Post Article on Baltimore Crime

“Since the Freddie Gray situation, even if you call the police and give a description, they can’t touch the criminals,” the business owner said. “They know they’re untouchable. That’s the key.”

“This is a killing field.”

“Don’t give up on Baltimore,” Mayor Catherine E. Pugh told officers gathered for a roll call in the Southern District police station last week. Washington Post

Call Them Clients

The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs under President Obama eschewed the terms “felon” and “convict” when officials refer to individuals convicted of crimes, opting instead for less “disparaging labels,” Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason announced. Washington Times.

This new policy statement replaces unnecessarily disparaging labels with terms like “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated,” decoupling past actions from the person being described and anticipating the contributions we expect them to make when they returnWashington Post

As a result of the DOJ’s initiative, there are criminal justice agencies throughout the country now referring to offenders as, “clients.”

So the person who raped your daughter is a client of the agencies supervising them? The person who robbed your neighbor, the person who beat your friend, and the community you once loved is threatened by “clients?”

“Client” refers to people we serve, not people we hold accountable.

The Debate Over Violent Crime Increasing

We can’t even agree if violent crime is increasing.

Violent crime in America is rising nationally (2015-2016) and in many (not all) cities throughout the country (Crime in America) yet we have endless criminologists and advocacy organizations insisting that we have never lived in safer times.

We have Gallup in national polls stating that concern or fear of crime is at a 15 year high, and direct experience with crime is at a 16-year high (Crime in America).

You cannot say that violent crime is increasing without major newspaper editorials insisting that it’s not based on decades of data. It gives the impression that the tens of thousands of additional victims of sex abuse and violent crime should just be quiet; don’t they know they have never lived in safer times?

The crime message has been politicized like never before. You could hate Donald Trump but still be bewildered by what’s happening in the country regarding crime. But if you express that bewilderment, you are accused of right-wing politics.

Example: Kansas City Shootings Rise 64 Percent in Two Years

(Edited Version) Some 146 victims who have survived shootings in Kansas City through April of this year, part of an alarming increase in bloodshed in recent years, the Kansas City Star reports.

From 2014 to 2016, the city saw a 64 percent spike in nonfatal shootings, an increase from 290 in 2014 to 477 last year. Kansas City Star.

Is the Debate Over Police Tactics Contributing to Crime?

Quotes From an FBI Report:

 Nearly every police official interviewed agreed that for the first time, law enforcement not only felt that their national political leaders publicly stood against them, but also that the politicians’ words and actions signified that disrespect to law enforcement was acceptable…

 The above-referenced factors have had the effect of “de-policing” in law enforcement agencies across the country…

 Departments – and individual officers – have increasingly made the conscious decision to stop engaging in proactive policing. 

 The intense scrutiny and criticism law enforcement has received has caused several officers to (1) “become scared and demoralized” and (2) avoid interacting with the community. 

 Quotes from Pew

 About as many (72%) say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons.

 Overall, more than eight-in-ten (86%) say police work is harder today as a result of high profile, negative incidents, Crime in America-Policing

So Where Does This Lead Us?

“I founded (name of national website) because I thought our criminal justice system was a national disgrace…”

States insist that they cannot afford current or more incarceration. Advocates plea for a criminal justice system that is “smart on crime.” Newspapers rail against police abuse. Criminologists insist that we have never lived in safer times.

Again, all good in a free society.

On the other side, we have cops quitting and we have a massive problem in recruitment. People are fleeing cities, buying guns, and are investing in security systems.

We both feel that the other side is clueless and politically stupid. Some believe that this disconnect (and a pro-police message) is what brought Donald Trump to the presidency. Perceptions of safety are ingrained within our DNA.

The left issues charges of insensitivity and callowness. The right believes that the left lives in safe, suburban communities immune from violent crime.

We must come together as one body to agree and compromise; the crime issue is simply too divisive and destructive to be left to one side or the other.

Violent crime destroys cities and metropolitan areas. It kills jobs. It wastes scarce tax paid dollars.

But if offenders really believe that they are beyond the control of society and the justice system, and if we refuse to send clear messages, we are in deep trouble.


Excerpts from “The Crime Report” were used in this article, The Crime Report.

– Leonard A. Sipes Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.