Criminal Justice

Obama's Destructive Crime Policy

The senator sounds some encouraging notes, then endorses a failed, familiar policy--more federalization of crime.

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When Sen. Barack Obama expressed concern early in the primary season that there are more young black men in prison than in college, he raised hope that he might be the first major-party candidate in a generation to adopt a more nuanced criminal policy than the typical "longer sentences, more prisons, more cops." As it turns out, Obama was wrong on the numbers. But the sentiment was right—one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 is currently behind bars.

Obama has also heartened advocates for criminal justice reform by expressing reservations about mandatory minimum sentences, at least for nonviolent offenders. He said he would end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they're legal. And he has expressed some welcome dismay about America's incarceration rate, which is the highest in the world.

But in the last month, Obama's line on criminal justice has been a lot less encouraging.

Read the rest of this article at Slate.

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  1. If community policing is a good idea, and the COPS program produces more community police, wouldn’t the solution to the off-mission spending efforts be to make the funding conditional on certain reforms?

    Cities like, oh, I don’t know, say, Lowell, Massachusetts (biggest drop in crime of any city in American during the 1990s) that used COPS money for its intended purpose have seen great results, both in terms of crime rates, and police-community relations.

    Of course, Lowell’s atypical. Rather than using COPS grants on SWAT teams, the LPD tries to figure out ways to use counter-terror grants on community policing. Um, it’s important to have good commuity relations, so we can tell which of the Cambodians are al Qaeda. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  2. I think NE police are just more professional overall. If I remember correctly, most of the NE states looked nice compared to others on the Balko/Cato map.

  3. If only we get the right people in charge …

    Meet the new boss,
    Same as the old boss.

    CHANGE! you can believe in. That is, if you still put your teeth under the pillow.

  4. Well, anytime you have a disconnect between who pays for something and who administers it, you have laid the groundwork for trouble.

    When we have the federal government dishing out money to local governments, you can’t be surprised if that money gets used in ways that are capricious. After all, its free money, with minimal (real) oversight. Diverting “community policing” money to vanity projects like SWAT is par for the course.

    This happens to just about any intergovernmental transfer/block grant type deal, whether it is federal -> state, state -> local, or whatever.

    You might be able to clean it up around the edges with the familiar “more oversight”, but you’ll never stop the diversion/waste of money.

  5. You might be able to clean it up around the edges with the familiar “more oversight”, but you’ll never stop the diversion/waste of money.

    Exactly. Money is fungible. I talk often with people who actually believe that lottery proceeds go to public schools and not the general fund.

  6. Never stop it entirely, RC, but we haven’t stopped procurement problems in the Pentagon, either. That doesn’t mean we cut off funding.

  7. Money is fungible.

    If you’re talking about cities with enough money in the budget, COPS funds might free up funds for toys.

    If you’re talking about cities that can’t afford to staff up even to minimal levels, it’s a lot less likely.

    Cities and towns and counties with enough money to avoid staffing shortages probably don’t need block grants anyway.

  8. His support for Byrne grant program (along with picking Biden as veep) should kill off the idea that Obama is going to be anything other than a standard drug warrior. Hopefully, he wasn’t completely lying about stopping raids on medical marijuana, but after his FISA vote, who knows.

  9. I can only give Obama half a point on the drug war. It’s very nice and all that he’ll stop sending in the thugs to harass sick people using marijuana, but he fails to mention what he should damned well know as a law professor: that there’s no constitutional power that allows the drug war in the first place.

    -jcr

  10. If you’re talking about cities that can’t afford to staff up even to minimal levels, it’s a lot less likely.

    Is “community policing” a federal responsibility?

    How much of it being unneeded or diverted/wasted would it take for you to oppose the program? 10%? 50%?

  11. New at Reason:

    Shouldn’t this be ‘New at Slate’ (i.e. ‘Reason Writers Around Town’)?

    Just sayin’

    (sorry for being such a pedantic nitpicking pain lately, I just can’t help myself)

  12. Kolohe,

    We’ve previosly established that you are an unrepentant pedant.

    I still like you though.

  13. BTW: Two of the four cops who murdered Amadou Diallo were hired under the Clinton COPS program. The next time you see a LEO with an assault rifle strolling down Main St. you might want to keep that in mind.

  14. Is “community policing” a federal responsibility?

    Yes. So there.

    How much of it being unneeded or diverted/wasted would it take for you to oppose the program? 10%? 50%?

    Dunno. Something close to the 10% end, or even less.

    I know when we administered CDBG funds, HUD crawled up our ass with a microscope to ensure that the grants we gave out were going to the right types of programs in the right ratios. The consequence of breaking the rules was a reduction in funding the next year.

  15. Finally an article that concerns issues of authentic freedom, and not simply wealth accumulation! Lets see more like it!

  16. Is “community policing” a federal responsibility?

    Yes. So there.

    Linkee, linkee?

  17. of course the radley balko and the reason crowd are now having the obligatory obama-bashing because of all the complaints theyve gotten from rightwingers. fricking sellouts. youre attacking the only candidate who supports civil liberties you stupid asses.

  18. Never stop it entirely, RC, but we haven’t stopped procurement problems in the Pentagon, either. That doesn’t mean we cut off funding.

    Well, sure. But the Pentagon is a federal program through and through, and not a counterexample to my block grant at all.

    My point was that the feds have no business funding local community functions at all, and when they do you can expect the money to be wasted.

    If you’re talking about cities that can’t afford to staff up even to minimal levels, it’s a lot less likely.

    Its all about priorities. I bet there aren’t more than a handful of jurisdictions in the country that couldn’t field an adequate police force if they made it their absolute top priority.

    Cities and towns and counties with enough money to avoid staffing shortages probably don’t need block grants anyway.

    But they get them anyway.

    Of course, the real corruption of block grants and IGTs isn’t the waste of money, its the leverage it gives the funder over the fundee. It breaks down the divided government and leads to centralization of power.

  19. of course the radley balko and the reason crowd are now having the obligatory obama-bashing because of all the complaints theyve gotten from rightwingers. fricking sellouts. youre attacking the only candidate who supports civil liberties you stupid asses.

    Like freedom of speech?
    His selection of Joe, drug warrior, Biden as running mate doesn’t give you pause?

    Meet the new boss …

  20. youre attacking the only candidate who supports civil liberties you stupid asses.

    The only candidate? Last time I checked, Barr and McKinney are still in the race.

  21. @AO-i meant the only candidate with a chance of winning dummbass. honestly why do you even post do you just want to advertise that you can’t think clearly about anything?

  22. @JSD-he just had to select biden to keep the support of the white establishment because there are so many racists in this country that will ride obama because hes black that he needs an establishment-type running mate to keep their charges from gaining traction.

  23. he just had to select biden to keep the support of the white establishment because there are so many racists in this country that will ride obama because hes black that he needs an establishment-type running mate to keep their charges from gaining traction.

    Keep telling yourself that fanboy. I’m certain lot’s of racists have stopped denouncing Obama because he picked a freedom hating career asshole to be his running mate. Some probably are campaigning for him now. [/snark]

    In political reality, he had to pick a white person, not a complete lying authoritarian asshoole. He chose Biden.

  24. no he had to pick biden because the majority of white sheeple are too afraid of anyone who gets passionate about the issues to make a better option available. in a perfect world i would have liked to see Dean as his running mate.

  25. Hey Edward, is one of those civil liberties the “right” to health care?

  26. @sage-I’m not Edward, you dipshit!

  27. Knock off the name calling and answer my question, Edward. Should health care be a right, Edward?

  28. @sage-Just because you wish I were just some troll doesn’t make it true. And I’m not going to bother answering your question, because your philosophy looks at rights as fixed, immovable principles rather than accounting for changes in general circumstances. Therefore, if I said yes, healthcare is a right, you’d give me some irrelevant argument about how it wasn’t a “right” 200 years ago so it isn’t a right now.

  29. Therefore, if I said yes, healthcare is a right, you’d give me some irrelevant argument about how it wasn’t a “right” 200 years ago so it isn’t a right now.

    No, I wouldn’t. I would follow up with other questions. Serious questions. But since you won’t bother to answer the first one, I won’t ask any more. Edward.

  30. “@sage-Just because you wish I were just some troll doesn’t make it true”

    No, the completely moronic statement that obama is the only candidate supporting civil rights is what makes you a troll.

  31. It’s fair game to criticize a candidate’s position on a specific issue whether you agree with all or them or not, and whether or not s/he would be the best over-all candidate. Obama is NOT a perfect civil rights candidate.

    However, given the situation on the Supreme Court and McCain’s obligations to the Religious Right, Obama IS the civil rights candidate in this race.

  32. I wrote a letter to the Obama campaign, let’s see, can anyone give me odds that it will get read? đŸ™‚ It seems my fears about picking Biden are being subtly confirmed. I think we need to say “no” to four more years of the war on drugs. If this is the kind of thing Biden is going to get him to flip-flop on, we’re as bad off as with McCain.

  33. They are opting instead for the reflexive belief that more federal involvement is always preferable to less.

    I.e. the Democratic core philosophy on every subject.

    the federal government hasn’t the means or the ability to fundamentally change the way police operate at the local level.

    Passing out armored cars and machineguns has had quite an effect.

    You might be able to clean it up around the edges with the familiar “more oversight”,

    More oversight = more reports = more wasted money for computers, programs, accountants, etc. filling out reports.

    Cities and towns and counties with enough money to avoid staffing shortages probably don’t need block grants anyway.

    Oh, but the process must be fair. See: Hawaii, Interstate Highways. In the government grant process what you need is irrelevant. It’s all about what the rules say you qualify for.

    he just had to select biden to keep the support of the white establishment because there are so many racists in this country that will ride obama because hes black that he needs an establishment-type running mate to keep their charges from gaining traction.

    It’s the people who vote Democratic who are racists? Who knew? đŸ˜‰

    Obama IS the civil rights candidate in this race.

    Right. Because he keeps saying he believes in the Second Amendment? But not the First Amendment when it applies to the NRA?

  34. “BTW: Two of the four cops who murdered Amadou Diallo were hired under the Clinton COPS program”

    none of the cops “murdered Diallo”.

    not by any legal definition of murder, or legal finding fwiw.

    nice beg the question post.

  35. LarryA —

    So this thread’s almost a week old and no one will see me complain. Who knows if they’d care anyhow. But one of your claims is so inane I have to make my first comment in like half a year and register a brief comment thereon.

    You assert federal programs alot money with no regard for “need.” I presume you refer to “need” as regarding the stated objectives of a program, i.e. not general poverty or something like that. You then use as an apparently self-explanatory example Hawaii having Interstate highways!

    The purpose of “Interstate” roads is not solely to link states together! It is a transportation network which is nationwide, i.e. inter-state. (Note, by the way, that the formal name for the system also refers to it as a defense network.) You may notice — if you stop for the briefest moment to consider the situation beyond your trite linguistic fallacy with the word “interstate” — that there are quite a few spurs and beltways in the Interstate system which do not connect states.

    Furthermore, Hawaii’s Interstate roads do connect it to other states, indirectly, in much the same way Interstate roads across the country do: by providing access to airports and seaports. Indeed lots of the traffic on “Interstate” highways in the contiguous 48 states is not interstate traffic, but freight on its way to or being distributed from other transportation networks (sea, air, and rail). And the system is specifically created to facilitate this kind of transfer!

    Umm so anyway, get a new example. It’s not hard, for the point you’re trying to make. But you know, you make us all look like absolutely unthinking gubberment-haters when you complain that there’s no reason to include Hawaii in the (spending for) national transportation networks.

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