Summit focuses on rising crime in cities
From 2004 to 2005, violent crimes increased in many cities, according to a report issued by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Overall, during that year, murder increased 4.8 percent, robbery increased 4.5 percent and aggravated assault increased nearly 2 percent. Officials with the Washington-based Police Chief Executive Research Forum (PERF), a 1,200-member organization of police officials from medium to large city, county and state agencies, wanted to address the issue. Last month, the PERF and the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors held the National Summit on Violent Crime in America, to discuss trends and solutions. American City & County talked with PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler about the factors contributing to violent crime, how local governments can address the issue and the role of the federal government.
Q: What prompted the National Summit on Violent Crime in America?
A: What we were seeing based on our work in a number of cities is significant differences in the amount and degree of crime in the country. We’ve been talking to police chiefs from cities all across the country, and a pattern began to emerge in large, medium-sized and even smaller cities that the nature and degree of crime was changing. Importantly, what we’re seeing is an increase in three major violent crimes: armed robbery, aggravated assault and homicide. We made a presentation in Minneapolis on the [increasing] role of juveniles in robberies and in homicides. [Minneapolis] Mayor [R.T.] Rybak heard the presentation and wondered if this was something that might be happening in the rest of the country. It was his suggestion [that] maybe we should get a few other mayors and chiefs together and talk about this. Before we knew it, we had 45 cities that wanted to come [to the conference], and 10 mayors and city managers. We recognized [that] we had hit a nerve.
Q: What are some of the major factors that are contributing to the rise in violent crime?
A: Gang activity plays a critical role in a number of cities like Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. Juveniles [have] a disproportionate impact on crime. In the latest victimization studies, gun-related crime went up from 2004 to 2005. Methamphetamines are having an impact in places like Las Vegas and primarily on the West Coast. In the ‘90s, a large number of individuals were incarcerated, many of whom will leave prison probably not better than when they went in. If they can’t find a job, unfortunately we’re seeing them coming back again into the system. Homeland security issues have put additional demands on police departments, and that has required allocation of cops working in areas that they hadn’t prior to [Sept. 11].
Q: What can local governments do to address the issue?
A: Every city, based upon their problems, is going to respond differently. In Washington, D.C., for example, Police Chief [Charles] Ramsey instituted [a program that] increased the number of officers working in high-crime areas. Other cities have instituted curfews [or] gun buy-back programs. All the cities recognize that this is not something that can be done alone. Partnerships should be with local police and other federal agencies … as well as local probation officers, neighborhood community groups and nonprofit organizations.
Q: What role do police chiefs and mayors want the federal government to play?
A: The conventional wisdom used to be that this is a local issue. I think that has changed not only because of how we saw the federal government involved throughout the ‘90s but also into this millennium with respect to homeland security. We recognize that there is a role for the local government and the federal government in terms of information sharing [and] intelligence gathering. I don’t think we should have to distinguish between homeland security and neighborhood security.