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Critical Issues in Law Enforcement

Steven Shea

University of San Diego


Since World War II experts have attempted to reduce criminal behavior by way of

medical treatment and ever increasing penalties. The United States imprisons more persons

per capita than any other nation on Earth, even as crime rates continue to fall. Crimes ranging

from drug trafficking to multi-billion dollar frauds garner harsh sentences. Experts attempt to

explain crime patterns through economics, education, and immigration. Law Enforcement

continues to evolve new technology and technique to detect and deter crime. Professional

evolution of law enforcement leadership is critical to controlling the criminal behavior of our


In the years after World War II, experts put forth a medical model for the treatment of

criminal behavior. By the early 1970s, the medical model was widely viewed as a failed attempt

to cure crime (Federal Bureau of Prisons). Over the following four decades, public policy

directed a war on drugs and harsh penalties for many crimes.

The result of the policies regarding drugs and crime led the United States to imprison

more people per capita than any other nation. The United States has the dubious distinction of

holding twenty-three percent of the worlds prisoners, more than any other nation (Travis,

2014). As the war on drugs has raged, state prisons and local jails have increased the number

of people incarcerated for drug crimes by a factor of more than ten. From 1980 to 2013, state

prisons increased the number of drug offender inmates from 19,000 to 210,200 while local jails

went from 17,200 to 180,600. Over the same period, the federal prison increase in

incarcerated drug offenders went from 4,700 to 98,200, over twenty times the 1980 rate

(Sentencing Project, n.d.).

Therapeutic drug courts are currently available in every state and offer alternatives to

drug addicted offenders, military veterans, mentally ill offenders, and others. Adult drug courts

provide treatment to stop the cycle of abuse, provide intensive probationary standards, and

frequent court appearances. Offenders who succeed are rewarded with benefits while those

who fail to meet requirements are sanctioned. According to the National Association of Drug

Court Professionals, Nationwide, 75% of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free at least two

years after leaving the program (NADCP, n.d.). The Government Accountability Office

conducted an analysis of adult drug court studies across the nation and determined that drug

court graduates were re-arrested at a rate of twelve to fifty-eight percent less than comparison

groups (GAO, 2011).

In 2005, Robinson determined that alcohol is connected to 110,000 deaths per year, as

opposed to other illicit drugs that are connected to 19,000 deaths per year. Mustaine and

Teweksbury found that one-third of all arrests in the United States are related to alcohol. In

2001, Martin determined approximately seventy-five percent of robberies and eighty percent

of homicides involve an intoxicated offender or victim (as cited in Walsh, 2012). And still, the

focus of the federal government has centered around illicit drugs.

More than drugs and alcohol has driven the increase in incarceration. The temptation

to steal millions, or even billions, of dollars through white-collar crime has led to lengthy

sentences. Aubrey Lee Price conned over 100 investors in a Ponzi scheme, fraudulently

invested over seventy million dollars from a small-town bank, and faked his own death to avoid

prosecution (FBI, 2104). Once captured, Price pled guilty to the frauds and was sentenced to

thirty years in prison (Kass & Trubey, 2014). The infamous Bernie Madoff pulled off a massive

Ponzi scheme that cost investors fifty billion dollars. After pleading guilty, Madoff was

sentenced to one hundred fifty years in prison (Biography.com Editors, 2015). The lure of vast

sums of money draws confidence men to risk lengthy sentences.

Determining why individuals run the risk of extended prison sentences can be complex

and daunting. One component that can lead some to crime is a lack of a reasonable education.

According to the US Census Bureau, the racial makeup of the City of Chicago is 31.7% White,

32.9% Black, and 28.9% Hispanic or Latino (US Census, 2015). The public schools do not reflect

the racial makeup of the city with 39.3% Black, 45.6% Hispanic, and only 9.4% White students

(Chicago Public Schools, 2015). The Chicago Public Schools boasted a 4% increase in the

graduation rate to 69% for 2014 while the national average rose to 80% (Ahmed-Ullah & Byrne,


Some educators believe the key to keeping kids in school is helping them to be

successful in their freshman year of high school. Chicago Public Schools have targeted

freshman since 2007 and over a seven-year period increased the number of students

completing the ninth grade by 7,000. During the same period, graduation rates increased from

49% to 68% (Grossman, 2015).

An illiterate youth who lacks formal education has little chance to succeed. Tactics to

improve the odds of a youth graduating need to include those mentioned earlier for the

Chicago Public Schools and more. Suggestions include:

1. Working to hire teachers who reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the

community. This has the byproduct of representing successful examples of

legitimate career goals.

2. Lowering class sizes to allow for more one-on-one instruction.


3. Include parents and community members in the educational process.

4. Increase the availability of health care and mental health care (Pizzuti, 2010).

Education is not a guarantee that a young person will avoid the drug trade. Sudhir

Venkatesh spent years embedded in a Chicago chapter of the Black Gangster Disciple Nation

where he observed the inner workings of a gang as they sold drugs and engaged in drug

violence. J.T., the leader of the local gang, had graduated college with a business degree and

worked a legitimate job in Chicago. Feeling out of place, J.T. quit his job and brought his

business skills to the world drugs and gang violence (Levitt & Dubner, 2006). It can be very

difficult to convince a young uneducated inner-city youth from entering the business.

The economics of low skill employment could also drive some individuals to pursue a

career in crime. Of all hourly wage employees, thirty percent make at or near minimum wage.

The value, or purchasing power, of a minimum wage job peaked in 1968 at $8.54 (adjusted to

2014 dollars). In 2014, the minimum wage has eroded to $7.25, or $15080 per year for a full-

time employee, and has not been raised since 2009. About half of all minimum wage earners

are ages sixteen to twenty-four (Desilver, 2015). Working at a minimum wage job affords an

individual only $3310 more than the federal poverty level and $850 less than the poverty level

for a family of two (HealthCare.gov, 2015).

As the minimum wage value erodes, better paying manufacturing and industrial

opportunities also erode from the American landscape. Manufacturing jobs numbered an

estimated 19.5 million in 1979, but dropped to 11.5 million by 2009. During the decade ending

2010, almost three million jobs were moved overseas. The primary reason cited by

manufacturers for moving production overseas is labor costs (Lach, 2012).


At the same time that manufacturing jobs were decreasing, population was increasing.

The U.S. population in 1979 was 225 million (US Census Bureau, 2004) and grew to over 321

million in 2009 (Multpl.com, 2015). Not only did we experience a manufacturing job loss of

eight million over the thirty-year period, but in 1979 8.7% of the U.S. population was employed

in a manufacturing job while only 3.6% were employed in the manufacturing sector in 2009.

The Obama administration is working to stem the tide of overseas outsourcing. In 2012,

President Obama put forth six initiatives to encourage business to return and retain

manufacturing jobs in the United States:

1. Provide incentives for businesses to return to the U.S. by removing tax incentives

for companies operating overseas. Previously, companies moving overseas

could deduct moving expenses. In keeping with that ideal, the President

proposed a twenty percent tax credit for companies moving operations back to

the U.S.

2. Target companies that manufacture in the U.S. and create jobs here. Advanced

manufacturing operations in the U.S. would see a doubling of the tax deductions


3. Provide a tax credit for manufacturing operations opened in communities that

have suffered the most job loss. The credit would provide two billion dollars in

each of three years for the tax credits.

4. Enact tax credits for clean energy manufacturing in the U.S. The credits total five

billion dollars, but are expected to spur twenty billion dollars in manufacturing


5. Continuing tax incentives that allow expensing all investment in plants and

equipment. The one-year tax relief benefit was projected to be fifty billion


6. End a tax code loophole that allows companies to transfer profits overseas to

avoid paying some taxes (Whitehouse, 2012).

By moving manufacturing jobs back to the United States, job opportunities will increase. High

School graduates could have more ability to find family wage jobs and avoid the drug trade.

Continuing efforts to return manufacturing jobs to the U.S. will help to provide living

wages with little education. About 80% of manufacturing jobs require some level of specialized

skills training typically provided at the community college level (Newman, 2014). Providing

subsidized community college education will help to deter some youths from choosing a life of


As we move toward electing a new president in 2016, immigration has become an

important issue for politicians seeking the most powerful office in the world. Donald Trump

states, in part, as his position on immigration, The impact in terms of crime has been tragic

(n.d.). The politicians willingness to appeal to the opposition to immigration is not new to the

stage. In a 2006 address, President George W. Bush stated, Illegal immigration brings crime

to our communities (Rumbaut, Gonzales, Komaie, & Morgan, 2006). These statements, along

with additional statements, tend to set society against immigrants and further a stereotype that

immigration increases violent crime. The speakers cite individual cases of criminal acts, but do

not include scholarly research to support their positions.


The concept that crime increases with immigration has been studied for over a century.

The Dillingham Immigration Commission of 1911 concluded, No satisfactory evidence has yet

been produced to show that immigration has resulted in an increase in crime disproportionate

to the increase in adult population. Such comparable statistics of crime and population as it has

been possible to obtain indicate that immigrants are less prone to commit crime than are

native Americans (Ewing, Martinez, & Rumbaut, 2015).

Graham Ousey and Charis Kubrin looked at the issue of crime and immigration in a

larger scope over a longer period of time, 1980 to 2000. After extensive research, Ousey and

Kubrin determined that, contrary to popular opinion, much of the existing research indicates

that persons born in the United States are more likely to engage in crime than foreign born

immigrants. In fact, Ousey and Kubrin determined that, immigration has a significant

negative association with with-in city change in violent crime (Ousey & Kubrin, 2009).

According to the American Immigration Council, the percentage of foreign-born persons

in the United States grew from 7.9% in 1990 to 13.1% in 2013, a 65% increase. During the same

period of time, the violent crime rate in the United States dropped 48% and the property crime

rate dropped 41%. Violent crime includes aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder while

property crime includes vehicle theft, larceny, and burglary. During a 2010 American

Community Survey, 3.3% of native-born males between the ages of 18 and 39 were

incarcerated while only 1.6% of foreign born males in the same age group were incarcerated.

Comparing census data for 1980, 1990, and 2000 shows incarceration rates for native-born

persons to be two to five times greater than foreign born (Ewing et al., 2015).

Even when accounting for poor education, incarceration rates for the foreign born are

less than that of the native-born. The incarceration rate for young native-born men who have

no high school diploma is 10.7%. Young, less educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan

men, who comprise the bulk of the illegal immigrants in the U.S., are incarcerated at a rate of

2.8% for Mexican men and 1.7% for Salvadoran and Guatemalan men (Ewing et al., 2015).

As law enforcement professionals struggle to deal with drugs and crime in the

community, police response to race relations has become a common headline. On August 9,

2014 Michael Brown was tragically killed in a confrontation with local police in Ferguson, MO

(Buchannan et al., 2015). In the wake of Browns death, and other perceived injustices,

protests and movements have sprouted across the United States. Many of the protests call

attention to alleged, and sometimes obvious, excessive force by police. The shooting of Walter

Scott in April, 2015 might have gone unnoticed were it not for a bystanders video of the

shooting and of the officer planting evidence (Schmidt & Apuzzo, 2015).

According to a New York Times poll, seventy-nine percent of adult African-Americans,

and thirty-seven percent of whites, believe that police are more likely to use deadly force on

blacks than whites. The same poll showed that fifty-three percent of whites and only sixteen

percent of African-Americans believe that race does not play a role in police use of deadly force

(Sussman, 2015). The problem is, as Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey

pointed out in his Georgetown University speech, there is no empirical information on the

subject. The Uniform Crime Reporting system, which is voluntary, fails to collect information

regarding the use of force and race. As expressed by Director Comey, In the absence of good

data, all we get are ideological thunderbolts when what we need are ideological agnostics who

use information to try to solve problems (Comey, 2015).

Director Comey posits that problems with race relations, will not be solved by body

cameras (Comey, 2015). A New York Times poll found that ninety-three percent of African-

Americans and whites favor the use of body worn cameras by police (Sussman, 2015). A

YouGov/Economist poll, as reported by the Huffington Post, determined eighty-eight percent of

Americans favor police wearing body cameras (Ewards-Levy, 2015). While body cameras are

not likely to solve all problems of race relations, polls clearly demonstrate the desire of the

citizens that law enforcement serves to provide more accountability through body worn

cameras. Utilizing available technology, while not likely to solve all problems surrounding race,

will help to improve societal confidence in police use of force and, possibly, prevent unrest as

seen in Ferguson and other cities.

As the United States works to deal with crime and imprisonment, law enforcement and

legislators need to examine many aspects of society. Blaming causes without empirical data or

ignoring larger concerns can make for ineffectual responses. Using therapeutic courts and

other treatment options has proven an effective alternative to prison. Recognizing alcohol for

the actual damages to society and curbing abuse by youths could save more lives than illicit

drugs kill.

During annual budget discussions, law enforcement professionals typically make cases

for increased police staffing. While more police may be needed as populations shift, law

enforcement leaders need to recognize the need to target improved educational opportunities

to deter youth from crime. Once young people complete high school, some community college

incentives may help to provide skills that lead to living wage jobs.

The United States has been losing manufacturing jobs, a significant sector for above

poverty level jobs, at an alarming rate. A reduction of eight million jobs over a thirty-year

period while the population has increased by ninety-six million. Legislators must work to return

manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

As a society of laws, it is important to secure our borders to protect from illegal

immigration and the smuggling of illicit drugs. What is not necessary is ascribing all crime

problems to immigrants, legal or illegal. Study after study has shown that immigrants commit

less crime than native born citizens.

Over the past eighteen months, the United States has endured almost daily incidents

showing confrontation between police and minorities. Law enforcement will need to look for

opportunities to engage minorities in the community, actively recruit minority police

candidates, and work to reduce use of unnecessary force. One example of engaging youth and

community can be found in Washington DC where police officers conduct a months long

program with inner city youth to help them better understand the role and complexity of police

in the community (Thomas, Levin, Sands, Allen, 2015). Law enforcement also needs to listen to

the vast majority of citizens who favor the use of body worn cameras to better hold police and

criminals accountable.

As law enforcement continues to study the issues of the past, present, and future, crime

will evolve. The ever-changing world presents new challenges that law enforcement must

combat through ongoing discussion and education. Partnering with the community they serve

will set law enforcement on a path to meet the challenges of the future.


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