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Time to Sweat the Small Stuff: Petty Crime | U.S. PATRIOT NEWS & REVIEWS

Time to Sweat the Small Stuff: Petty Crime

The last few months have seen a steady uptick in public outcry concerning the current state of the criminal justice system. First it was protests following in-custody deaths, many of which turned violent and destroyed private property and businesses. Then more and more people started questioning not the police practices, which initially sparked the protests, but the police themselves. How did it get to the point where protesters could shut down major highways and call for violence against law enforcement?

Simple answer – we let them think it was ok.

By “we” I mean the criminal justice system as a whole – law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and juries alike. As a system we have failed the citizens we serve. But we did not fail them by being too harsh or targeting the depressed neighborhoods. We failed by NOT being strict enough. We failed by repeatedly turning a blind eye to minor criminal activity. We failed because, by not holding petty criminals accountable from the beginning, we allowed, even encouraged, them to grow into full blown criminals with little or no fear of the repercussions.

Petty CrimeDo not take my word for it. There is a criminological theory called “broken windows” first introduced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982 that posits that letting minor infractions go unaddressed (the broken windows) leads to a belief that those minor offenses are acceptable which then leads to a gradual acceptance of criminal activity in general as also being acceptable. Before long this acceptance of criminal activity makes it virtually impossible for police to maintain control at any level.

Although there are those that doubt the broken window theory, it has been successfully demonstrated in several high profile examples by major departments nationwide. The most notable example occurred under the tenure of Mayor Rudy Giuliani of NYC in the mid-1990s. Following his election in 1993, Mayor Giuliani selected William J Bratton, as strong supporter of the broken windows theory, as Police Commissioner, and together they embarked on a zero tolerance campaign focusing primarily on quality-of-life crimes.  At first they were criticized for wasting police resources in pursuit of subway fare dodgers, vandals, public drunkenness, panhandlers and prostitutes.  However, by the end of Mayor Giuliani’s term, NYC had experienced a significant drop in not only these petty quality of life offenses but serious crimes as well.

So how did we get to where we are today?

We failed to follow through. Arrests for petty crimes “overburdened” the courts and hard stances against repeat offenders crowded the jails and prisons. Seeking a solution which was cheap, easy and fast, we went back to turning a blind eye to minor criminal activity; we stopped holding criminals accountable and we lost control.  It is no coincidence that the protests came on the heels of calls to decriminalize recreational drug use, pardon thousands who crossed the borders illegally and release scores of prisoners found guilty by legitimate courts.

So what do we do?

We have two choices. We can continue to turn a blind eye and see how far society will allow this acceptance to go, or we can regain control by holding criminals at all levels accountable. Do not get me wrong, I am not advocating the locking up of every petty criminal. I am not even proposing heavy fines for these quality of life offenses. I am simply saying we need to recognize a crime for what it is – illegal. Identify the wrongdoing, notify those responsible that they have been noticed, and stop the illegal activity. Whether you issue a warning or the court orders minor punishment, the point is that it is time to sweat the small stuff before it grows out of control.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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