Will crime be an issue in 2008 political campaigns? It already is in localities like Philadelphia and Baltimore where violence is rising, but it’s not yet clear whether it will be a major matter of debate by next year’s presidential candidates. So said panelists yesterday in Atlanta at the American Society of Criminology’s annual convention. One person who believes that crime will rise in prominence as an issue is Laurie Robinson, former Assistant U.S. Attorney General now at the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology. Robinson noted that the fact that crime is important in such swing states as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida will force the presidential contenders to deal with it.
Criminologist Charles Wellford of the University of Maryland is not so sure. He noted that with the exception of Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Joseph Biden, none of the major presidential hopefuls has made crime a “top 10” issue so far. Wellford believes that the Iraq war and the economy will loom much larger. Joe Whitley, Associate Attorney General in the George H.W. Bush administration, said that a “crime du jour” may occur in 2008 that will capture candidates’ attention as carjackings did in an earlier era. Criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University said that with relatively flat crime rates, “the public is not inflamed.” Congress did not object to an easing by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to crack cocaine sentencing guidelines, an indication to Blumstein that the “door is somewhat opening” to a reduction in mandatory minimum prison sentences. Adam Gelb of the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project said more of the debate may take place at the state level, where policy makers are taking more of an interest in cost-benefit analyses of anticrime measures.