Correctly or not, police chiefs and their officers are often blamed when crime spikes. It is only fitting that they get a pat on the back when violence subsides, editorializes the Washington Post. Washington, D.C., and neighboring jurisdictions have seen significant drops in crime, as have other major cities and metropolitan areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco. The declines are remarkable, coming as they do in the midst of a recession and well into the summer months, when violence typically increases sharply.
Even while average crime rates are down, certain neighborhoods continue to be ravaged by gang activity. Higher rates of incarceration undoubtedly result in reduced crime, at least in the short run. A crime-and-punishment approach alone cannot combat drug addiction, mental illness, or the lack of education and skills that often lead to repeat offenses. Academics who study crime trends note that violence dips and swells periodically for no apparent reason; only long-term study of a particular area can reveal the causes for these shifts. A national commission on the criminal justice system proposed by Sen. James Webb (D-VA) could help provide answers to these and other critical questions. The legislation calls for the appointments of experts in such fields as law enforcement, prison administration, drug addiction and mental illness, victims’ rights and social services. Webb would like the panel to study all facets of the criminal justice system — from sentencing laws to pre-release rehabilitation to post-release supervision. The commission is encouraged to identify best practices wherever it finds them. We hope Congress embraces the idea. the Post says.