Crime policy continues to be driven by half-truths and myths, says criminologist John Roman of the Urban Institute. Critical incidents like the mass murder in Aurora, Co., lead to poor analysis that only perpetuates partisan division and bad laws like Stand Your Ground, he says. Roman urges a focus on “things that prevent the largest number of crimes at the smallest possible cost,” which he says “requires a willingness to make profound changes in how we investigate crimes, whom we arrest and imprison, what services and treatment we provide to inmates, and, finally, how we pay for crime prevention.”
Roman stresses two items: more DNA analysis and drug treatment. Despite what is shown on television and in the movies, DNA rarely is used to identify unknown suspects. DNA evidence can be cost-effectively used to aid the investigation of property crimes like burglary, and the suspects identified by DNA have much more serious criminal histories than suspects identified by other means. Separately, an avalanche of recent research points to treatment as the most cost-effective weapon in the drug war arsenal. Each year, almost 1.5 million people at risk of drug abuse and drug dependence are arrested, but few receive treatment. That treatment would cost about $15 billion but would result in more than $45 billion in savings as treated people commit fewer crimes. Saving a cool $30 billion annually, while improving public safety, should excite politicians and voters alike, Roman says.