Crime in America: Can Crisis Spur Reform?


Jeffrey Toobin leads "A Conversation About Justice"

Could the bad economy be good news for criminal justice? It’s a radical idea, but over the last two days in New York City, where journalists and academics joined prison directors, DAs, victims advocates, judges and representatives from the Department of Justice and the FBI at John Jay College of Justice to figure out where the system is failing, it was a notion that kept popping up.

Since 1970, America has incarcerated more and more of its citizens every year. But now, the money is running out. State budgets for 2011 promise to be lean and mean, and everyone – from police to courts to corrections – is going to have to do more with less. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Anthony Barkow, Executive Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University, says that many aspects of the criminal justice system aren’t run according to best practices or good data, but politics. Being called “soft on crime” is perceived as a candidate’s death knell, and people convicted of felony can’t vote, so there there can be little incentive for a politician to seek out reform, especially with the fear of being hit by the next Willie Horton case alive and well. But, says Barkow, the fiscal crisis may be “a blessing in disguise to bring liberals and conservative together to find common ground to control the spending in the system.

New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman was similarly uncowed by looming austerity. In his keynote address at the Sixth Annual John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, which focused on a “crisis” in the court system, Lippman pronounced the state courts “engines of reform and innovation” and praised problem-solving courts “which not only punish the offender but address underlying problems like addiction…transforming the judicial role…by actively engaging defendants in behavior modification.”

Below is an hour-by-hour guide to the Crime in America Symposium, where these, and many other discussions about criminal justice, took place on January 31-February 1, 2011. Topics included gun laws, family court, cyber criminals, crime rates, over-incarceration, and more.


America’s Prisons: A Progress Report from the States Moderated by Martin Horn, Former Commissioner of New York City Department of Correction and Probation


The panelists were asked what they thought of vocational training in prisons:

Jon Ozmint: “We eliminated vocational programs like computer programming and silly things like that. We gave them welding classes and they got jobs. A lot of guys don't want to do a vocational program they want to work…they get a card that tells an employer this is where they're at [skills-wise]; we found that was a lot better.

Gary Lanigan: “We've moved to certificate programs…welding, carpentry, roofing, electric, extermination. So they're walking out with a certificate that says, I've completed this course.”


Jon Ozmint on the skewed view a reporter with a notepad or camera gets when in a prison: “If you’ve got a group of teenage boys shooting hoops in the gym and the cheerleaders come in, do you think behavior is going to change?” The same thing, he says, happens when the media bring cameras into a prison: they see the worst behavior, instead of what’s “really going on” which is people “just trying to do their time and get by.”

Responding to a question about the large numbers of mentally ill inmates and how they are disciplined: “We can’t hold a mentally ill inmate to the same standard” as an other inmate, said Ozmint.

Martin Horn said: “It’s a very sad commentary on America that this problem has been dumped on the people who run our jails and prisons.”


Jon Ozmint, Outgoing Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, says the fact that most newspapers and news organizations don’t have anyone covering corrections. He said he calls the new prison reporters “howdy doody’s” because they’re so young and “they're gonna be there a year before they become too expensive and their paper pulls them off onto something else.” But nonetheless: “Frankly, if you write on a topic you are an opinion shaper…and if you're going to write about this topic you ought to try to get it right.”

A woman in the audience asked about whether education within the prison increased safety within the prison and decreased recidivism. She also asked if the corrections directors on the panel would support allowing former prisoners to receive Pell grants and other funding for higher education.

Ozmint answered: “Restoration of Pell grants, in my state, is a bridge too far. It's not going to happen…we have statutes on the books that prohibit public funding to inmates. We know that if you leave [prison[ with a GED, your recidivism rate is going to be lower, but not as dramatically lower as if you were a drug addict and got treatment. We know it works and higher education would work too, but who's gonna pay for it?”


Martin Horn asks: “Who cares if a prisoner has a cell phone?”

Lanigan does: “A cell phone in a prison is as dangerous as a gun…inmates are using to put hits out on the street. A correction officer in South Carolina was actually shot in his own house [based on a ] hit put out by an inmate. The are used to intimidate witnesses, to run drug and gang activity. We spend a lot of money trying to intercept them, when it would be a whole lot wiser if the government would allow us to jam that signal. No one, not me or any corrections officer, is allowed to bring a cell phone in.”


Adam Gelb, Director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, talked about his organization’s most recent survey: “Prisons have been the fastest growing part of state budgets besides medicaid in the past decade. They cost $50 billion a year, and that doesn’t even count federal prison.”

Martin Horn chimes in saying, “If you count the federal facilities it’s $70 billion. Each year 10 million people are in and out of the jails and prisons.”

Back to Gelb: “Overall, we know so much better today than 30 years ago how to slow the revolving door. First, it’s risk assessment: making meaningful distinctions between high, medium and low risk offenders. We know who needs to go to prison and stay there, and for those who stay in the community, how they need to be supervised.

“Second: we have technologies that didn't exist 30 years ago when we started down this prison building path. We have GPS, electronic monitoring and even automated kiosks to manage probationers and parolees who are low risk.

“Treatment programs have changed because now we know it doesn't help to sit around in a circle and talk about your relationship with your mother…[What works is] cognitive behavioral therapy: how am I gonna avoid those negative influences and not surround myself with crime? Very practical.

“There has been a shift in public opinion since the late 80s when crack came on the scene. People have been supportive of alternatives to incarceration for low level drug offenders. They want to see a trade off made between length of stay and recidivism…move toward results-based government. We’re seeing states like Texas reduce crime and incarceration rates at same time…A decade ago New York and Florida each had about 70,000 prisoners. Today, Florida's prison population is now over 100,000, and New York’s is under 60,000. Tax payers in which state got a better deal? These stories lay the groundwork for additional reform.”


Gary M. Lanigan, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, explained that prison directors have a lot of tough decisions to make: “When you have to make a decision about medical care versus security, the bottom line is your conscience. Christie wanted smarter cheaper more efficient, so we made some of those tough decisions. The easiest way to save money is housing. Philosophically I believe inmates sentenced to state custody belong in state care, in New Jersey we dropped by 60 percent the number of inmates we were housing in city jails. Saved $20 million last year.

“In a city jail you're really holding inmates for the judicial process – they aren't beginning their programming or reentry back to society once they come to a state facility, they are beginning that – education, drug treatment – things the media doesn't focus on in a positive sentence.

“I don't have the luxury to say who I have in custody. I have to put them in a safe environment and help transitioning them back into society; a student going nowhere in high school on the streets, is mandated to be educated in our system. Drug addiction experts say you want to begin that two years prior to release.”

Lanigan spoke about a new alternative to correction program that has resulted in “half the rate of re-arrest after one year—what that tells us is for next year's budget we're going to increase that program.”

Crime and Criminal Justice Trends 2010-2011 Moderated by Stephen Handelman, Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice


Al Blumstein, Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research at Carnegie Mellon University, began by showing slides depicting the dramatic rise in incarceration since the 1970s. What’s the change?:

“The dramatic story is the rise in drug incarceration. between 1980 and 2001 growth by a factor of 10; major consideration in the growth of prison pop; is drug abuse a public health issue? Is it a criminal justice issue? We became very frantic about in 1980s and 1990s, largely driven by the crack epidemic, [creating] mandatory sentences for crack. It became a highly politicized issue.”

While the prison population booms, Blumstein said that, but for a “blip” in 2005-2006, there has been a drop in major crimes—including murder and robbery—every year since 2000. Preliminarily, Blumstein said that in 2010 we’re seeing murder down by seven percent and robbery down by 11 percent, nationwide.

Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, takes issue with Blumstein’s calling the 2005-2006 year a “blip,” saying that he found crime increases in many cities in those years (including Orlando, Cincinnati, Boston and Minneapolis). “Something was happening at that moment in time,” he said.


Handelman asks, “How do we measure success in this new environment?”

Marc A. Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said, “Texas has some of the nation's highest incarceration rate [but we] have seen double dip decline in both prison population and crime rate. Have put the funds in alternative programs. Still have fourth highest rate [of incarceration], but we used to be number two. We’ve driven that down, and at same time driven down crime rate—through evidence based programs.”

Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff in the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice said:

“Fiscal year 2011 is still in flux. I think that the administration’s position is fairly clear: we are extremely supportive of the [justice] reinvestment model…lead by an extraordinary states like Texas and Kansas. We can support and encourage this, but it is most likely that you won't see an increased budget for criminal justice this year.

“Anyone who says with absolute certainty what influenced crime trends we should take with some grains of salt. It is pretty clear that effective modern policing, including community-based policing was partly responsible for part of the crime drop. We've made such tremendous progress but we are at a time where we will have to make some very difficult choices. Policy equals budget.”


Al Blumstein, said, “It doesn't matter how many cops you have [what matters is] how sophisticated the management is in exercising their forces. Big cities still have resources to quench hot spots—not because of data but of management philosophy…But smaller cities need the skills and information…that they don't have. Also there has been a enormous disconnect between the left and the right for the last three years, but now they are coming together for the first time due to the budget crisis.”

PANEL 2: The Courts on Trial: Is the System Failing Us? Moderated by Amy Bach, Faculty Fellow at The Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics and the Media at Syracuse University


Amy Bach asks the panel what they see as the “red flags” illustrating problems in the courts.

Robin Steinberg, Executive Director of the Bronx Defenders began with a scene she encounters every day in the Bronx:

“What I see every morning, I pass the “hall of justice” in the courthouse, is a long line, literally around the block, of people of color. The people are standing in line with no coverage from the cold or heat, for 30 min to an hour before let into the building. The line is made up almost exclusively of men of color…[this shows] the racial disproportionality of what's coming into the courtroom. [We’re] not providing the basic human dignity to even get access to the building, much less access to justice.

“When you get into the building it doesn't get any better. You see a system that is almost all plea bargaining. Partly it’s overcrowding…but it's also a reflection of mandatory sentencing…which provides a reason to take a plea to avoid unduly harsh sentences…This shifts power from judges to prosecutors…[and in]…any state court, access to defense council ranges from indifference to incompetence to no defense at all.

“The people that are being dragged into the state court system are being charged with misdemeanors…[many] take a plea, which is far from benign. You can't get away from are all the consequences that come from that…[if you] plead guilty to disorderly conduct, you'll be precluded from ever receiving federal financial aid for college. Plead guilty to assault, and you can be excluded from public housing and lose your kids in family court.”

John T Chisholm, District Attorney, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin said: “We've created an unsustainable system…we have a 50 percent recitivism rate from the Department of Corrections. This has a real impact on your community – if you're taking hundreds of African American men from that system [and putting them back in the community], it's not surprising that [certain areas] have the highest rate of violence and disorder. We invest an enormous amount of resources in these communities without good results. How do we change that?

We recently received a grant to engage system wide in evidence based framework which requires people to step outside their comfort zones. “

The Honorable Robert T. Russell, Jr., Associate Judge for Buffalo City Court: “In 1972 about 200,000 people incarcerated in the U.S, now it’s two million. What has happened that impacted our justice system? One is substances, drugs, and those that are dependent on substances. Is the system responding to what we've noticed? The first drug treatment court began in 1989, now there are thousands across US. 70-80 percent of the people in our justice system are dependent on or users of substances. How do we get these people clean and sober, not re-offending?

Mental health treatment court began in late 1990s. IN the 1970s there was a significant movement in mental health [through which] many [inpatient] facilities closed. [We] thought they could be better served in the community, but when community could not provide, the transference was in our justice system. Our jails and corrections are the largest residential facility for our severely mentally ill.”


Anthony Barkow, Executive Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University said: “Of the 200,000 people in the federal system, three-quarters are African-America or Hispanic; 11.5 percent of African American men under 40 are currently in prison. And more than 20 percent of African American men born since the 1960s have spent at least a year in jail on a felony conviction. You can't help but conclude that the system is failing.

There is a lack of data in the system…[it is an] Irrational system making decisions based on anecdotes and media. Fiscal crisis a blessing in disguise to bring liberals and conservative together to find common ground to control the spending in the system.

The people most directly affected can't vote – so [there is] a lack of voice in the political system of the people most negatively affected by it. For a long time you could only win an election by being “tough”; when that's the political culture you can't help but end up in a situation like this. It's a breakdown in the political system.”

Kendall Coffey, author of Spinning the Law, and former U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida, said: “There is an unwillingness to go to trial because the sentencing system is so loaded up. In Florida it's clearly out of kilter…[there has been a] revolution in victims rights, so much more than ever before, victims needed to be heard in the process of resolving criminal cases. [This is] mostly very good, but when the prosecutor needs to get the victim sign off on sentence…[they] aren't exactly objective.

“The proliferation of media makes it hard to do anything but maximum punishment anytime the media is watching. It becomes that much tougher to try to reach some sanity in [sentencing] outcome.

There is no presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion. It's impossible to humanize the defendant in terms of the public's perception of the case. Questions of mental illness are getting swept aside, and in Florida especially youthful offenders as young as 12 are treated as adults.

“There is absolutely no political constituency for a balance in the process. The system has a profound imbalance…we have a lot of work to do before the world's best justice system can be one we can truly be proud of it.”


Robin Steinberg on possible solutions: “I think more money might not give us higher quality justice but higher quality judges…There aren't enough courtrooms to actually hear everybody's story—trials have virtually vanished…which means there is no check and balance on police. If police are sweeping people into the criminal justice system and [never have to answer for the arrests in court]…they can [do this with] impunity.

[I’d like to see] a Defender General position created so someone has real oversight over the indigent defense community…Until you start searching the kids coming out of the fancy private school on the Upper East Side the same way you search the kids coming out of the public schools in the Bronx, you'll never galvanize the communities with power.”


PANEL 1: The Courts, Public Safety and Civil Liberties—Challenges in 2011, moderated by Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and The New Yorker

Long prison sentences are not the only thing that don’t correlate to dropping crime rates. Sue Bell Cobb, Chief Justice of Alabama Supreme Court, says that she thinks crime is being thwarted by technology, specifically cell phones: “Now, you call for help,” before entering a potentially dangerous situation.

Andre Davis, Federal Judge for the United States Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit, also sees better medical care in trauma centers as contributing the the drop in homicides: “In Maryland, you now have a community of wheelchair-bound young men, drug dealers who would have been homicide victims 30 years ago.”

On indigent defense and sentencing:

Judge Cobb: “I believe our civil liberties have been eroded because of inadequate indigent defense…people are urged or coerced into entering a guilty plea…they are not being informed of their rights…Are our sentencing laws continuing the revolving door? To [address that] we need to see if we are using anger-based sentencing or evidence based sentencing.”

Susan Herman, President of the ACLU, followed up by saying that “Prison is extremely destabilizing” and that the problems former inmates have getting jobs chips into their civil liberties post-incarceration, as well as into their family lives.

Doug Berman, William B Saxbe professor of law at Ohio State University, pointed out that as “corrections spending has gone up, education spending has flattened…[and yet] the easiest way to predict whether someone it going to commit a crime or not is whether they have a high school diploma.”

On juvenile justice:

Judge Cobb explained that in Alabama “we worked on four counties [looking at] how and why we are detaining kids. Were we detaining more kids of color? Yes…And when we locked kids up they were more likely to be sent to state school and get in more trouble. What we discovered [was that reducing the number of] kids in detention… reduced our services to juvenile justice. We are contributing to making Alabama safer to not locking up kids that shouldn't have been in there in the first place.”


The Crisis in the Family Courts Moderated by Cara Tabachnick, Deputy Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice


King says she sees judges abdicating their decision making responsibility to mental health professionals: “Legally, [judges] should be making their decision based on the evidence. If you're a psychologist you can take information from people and smash it to make it come out the way you want it…It can be very biased, it can be manipulated and massaged and I don't think it's particularly reliable. Whoever picks the evaluator [has an agenda] and picks an evaluator to produce results that [whoever hired/picks] wants.”

Tabachnick turned to Amy Leichtenberg, whose former husband killed her sons and himself; she is the founder of “In Loving Memory of Duncan and Jack Leichtenberg”:

“In 2006, after years of emotional and mental abuse, I decided to leave my children’s murderer. We went into hiding because of the fact that he was so obsessed with me and finding out where I was. He ended up calling me over 500 times in one week. I did get an order of protection for myself and the boys. He was arrested shortly thereafter for, apparently, ‘accidentally’ finding us…After that he went to Florida and then decided to come back. He left his job and instead of paying for child support he went into a shelter and then he was able to see the boys in a state visitation center. He saw them on a regular basis on supervised visits. The judge at the time told him that if he got himself a job, a place to live and started getting counseling, he would allow him to see the boys in a more normal setting.

“My ex represented himself and I hired an attorney at $200 an hour. He filed continuous motions. He went to a psychiatrist who said that …he was depressed and that if he saw his children he would get better. [At one point, my ex] told the visitation supervisor that he would commit suicide. The supervisor wrote to the judge, but judge brushed it off. He'd also told police on many occasions that he was going to kill himself.

“In August 2008, the visitation center was losing their funding and the judge wanted to start [my ex] to have some “normalness” in his life. The judge allowed supervised visits in his home with someone who represented me and someone who represented my ex. My friend documented his erratic behavior…but the judge ignored my friend's 20 page report and accepted his friend’s.

“In December 2008, the judge told my attorney, ‘oh you don't know him—he's not going to do anything. I just want to give him what he wants to get him out of my courtroom…After his sixth supervised visit, he failed to return them. On march 9, three weeks later, they found them in the back of his car in a remote part of Illinois, drugged. He had stabbed my youngest and he hung himself. That Saturday he was given them, he had told the boys this was probably going to be their last visit because daddy was moving…I called the police but [the police told me that if I didn’t hand them over, he’d raise a stink and] they were going to have to arrest me. On March 8, I dropped them off at their executioner. It took 26 hours to get an Amber Alert – the police didn't want to scare him or make him go into hiding.

“The system failed my babies on so many levels. I did everything I was supposed to do. I reported his violations, I did everything was supposed to do in court. And I still feel guilty. If I can save just one life I will do whatever I have to do to do that…I currently have a lawsuit against the [local] police department for violating me and the boys’ civil rights. It's about accountability. It's about changing the system and about bringing awareness to what's going on to prevent this.”


Tabachnick began the panel by recounting some of what she learned reporting two feature articles —”Failure to Protect: The Crisis in the Family Courts” and “Disciplining the Judge.” First she spoke about the lack of coordination between criminal and family court. If a woman has an order of protection against her husband, the family court judge dealing with custody may have no knowledge or records of the criminal matter. She recalled the case of a woman who reported her partner’s abuse to the police, but the family court still granted the father custody; on an overnight visit, he killed the child and himself.

“This is not unsual. This is going on in family court all over the nation. In New York there is now an integrated domestic violence court – if you have an open criminal justice case and a family court case, they automatically run concurrently.”

Next to speak was Eileen King, regional director of Justice for Children. King hoped to spur the reporters in the room to look into the family courts:

“This is one of the most under-reported areas of law; if you are one of the 3 million women each year who is a victim of domestic violence and you do what everyone asks you to do, you leave him and get yourself safe, get your kids safe….You have a legal relationship with the person abusing you or your child and that legal relationship will follow you until at least your child is 18. These women find themselves in one of the worst catch-22 situations they can imagine.

“…When questions of custody come up they are always handled in family court. In criminal court you have certain protections afforded by the Victims Right Acts. Not so in civil court. You find yourself in an extremely hostile environment…this provides the perfect arena for an abusive person to go to war. It's a war where people are unequally armed.”

According to King and Tabachnick, family courtrooms and judges are notoriously unfair:

“There is a perception that there is a lawlessness in these courts: Constitutional rights can be disregarded, rules of evidence are disregarded; people are told to shut up and not speak…higher standards for women…[there can be an] attitude of the ‘f-you’ rule: you married him, you made your bed, you lie in it,” said King. “[Most family court judges] don't seem to really be interested in judicial education. There is a certain arrogance… 90 percent of people in family court in Maryland have no representation…it's hugely expensive…one hearing could be $10K…[but] settlements don't work real well in abuse cases.”

Tabachnick followed: “Family court judges tend to be the most inexperienced. It's thought of as a black hole, [for] people who are going nowhere. Family court is very underfunded…Most people are in family court represent themselves…Family lawyers are often like ambulance chasers.”

Techno-Crime Fighting: Law Enforcement, Civil Liberties, Public Safety and the Web Moderated by Bernice Yeung, Contributing Editor, California Lawyer


Dennis Jay Kenney, Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice predicted more public-private partnerships when it comes to keeping control of data: “With few exceptions, the government can't manage the technology out there today. [I think we] will increasingly see public-private partnerships so private companies will increasingly have power over us that the government traditionally had…”


Zack Miller, Section Chief of the FBI’s Cyber Division, discusses cyber crime:

“I think there is a growing cyber crime problem that we are continuing to chase a bit behind the curve…bank robbery, fraud are all facilitated by the internet. We’re seeing a lot of cars or other items for sale. People put up ads, solicit deposits before delivering the goods, then the victims forward their payments but don't receive the goods. A lot of cyber threats come from overseas.”

An audience member asks about the “Anonymous” group that launched attacks on companies perceived as being opposed to Wikileaks:

Miller responds:

“This is a rising threat – a group of individuals adopted a mob mentality…[and] anybody can be nominated to be the victim…this is like pitchforks and torches storming the castle. The potential is that whatever you intentions are, if you get enough people to back what you're presenting to the crowd, you're creating a huge threat to whoever the victim is going to be. It is something that we're keeping an eye on. In that case, they used a tool that was readily available…but didn't give them the ability to block their IP addresses.”

Still, criminals are aware of law enforcement tactics to catch them. Gascon pointed out that many drug dealers no longer use cell phones because they know police can trace them.

“[Tech law] is a body of law that's developing and the law is always behind. There's no question that with very little money you can get a tremendous amount of personal information [on someone], you can take somebody's ID…I don't believe the body of law in this area is mature enough to deal with this and I don't think it ever will because technology moves too fast,” Gascon.

Police departments are technologically way behind the curve and they will continue to be because there just isn't enough money. The banking industry has to self-police and has spent a great deal of money because police are behind. And [the problem with] the push to make medical records…is that when that information is readily available it's accessible for people who may use it for inappropriate uses.”


George Gascon, District Attorney and former Chief of Police of San Francisco: In the 1990s we started with CompStat and hot spot policing and automated crime mapping systems, [so we could see] where crimes were occurring [and use that] as tool to deploy police. [Has had a] tremendous impact and [has led to] reductions of crime. But it also created a problem, started leading to an over-criminalization in the community.

“[We also have] data mining tools so we can take old crime mapping, arrests, vehicle stops and start mining for information on a particular incident. We’re having early discussions of predictive policing. Many factors: weather, temporal issues,

“The problem with all these tools are that they’re retroactive – they look at what has [already] occurred. As we get into predictive policing we have to go beyond and look at things that aren't really tied to criminal justice system, other social indicators. We know that young people that do not attend school in earlier years of life have a greater likelihood of being involved in crime at a later date. There is a lot of information that is available with those tools. But we have silos of information: education, social services, health services that need to be connected in a way that we can start…reducing the likelihood of young people committing crimes.

“There is also a danger: how good do we want the government to get at connecting all this info? How do you protect the privacy of these people? I believe these are legitimate concerns, but not good enough not to do it..Instead of looking at how to arrest the next offender tomorrow, we need to look forward 10 years. How do we stop people from engaging in that behavior to begin with?”


Yeung begins the panel by asking how technology has changed how each panelist does their job over the past 10 years.

Daniel F. Conley, District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts begins:

“When I began my career as an ADA in 1984, technology was barely used. We almost never any surveillance video, and if we did it was very grainy. Now it's a rare case that doesn't have some kind of high quality surveillance footage as part of the evidence.

“Boston is grappling with youth gun violence. When an active police office is on the streets, a common scenario is that the officer will see suspicious activity, try to stop the suspect and end up in a chase. Common practice is [for the perpetrator] to discard the firearm. Once apprehended, now, officers can retrace path of flight using a thermal imaging device to locate firearms, [which, when] held close to the body will retain heat.

“Another tool is the “shot spotter,” an acoustics system that picks up and triangulates with pretty darn good precision where gunshots originate from. So often before the 911 call goes out, police can get to the crime scene relatively quickly. Technology can even distinguish caliber so we know how many firearms used.

“Private cameras, help, too. In convenience store robberies, outstanding resolution captures gruesome detail [so that even if] the perp is masked, it gives the jury the full story about what happened.

“The Craigslist killer purchased his firearm by going to New Hampshire. We have him on his cell phone from Boston all the way to the place where he purchased the firearm under a false name.

He spoke about using GPS devices for young gang members on parole.

“[We also use] social media. What has [the defendant] been saying on Facebook before and after the event? We had two defendants who were involved in a gang and did a shooting…they denied their affiliation wth the Mass Ave Hornets, but we were able to put into evidence that one of the defendants put on his MySpace [a photo of himself] with a Hornet tattoo. [Social media] can be a treasure trove of evidence to solve and prosecute defendants.”

Gun Violence, The Media and The Role of Courts and Law Enforcement Moderated by Maurice Possley, Coordinator of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice’s Joyce Gun Violence Project.


An audience member asked a question following up on Ludwig’s assertion that gun buy-backs don’t work.

Ludwig responded:

“[I think] everyone in the [academic] community is of the same mind on gun buybacks: you're not buying back the guns used in crimes…Who's going to give you their gun for $50 [when they bought it] for $300 on the street? It's the grandma who finds the old gun in the attic [whose guns the buy-backs collect].”

Spitzer addressed the issue of the proliferation of gun shops along the U.S./Mexico border:

“There are 7,000-8,000 gun dealers [along the border] – there is no doubt that American bought guns are fueling Mexican violence. The Obama administration looks to be doing a pivot on this, [is] swooping in on dealers selling large numbers of guns to straw purchasers. The extent to which violence spills over into America will [have some impact on how this is addressed…The Mexicans view it as an American fueled problem: America has the appetite for drugs, America is supplying the guns.”

Hemenway pointed out that the ATF is “not allowed to do stings with its own personnel…30-40 percent of all gun transfers don't go through licensed dealers.”

He continued: “Most of the guns brought into places like New York and Chicago are brought it through trafficking…[I’d like to see a] national one-gun per month law [to cut down on bulk gun purchasing and make trafficking less financially attractive.] Every gun purchase should require a background check [there are typically no background check at gun shows], and we want really good enforcement of dealers who are doing the checks.

“It’s all about preventing the guns from getting into the city. There are 25 other developed democracies that do a better job than we do. They have inner cities too, they have the same horrible videos and movies, but they aren't killing each other with guns”


Robert Spitzer, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at SUNY Cortland, talked about the politics behind gun laws and our attitudes about gun ownership:

“There is a very close connection between political assassination and outbreaks of violence and gun control. [So after the Loughner shooting] why is it that general sentiment is that there will be no change in policy regarding guns? [One reason is the ] NRA, which has a relatively small membership -four million members, but several deeply vested political advantages: First, a single-issue ideology. It focuses in a laser-like fashion on that issue. It isn't enough to have numbers on your side. Gun rights people will contribute money, will vote, will write letters a range of activities that the typical American does not, on the gun rights issue…A zealous, motivated constituency that can have decisive impact on the political landscape.

“[There is the] Brady Coalition, but the pro-gun regulation side, politically speaking, has been smaller and had a more difficult time motivating and maintaining the motivation of their base.

“The NRA has been successful at framing how the issue of gun control is presented. As a matter of law…it was never true that the second amendment confered the right to individual gun ownership…[they’ve also been successful at] demonizing the ATF…and at keeping its appropriations low.

“The Democrats, by and large have retreated on the gun issue; many said Al Gore's defeat was due in part to [his support of] … gun regulation. I think the actual adverse affect of the gun issue was greatly overstated, nevertheless that was their feeling and the Democratic party began to back away from the gun issue.

George W. Bush’s presidency was the most gun-friendly presidency in the history of the United States, period. John Ashcroft was the most gun-friendly member of the Senate, [and just after he was appointed Attorney General] he issued a letter to a member of the NRA [saying that] the justice department was reversing over 50 years of policy regarding how they interpreted the meaning of the second amendment. One interpretation is that it's a militia based right. The alternative interpretation is the so-called individualist view, that the second amendment allows an individual to have a gun for personal reasons.

“Bush moved to restrict access to gun data, and ended federal gun buy back program. U.S. representatives at the United Nations blocked efforts to restrict international gun trafficking. And it all culminated in the 2008 Supreme Court case D.C. v Heller where, for the first time in history, the court affirms the individual right to have a handgun.”


Jens Ludwig, McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, talked about the politics and history of gun regulation:

“[There are about] 250 million guns in the country and about 20 percent of gun owners wind up owning 80 percent of all the guns.

“This is going to be a very difficult problem for us to regulate out way out of. There are no border checks driving from Virginia to Chicago, and [there has been] a series of federal court decisions striking down gun laws.”

But, said Ludwig, there are some law enforcement activities that could work:

“The huge majority of homicides in Chicago committed with guns and out of doors. Someone was carrying a gun in a public place illegally. Two types of behaviors lead to gun homicides in Chicago: the decision to use the gun in your waistband or the trunk of your car, often you’re drunk or high or someone has just said something about your girlfriend.

“[Where we may be able to affect change is in that] decision about whether you want to take the gun with you or not…so gun is not available when someone provokes you.”

“The NYPD does a lot of anti-gun patrolling (stop and frisk) searching for guns; it does seem to work. Pittsburgh is also an example.

“[From police, we] hear frustration that they'll catch someone carrying a gun illegally in public and that the courts will just give the guy a slap on the wrist. Makes me think of how we used to think about drunk driving 20 years ago.” Just because you don’t kill someone driving home drunk, doesn’t mean it was safe to drive drunk. “We have a new understanding of drunk driving where we think of probabilistic

“[We should] Provide incentives to lock your gun up—500,000 guns stolen every year, right into the hands of criminals…A disproportionate share of crime guns are traced to individual gun shops. We can do a better job of investigating these sources….[use] ATF trace data. New Jersey state police, when they catch anyone for anything related to a gun, they provide them with very powerful incentives to exchange information about where they got the gun.

“Gun buybacks are probably the least promising thing.”


David Hemenway, Professor of Health Policy, Harvard School of Public Health, compares the United States to the rest of the developed world:

Nobody outside the U.S. in a developed country can understand what we're doing with guns. The winning argument [for enacting gun laws overseas] is, Do you want to end up like the US? And the answer is NO, then they pass these laws.

“If you're a surgeon in the developed world and you want to learn to do surgery on gunshot wounds, you go to the U.S.

“The public does not understand what sort of an outlier the U.S when it comes to guns. Nor do they understand what a horrible neighbor we are – how we supply guns to Mexico, Canada, Jamaica.”

“American children (ages 5-14) are 13 times more likely to be killed by in a homicide with a gun than kids in the rest of the develped world. This age group has eight times gun suicide rate and 10 times the unintended firearm death rate. This is how we're protecting our children with our guns

“The rest of the world cannot understand why we do nothing. It's not like we have worse kids – our bullying rates are average – we are an average crime country in everything but gun violence.

“I hate this notion that you're either pro-gun or anti-gun. I do car safety work, I'm not anti-car; I do water safety, I'm not anti-swimming pool. It’s a very simplistic view of the world.

“Jared Loughner was a law-abiding citizen until he shot 20 people. In any other developed country he probably couldn't have gotten a gun.” He said in many countries an application to get a gun requires at least two personal references – and he probably couldn’t have gotten those.

“There are mass shootings in other countries. Gun control doesn't work perfectly – we have huge numbers of mass shootings, [other developed countries] have very few. Crime guns are trafficked – it's hard to keep guns away from D.C. criminals, can go to Virginia or Maryland.

“[But] suicide guns and unintentional death guns are home guns, whereas homicide guns are trafficked.”

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