Dave Smith: No Lessons Learned

In the 1980s and 1990s crime was out of control in this country and our leaders did something about it. Now they have abandoned that mission and crime has come back.

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We are all talking about the crime problem nowadays and no one seems to remember that we were dealing with the same issue decades ago. The 1980s and early 1990s saw a terrible crime rate that had grown throughout the Reagan and Bush presidential administrations, and by 1994 crime had become nearly unbearable.

In the early 1990s, the public had grown restless and weary of the failure of the government and/or the criminal justice system to stem the tide of rampant juvenile crime and murder rates that crested at 9 per 100,000. Studies showed that without action things were only going to get worse, and as a response the Clinton administration and the Democrat-controlled 103rd Congress passed the highly successful and much maligned “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.”

Theories of rehabilitative justice were cast aside, and punishment and community policing became all the rage. Programs such as Police Corps, The Assault Weapons Ban, anti-gang programs, and The Boys and Girls Clubs were funded and promoted under this new legislation. The prime sponsor of the bill was a Delaware Senator named Joe Biden who had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and such esteemed social activists as Bernie Sanders. The success of the bill was remarkable, and Senator Biden issued a study in September 2004 from the Subcommittee on Crime, Corrections, and Victim’s Rights that literally glowed with praise for the bill, for law enforcement, and for Democrats.

The only rub was the prisons were full of criminals sent away under the strict punishment of the bill and its criminal justice theory. So the courts began again to look favorably on the theory that views criminal justice as a rehabilitation system instead of a form of punishment for criminal behavior. Some 20 years after the passage of the bill, things began to swing back to the way they were in the 1970s, and by the 2020s politicians on both sides were running away from their support for arresting and punishing criminals. The shooting of Michael Brown and other high-profile police actions created a national tension that exploded with the death of George Floyd, leading to the final push to free criminals, drop the need for pre-trial detention and bail, and completely forget about the victims.

The current crime statistics support the idea that criminality is confined to a limited percentage of people who are often unaffected by conscience or social pressures and are only stopped by punishment. The criminal class can often only be contained by incarceration; as one criminologist explained, the only solution was to “age the criminality” out of them. At age 45, criminal behavior drops off dramatically and the mandatory sentencing in the Clinton 1994 Crime Bill kept the peak criminal actor out of circulation for quite a while. Today, the career criminal can expect to walk out of the courtroom after the initial appearance and be free to terrorize the very communities progressives say they are trying to support.

For the law enforcement community, it is essential to keep catching, incarcerating, and convicting the criminal actors. Officers, deputies, and agents all keep the victim’s sorrow in the forefront of their own hearts and minds, and they need to keep faith that the work they do does make a difference. Politicians will eventually remember their commitment and responsibility to their true constituents, and “woke” prosecutors will go the way of the dinosaur without an asteroid crash. The tragedy is, how many victims of violence, greed, and corruption will suffer before the new awakening occurs? For our criminal justice leadership, it is essential to keep the debate alive, discussing the importance of community programs, youth outreach, and anti-gang initiatives. Law enforcement must be brought back into the debate and involvement in the generation of effective laws, programs, and initiatives.

As we creep closer and closer to the bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s, we can hope that even a hostile media will realize that sensationalizing critical incidents to inflame and inspire violence and anti-police actions does nothing to help the nation in this dire time of inflation, division, and disorder. I maintain this hope on behalf of those of you who have kept faith in the profession, in our mission, and in the spirit of law enforcement. I sincerely hope America recognizes again the need to keep our people safe and free, as safety is an essential component of freedom. And the sooner we all remember that fact the sooner we can learn from the lessons of the past and do the right thing.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of “JD Buck Savage.” You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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Officer (Ret.)
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