That’s the title of the article in this Sunday’s New York Times, penned by the Tolkeinesquely-named Devone L Boggan. What’s this? you ask. Another article on the [supposed] advantages of gun control for disarmed individuals? You know the line: a crime victims’s less likely to die in a gunfight if they don’t have a gun. Which presupposes that the robber(s) taking your money won’t punch, stab, stomp or shoot you even if you hand over your cash or jewels just because they can. And do. But the odds are less, our anti-gun friends insist. Yeah, No thanks. Anyway, this isn’t that article. Boggan’s a “neighborhood safety director” writing about his efforts to stop shootings in gangland California, which includes this important factoid . . .
A police liaison officer told us this startling fact: An estimated 70 percent of shootings and homicides in Richmond in 2009 were caused by just 17 individuals, primarily African-American and Hispanic-American men between the ages of 16 and 25.
So . . . lock ’em up! That ought to solve matters! Don’t be silly. Locking up violent repeat offenders — gang members all — is insensitive. It’s better to reason with them. Failing that, pay them off. No really.
The idea of a cash incentive to change behavior is not hard to grasp. The social context for our prospective fellows was a laundry list of deprivation and dysfunction: high unemployment, fragmented families, inadequate education and a heavy dose of substance abuse. The proportion of families living below the poverty level in the neighborhoods where we focused our efforts was 25 percent — nearly double the average rate in Richmond.
In most other cities, the law enforcement response to high rates of firearm assaults is stuck in a destructive cycle of police sweeps and mass incarceration. That strategy costs taxpayers a great deal, for little return. In many municipalities where gun violence is significant, the city’s public safety expenditure can be a considerable burden on the overall city budget. That is not sustainable.
Nationally, it is estimated that in 2012 gun violence cost more than $229 billion. The average cost to taxpayers of every gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000.
In contrast, the costs of our program were modest. In practice, we have rarely needed to pay the full amount offered under the terms of our deal: Just over half our fellowship participants receive payments, usually in the $300 to $700 range. So if our program prevented gun deaths, there could be little argument about cost-effectiveness.
If. There it is. If. I’ll present Boggan’s “evidence” that their pay-off-the-bad-guys program worked in a moment. But first, a few observations:
1.) It’s amoral. Paying bad actors not act badly is an entirely amoral approach to reducing the number of firearms-related crimes. A “former” criminal in Operation Peacemaker who “attends meetings, stays out of trouble, responds to our mentoring” gets a grand a month. An honor student who keeps his nose clean throughout his childhood gets what? Nothing.
2.) It’s dangerous. I’d be dollars to donuts that Operation Peacemaker has unintentional consequences. I’m thinking it encourages marginal gang bangers (if such a thing exists) to commit crimes heinous enough so that they too can qualify for a government subsidy not to commit heinous crime. For example.
3.) It’s unbelievable. A gang banger can make the equivalent of the program’s monthly payment in a single illegal drug transaction. The idea that a $700 payment would stop a life of crime is absurd.
4.) It’s expensive. Boggan writes that Operation Peacemaker cost taxpayers $3 million per year: 150 “clients” at “about” $20,000 per year. Assuming that the aforementioned analysis of Richmond shooters is still valid, what would it cost to arrest, prosecute and jail the couple of dozen bad guys who cause an estimated 70 percent of Richmond’s firearms-related crime? One wonders whether that would be more cost effective – and effective generally – than trying to keep bad guys on a leash in public.
Not Boggan. He reckons Operation Peacemaker’s a total success and a screaming deal that should be replicated nationwide. Here’s his final return-on-investment calculation:
In the first year of Operation Peacemaker, homicides in Richmond fell to 22 (from 45 in 2009). In five years of our program, through 2014, we have seen the number of homicides in Richmond, which had averaged 40 a year, more than halved; firearm assaults in general fell by a similar proportion.
In 2014, we celebrated the lowest number of firearm assaults and homicides in more than four decades. Richmond recorded a 76 percent reduction in homicides and a 69 percent reduction in firearm assaults from 2007, when the Office of Neighborhood Safety was created.
Suffice it to say, correlation does not equal causation. What were the stats in equivalent neighborhoods without Operation Peacemaker? Boggan’s program is a riff on the Operation Ceasefire program that pays allegedly reformed ex-cons to “mentor” other bad guys and lead them away from a life of crime. It sounds great. But there’s not a single shred of scientific evidence to suggest it works. Other than generating media-friendly sounds bites and scoring feel good political points. Like this:
Not all of our fellows become model citizens overnight, but the results go beyond fewer shootings. More are in school or in jobs; there is more parenting, less drug use. And some have gone on to participate in other programs that are improving their prospects and our neighborhoods. I hope more cities will copy Richmond’s program. Encouragingly, the city of Oakland is incorporating some elements of our fellowship in its Operation Ceasefire work.
Vague much? This is the carrot and stick approach gone mad in a state where every day is opposite day. And decent, law-abiding citizens are denied the ability to use their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to defend themselves against criminals, to deter criminals, by force of arms.