Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What does it mean when Austin police measure success by the number of arrests?

Yesterday’s story in the Statesman highlights the sad fact that Austin police continue to measure success by the number of arrests. A perverse incentive, like the proverbial ambulance-chasing lawyer who hopes that more people are severely injured each year, this measure of success encourages police to arrest more people every year. The only way they can succeed by this standard is if crime goes up, or if they just arrest and incarcerate more and more people who don’t need to be arrested.

Conveniently, it also feeds into their current labor contract negotiations and the false premise that Austin police need more money. Austin’s crime rate is on par with comparable cities. With our “high” number of 30 murders per year, we are not in the same league with other cities like Washington DC or Baltimore which suffer hundreds of murders each year. Even Fort Worth, which is less populated than Austin, had almost twice as many murders as Austin last year. It’s time that we question the methodology and the claims made by our police when they boast about making more arrests every year.

National long-term aggregate research shows that for nonviolent offenders, arresting them and locking them up increases their criminal behavior.

Austin police could spend more time solving serious crime right now, for free, by implementing the citation option but they refuse to do so. We want to know how many nonviolent individuals were arrested and incarcerated in Austin when they could have simply been cited and released under the new state law which has been in effect since September 1, 2007. Austin police refuse to implement the citation option thus wasting taxpayer money, taking thousands of police off the streets for hours at a time, and unnecessarily exposing nonviolent offenders to violent ones. The city is due to respond to our open records request about this on Friday so we will let you know.

Let’s take a closer look before Austin taxpayers give police a free pass again and get treated like a bottomless ATM machine. An increase in arrests is more an indication of failure than success. Austin police could reduce crime, save taxpayers money and reduce racial profiling right now by implementing the citation option. Click here to learn more and send an email to Chief Acevedo asking him to fully implement the citation option in Austin.

1 comment:

Burt said...

"An increase in arrests is more an indication of failure than success."

I disagree with the above theory. As a police officer say that I make 50 arrests a year. IF I make more traffic stops and subjects stops and really get out there and dig into everything I see I can increase the amount of arrests. Does that mean that I am less successful preventing crime and protecting citizens because I arrested more than before?
Those people were arrested for whatever offenses they committed. On the other hand if I hid under a rock on duty and did not stop any vehicles or investigate anything suspicious my arrests could drop to 10 or 15 even less. I therefore would make less arrests but with less arrests does that mean that there is less "crime" in Austin? It only means that less people are getting caught.
A few years ago Chief Stan Knee implemented the written "consent to search" policy. The number of searches immediately dropped. So did the number of illegal guns found and drugs found from the previous year. Does that mean that those guns and drugs not found did not exist? I think they simply did not get caught.

More arrests generally means that more criminals are getting caught. Each criminal caught usually commits multiple offenses regularly so that minor DWLI or drug arrest keeps that person off of the street preventing them from carrying out more crimes like burglarizing your house while you are at work or breaking into your car.
I feel that arresting criminals for their crimes has a tangible effect on citizens so I would say that yes more arrests equals more success.