The campaign non-issue

Posted on May 23, 2014. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , , , |

It’s a dismaying irony that on Election Day, I saw a Facebook post that shared KTHV’s online news story about Little Rock being listed at the top as the “least safe mid-sized city” by the Movoto blog.

Movoto is an online real estate outfit that churns out “Top Ten” lists using a wide range of demographic data and other statistical analysis. For its safe/dangerous lists, it relies on the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report.

The day before Election Day, the home page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was dominated by capital-city crime stories: one about a bank branch being robbed, one about two people wounded in “crossfire” at a gas station, and one about an armed assailant fatally shot after he tried to rob an off-duty police officer in a parking lot.

There were also stories of robberies and shootings in Pine Bluff, Bald Knob and Garland County.

The irony is that, to hear most of the political candidates talk, violent crime is a non-issue—or at least not one worth wasting words on.

I got a Google goose egg when I searched the news category for Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross and “crime” and “speech.” When I broadened it to “crime” and “issue” more results popped up, but none involved the topic as part of this campaign.

There isn’t a mayor’s race in Little Rock this year, but on the city’s website (littlerock.org) under the mayor’s office, the bio on Mark Stodola leads with prioritizing public safety and proudly lists reductions in homicides and violent crime since 2007.

Sure enough, the FBI Uniform Crime Report shows Little Rock’s murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate down from 27.6 incidents per 100,000 population in 2007 to 23 in 2012.

However, as selective PR spin would have it, the homicide rate has spiked back up higher than 2008 (19.7), 2009 (15.8), 2010 (12.9) and 2011 (19).

There’s no doubt that crime can be a confounding issue, which likely explains at least in part its conspicuous absence among candidates’ sound bites.

It’s impossible to eradicate, to begin with. Violent crime is as old as humanity itself, figuring prominently in the biblical first family.

It’s often racially charged, and there are no easy answers or solutions. No nation, state or city ever achieves zero crime.

But it’s also not an issue that will heal itself.

And let’s get real here—political leaders are supposed to tackle tough issues, not dodge them.

For heaven’s sake, it’d be one thing if Little Rock’s violent-crime numbers landed it in the more anonymous midsection of Movoto’s most dangerous mid-sized cities list.

But to be Number One, the Top of the Heap? That demands acknowledgement.

It might not be possible to explain why the violent-crime rate in Little Rock is 20 times higher than that of Cary, N.C. Or why, with essentially the same population as Yonkers, N.Y., residents in Little Rock are subject to 14,000 more total crimes (violent and property) every year.

Those are uncomfortable facts. To read about, and to swallow.

And they warrant more than silence from the men and women who would lead us.

There’s simply no reason why, in a state with regnat populus as our motto, the city of Little Rock should top such a list. Some of our lowly brethren have borne a bad reputation for crime for decades.

No. 2 Flint, Mich., is virtually a municipal synonym for “crime-plagued.” Lawlessness in No. 3 Jackson, Miss., is legendary.

It doesn’t matter that Little Rock’s (and Arkansas’) crime numbers may be a little down in the last few years if everybody else’s are down more. That still spells F-A-I-L-U-R-E on an issue that consumes enormous economic and social resources and contributes mightily to other low-rung state ratings.

The thing about crime is that, despite the FBI’s nomenclature, it isn’t uniform. The Little Rock Police Department crime data aren’t evenly divided across the city’s geography.

Statistically, for comparison purposes, it’s true that a person living in Little Rock has a one in 132 chance of being a violent-crime victim, and someone living in Napierville, Ill., has only a one in 1,819 chance.

But realistically, there are good neighborhoods in Little Rock where the chance is as remote as in Napierville, and bad neighborhoods in Napierville where it’s as likely as in Little Rock.

So many of us, including most political candidates, are fortunate enough to live on streets where random gunfire is so rarely (maybe never) heard that crime is not viewed as “our” issue.

The editorial board at the Chicago Tribune embarked last year on a “New Plan of Chicago” project as a challenge to readers, and its crime editorials highlighted a public-safety gap that exists almost everywhere: Even though crime rates are down overall, in some neighborhoods they are higher than ever.

The Tribune started its challenge by asking readers for ideas. If politicians won’t bring it up, maybe that’s where we need to start, too. Let the letters start flowing!

There’s still time before the general election to insist on some accountability from candidates on this often truly life-or-death issue.

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One Response to “The campaign non-issue”

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After living in Little Rock for 30 years, I now live in Baltimore which has it’s own significant crime issues. Once a week, I teach art at the detention center to juveniles being tried as adults. Over and over I see these kids being sent to do hard time in general population. They are children, for God’s sake!! Is that really the answer? A large percentage of the inmates commit a violent crime within two weeks of their release. How is incarcerating minors working out? This is obviously a pervading societal problem that needs real answers, and the sad fact is that we aren’t likely to get any answers any time soon. But for crying out loud, let’s make recycling our number one priority. At least we will have a clean, beautiful environment to live in while we spiral into moral decline.


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