Crime budget questions we need answered

If you ask a Trentonian about their number one city issue, crime will probably come up. Yet we don’t really seem to have any clue about its measurable affects on our city or how to manage them.

Previously, I wrote about the cause and effect of a city’s crime level and it’s immigration level ( How Crime Affects Trenton). However, this is a very small part of the story. First, we have to agree on what it is about a city that we’d like to improve. In general, the best measure of a city’s health is its per capita income. Cities with high crime rates have low per capita incomes and vice-a-versa (The Economics of Crime).

But do we know how crime and more importantly crime fighting is related to the job of increasing per capita income (CPI)?

This is the question a competent Mayor, Police Director and Budget Director should be able to answer. They should be well versed on the linkage between the elements of our city budget and the city’s eventual success, especially the crime fighting budget.

I’ll help by framing the questions, but we need thoughtful criminal scientists and economists working on the problem.

The following graphic illustrates the linkages we need to understand.

Crime Dynamics

Urban Dynamics and the Crime Budget

First, what are the best investments a city can make to raise CPI?

  • Economic development?
  • Lower taxes?
  • More inspections?
  • Better public works?
  • Crime fighting?

What level of crime fighting investment is “break even”

  • If increasing crime fighting is not the best investment …
  • what level is needed to not lose ground?

What is the optimum balance of spending?

  • More policing to generate more arrests?
  • More prisons to hold inmates longer?
  • More prosecutors and judges to increase the conviction rate?

The answers on spending aren’t obvious.

  • There is some economic evidence that longer sentences are an important aspect of crime fighting.
  • Long sentences have a deterrent affect on other criminals
  • They also have a multiplying affect on prevention in that the convicted criminal commits many crimes for every one he’s arrested for.
  • More is better, but what’s the best balance among tactics and other investments a city can make?

What are the policy changes that we should pursue?

  • Given that longer sentences have a profound affect on crime rates, should we seek power to appoint tougher judges?
  • Should we push for harsher punishments for first time offenders?
  • Should we do more to publicize the efficacy of judges and prosecutors in keeping us safe?

There is research that helps to guide the development of policy and budget in this area. Given that most of Trenton’s budget is spent on crime fighting, those that are responsible for it, should feel obligated to answer the above questions and provide research citings.

Perhaps some of my city critic colleagues that attend more council meetings than I am able to, will help ask the tough questions.

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