‘Kick ‘em when they’re up/kick ‘em when they’re down’

Christopher Baecker

“Can we film the operation/Is the head de-ad yet/Get the widow on the set/We need dirty laundry,” sang Don Henley in 1982. Crime stories grab people’s attention more than almost anything else. What do the stats say for San Antonio?
As Mr. Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” continues, “kick ‘em when they’re up/kick ‘em when they’re down”: they’re all over the place in the last dozen years. A couple of isolated spots do pop out.
Violent crime shot up 28 percent and 26 percent in 2013 and 2016, respectively. Then it took a 17 percent dip in 2018, accompanied with a 9 percent drop in property crime. It’s notable that the economy started growing more the year before, both here and in the broader U.S.
When more people are prospering, fewer are committing crimes.
But then crime rose again in 2019: 13 percent for violent crime, 10 percent for property crime. Incidentally, starting in 2018 was Bexar County’s cite and release program (CR).
Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not. Take that economic growth though.
There weren’t large-scale measures or actions taken that had time to fully wend their way positively through the system. But a friendlier tone had taken power.
Signals were sent, and those matter, particularly for investment. Investment leads to hiring. And if more people are getting hired, fewer people are committing crimes.
The CR sent a different signal … kinda. The part that deals with marijuana could actually be augmented by other voluntary and-/or consensual activities.
What is the logical basis for stripping someone of their freedom or property when what they do harm to no one else? If there is no collateral damage, where is the wrongdoing?
This is unlike when one party assaults another, incl-uding minor aggressions like defacing property.
Not only should such infractions be removed from any CR, but punishment by fine should be abolished. Otherwise, it amounts to little more than a rich man’s crime. Restitution for the victim should factor in, but time behind bars should be mandatory.
Is there a greater disincentive to bad behavior than a night in the pokey? As it is, the faulty half of the CR is subtly wreaking havoc.
Those with confidence in the ability of government to do good put outsized faith in bad actors who clearly lack good intentions. Not only does this include a blind spot to fraudsters who seize on public spending, but also those who see a criminal justice system with soft spots.
When you excuse minor criminal acts, you invite more of it, oftentimes on a larger scale.
Citizens are starting to regret this approach. None other than San Francisco recalled their district attorney earlier this year. The broader movement of these lenient approaches is showing signs of weakening as well.
Preliminary reports this year show a spike in homicides and aggravated assault to the tune of 27 percent each. Are Bexar County residents feeling buyer’s remorse, too? Would a new district attorney revamp the CR to be more respectful of freedom and property?
Only the candidates and the voter know.