Monday, September 24, 2007

They Fight Crime!

Alder Brian Solomon, who represents District 10 in Madison, has a few words about all of the recent talk and fear mongering about crime and punishment in our city:

And if we really care about saving our community, we need to move past law and order and find a way past all this violence. If we want peace in Madison, we must have justice. So let’s add police and resources and address this fear. But let’s also come together, recognize that we must be in this together, and focus on the root causes of poverty that often lead to crime in the first place.

Right on. The debate has made its way into the current budget crisis, with The Capital Times publishing an editorial in Saturday's paper making the argument that the Republican's proposed cuts would make it nigh unto impossible for Mayor Dave to add the 30 police officers (among other things) that everybody's been clamoring for. Forgive me, but you could add 100 officers to the force here and the impact on crime would ultimately be negligible. Sure, there'd likely be an increase in people getting caught--and I'm all for that--but it will do little to stop the crimes from happening in the first place. Addressing that problem, like Solomon points out, requires multiple concerted efforts to deal with the problems before they begin.

Improved educational opportunities for low-income residents, both by bettering the public education already available and by creating and improving apprenticeship and trade programs like the one Solomon mentions in his post, are just one method:

Just around the corner from Allied Drive resides the Madison Apprenticeship Program (MAP), the brainchild of one woman whose drive for change makes more difference than a dozen new police. One graduate entered the class homeless and jobless. He secured housing and now manages an apartment complex and paints as an independent contractor. Another graduate spent the last dozen years dealing drugs. He now works at an area service station, signing up for every extra hour of overtime he can find. There is a second generation drug dealer who graduated and now works as a sales clerk and attends MATC, working to become a lab technician. Another graduate fought with others regularly, used drugs, and was always involved with police. Now she is employed as a technician with a communications company and is taking computer classes at MATC. She hopes to have her own computer business one day. Just four examples of how, for both the individuals and for our community, engaged participation can trump incarceration.

That's the kind of thing we should be looking to create and fund. You can build thousands of prisons, employ millions of cops, create the strictest rules and laws possible--but you won't put a very large dent in the hard numbers. And you won't improve the lives of those people whose lives most need improving. Is it entirely up to the city? Is the individual free from blame? Absolutely not. We each need to ante up and do our part, make the decision to grow and improve ourselves and our neighbors. But the city needs to chip in, too, by providing the infrastructure necessary to accomplish the goals set forth by the people. They can start by passing a decent budget. Then they can continue by making sure the money goes to worthwhile programs that get to the root of the problems, instead of throwing it solely at short-term bandages.

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