Violent Crime in America: Summit Recommendations

A National Commitment

Local law enforcement officers cannot solve the problem of violent crime in their communities by themselves. The problem is too dynamic and pervasive to be dealt with by isolated responses. The nation must make a commitment to itself to end violent crime, just as it made a commitment three decades ago to place a man on the moon. The task would be far more challenging, and surely one which must be shared by all elements of our society.

Create a presidential commission on crime and violence. An interdisciplinary approach to solving the menacing problem of crime and violence in this country is sorely needed. To do this necessitates bringing together the best law enforcement practitioners, who deal daily with the problem of violent crime, and experts from other relevant disciplines. The mandate of the commission would be to develop a comprehensive national crime plan. This august group would develop a blueprint for the 1990s that focuses massive government resources on truly waging a war against those who engage in the business of misery, despair and death.

Create a system of federally funded and maintained low-security regional facilities for convicted non-violent offenders. The primary purpose of these federal facilities would be to free cells in overcrowded state and federal high-security prisons that should be incarcerating repeat and violent offenders. These federal facilities, which would accept both prisoners from both state and federal judicial systems, should require inmates to perform useful labor rather than permitting them to sit idly in prison—the bootcamp philosophy. These facilities should provide drug treatment for offenders to relieve pressure on already oversubscribed local treatment facilities.

Legislate a good-faith exemption to the exclusionary rule of evidence in both state and federal courts. By not allowing the introduction of evidence seized by law enforcement officers, acting in good faith but inadvertently violating technical restrictions, the courts have diminished the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies, particularly in controlling crimes involving drugs and guns. Legislation should provide relief for situations where a warrant has been issued, as well as situations where one is not needed.

Create a national anti-violence voluntary contribution fund. Allow federal taxpayers to voluntarily contribute one dollar of their annual income tax refund to a special violent crime fund. The funds would be channeled back to local agencies for use only to augment, not replace, local funds provided to combat violent crime. The distribution formula would be determined by the proposed Presidential Commission on Crime and Violence. Such a formula should consider funding for smaller communities dealing with a growth of violence within their boundaries. However, emphasis is needed to direct additional resources to locales where major crime violence is statistically shown to be a breeding ground for spill over into other communities. In essence, attention should be focused on "cutting off the head of the dragon."

Guns

In recent years, the number of individuals possessing guns of all types has increased dramatically. Many of these weapons have been purchased legally by citizens for sporting or valid home-defense purposes. Others, however, have been purchased illegally or stolen from their rightful owners. These weapons find their way into the hands of individuals who acquire them to support criminal activities, often drug dealing and robbery. Guns are now regarded and used as the most effective and final means of conflict resolution. Situations that in the past would have been resolved by negotiation or even a fist fight are now settled quickly by gunfire.

The following recommendations on guns must be viewed and acted upon as a comprehensive package. We believe that none of these recommendations alone will solve the problem of illegal gun use.

Tighten restriction on firearms purchases. The easy availability of guns to all citizens has elevated "death by shooting" to one of our primary methods of conflict resolution. Measures at the federal level, such as waiting periods, are needed to ensure that an individual seeking to purchase a firearm at the retail level is legally competent to do so. States should also enact legislation to provide for better identification of weapon purchasers. Restrictions on licensed sellers should be enhanced and licensees' operations should be inspected on a more regular basis to ensure compliance with all federal, state and local laws.

Limit the manufacture and sale of automatic and semi-automatic assault-type firearms. The deadly flow of military assault-type automatic and semi-automatic weapons onto U.S. streets and into the hands of violent criminals means that all too frequently the superior firepower belongs to the criminals, not law enforcement. These weapons have no sporting and/or hunting purpose. Rather, they are used by those who desire "ultimate firepower" in order to quickly kill or seriously wound large groups of persons. Manufacture and sale of assault weapons to the general public should be prohibited. Federal legislation to this effect is needed immediately.

Enact tough state sentencing and weapons destruction legislation. To discourage the use of guns by individuals committing crimes, states should enact sentencing reforms that would automatically increase the period of incarceration of an individual who commits a crime while in possession of a weapon. Legislation is also needed that requires destruction of weapons used illegally and seized by law enforcement agencies, rather than have them sold at auctions, thereby eliminating the risk of having those same weapons reintroduced in criminal situations.

None of these recommendations are made or intended to abridge any right, prohibit, or prevent the lawful purchase of legal firearms by citizens for sporting or valid home or business defense purposes.

Drugs

The proliferation of the illegal drug trade and its attendant criminality have forced us to rethink some of our basic tenets of crime fighting. Much of the violent crime in the United States of America is fueled by drug trafficking. A comprehensive program that combines education, enforcement, and treatment is needed to respond to this country's perennial drug threat problems.

Develop and use educational programs. Proactive programs designed to discourage drug use by individuals at the local level should be developed and utilized. Programs that involve police in school teaching activities have proven to be very effective in increasing drug awareness and instilling respect of the rule of law among participants. Employers should be encouraged to develop drug-free workplaces and both employers and community leaders should work to establish detection programs to identify users at the earliest stage for referral to treatment programs.

Revitalize the focus and emphasis on interdiction and detection. The role of the military in supporting the nation's drug suppression effort should be re-evaluated to ensure more efficient and effective use of committed resources. The advice and counsel of state and local law enforcement professionals should be solicited in this effort. Measures to protect the country's borders against infiltration by illegal aliens smuggling contraband drugs should be increased. Additionally, the State Department should become more aggressive in efforts to restrict the flow of drugs from known sources by pushing for the imposition of unilateral sanctions. The expanded use and funding for multijurisdictional task forces to make coordinated attacks on drug traffickers is encouraged.

Incarcerate violent and non-violent offenders. States should adopt model drug sentencing legislation that includes mandatory sentencing requirements as well as enhanced penalties for repeat offenders. Convicted non-violent offenders should serve sentences in low-security facilities, established and funded by the federal government, to free up space for violent criminal offenders. In addition, drug traffickers should continue to face the certainty of asset forfeiture as a deterrent and as a resource to assist local law enforcement officials in drug suppression efforts.

Gangs>

The rise of gangs has fueled much of the increase in violent crime. What were once loose-knit groups of juveniles and young adults involved in petty crimes have become powerful, organized gangs. There appear to be gangs intent on controlling lucrative drug trade through intimidation and murder and also street gangs simply claiming turf. Today, as never before, cities and neighborhoods, even those without long histories of youth gang activity, have been literally overrun by both types of gang violence. While gangs are not new, today's level of gang violence, organization, and sophistication is unprecedented.

Acquire and provide more information and intelligence on gangs. Effective training programs and a methodology that will lead to the development of a common intelligence- gathering system are desperately needed by law enforcement. A national database should be established, preferably by the FBI, to supply photos, nicknames, fingerprints, criminal history, and other information regarding known gang members.

Enact new laws directed at illegal gang activity. Consideration should be given to enhanced sentencing and RICO-type legislation at the federal level for individuals who participate in gang activities and terrorize communities or individuals. Provision for asset forfeiture should be decreed to allow confiscation of automobiles used in drive-by shootings. Legislation should be passed at the state level making it illegal to solicit juveniles to engage in violent criminal activities. Also, witness protection programs should be mandated to aid witnesses and victims.

Enact juvenile-justice system reforms. While restricting dissemination of arrest records and limited sentencing may be acceptable when dealing with youthful indiscretions, other standards must be applied to young individuals who intentionally commit murder, rape, or aggravated assault, or engage in armed robbery. Complete juvenile criminal records should be made available on all violent offenders so that past crimes may be considered at time of sentencing. Violent juvenile offenders should be subject to pretrial detention as well as being fingerprinted after committing felony crimes.

Encourage multijurisdictional cooperation and the use of outreach programs. Joint task forces should be established and funded to facilitate resource and information sharing to cope with gang activity trafficking within different jurisdictions. Intervention programs should be expanded and improved upon in an attempt to dispel the idea the gang membership is a viable substitute for family life.

For all of the innovation and progress brought to the law enforcement professions and our system of criminal justice in the last 30 years, it sometimes appears that we have gone backwards. The violent crime problem has seriously eroded the quality of life for many of our citizens, some of whom have become virtual hostages in their own homes for fear of the violence that awaits them on the streets of their neighborhoods. To protect our citizens and to have an immediate and continued impact on violent crime, we must identify, apprehend, and incapacitate the violent criminals preying on society. The 14 recommendations set forth are designed to help accomplish this. Of all of the measures we might employ to reverse the current surge of criminality, none can hope to be effective unless we strengthen our police forces.

Responsibilities

The leadership of the IACP urges immediate consideration of and action upon the recommendations of the Violent Crime Summit participants by President Clinton and members of his administration, the U.S. Congress, and state and municipal executives and legislatures.

The IACP further urges support and action by our nation's system of criminal justice and especially the chiefs of police who can assume leadership roles at the state and local levels. We invite the media to assist by educating the public on violent crime issues and supporting our recommendations. Above all, we ask the citizens of this country to rally against violent crime, to cease tolerating violent crime at any level and in any form. Without public demand, sustained progress is not likely to occur.