Reading over Gov. Rick Snyder's special message on public safety, I was struck by its rather Clintonian tone in a number of areas.
I know those are fighting words to certain folks, but I make note of this not to spark a conflict, but to attract attention to the ongoing political ferment in Republican circles about how best to fight crime.
* "In short, we need a system of 'smart justice.' We need a system that recognizes the critical connection between law enforcement, crime prevention and economic opportunity." (emphasis added)
This repeats the long-held view that economic strain leads to greater criminality. However, the last decade has thrown a wrench into that view, as the Great Recession also was a time of falling crime rates, as discussed by James Q. Wilson in a Wall Street Journal commentary.
Snyder is definitely going against the traditional strains of Republican comment when it comes to anti-crime strategy.
* "The contribution and innovative efforts of local law enforcement is not only critical to these four cities but to our entire state. That is why I recommend that the Legislature put a priority on the expenditure of $10 million of the $25 million Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP) consolidation and innovation grant fund in the FY 13 budget for investment in local public safety.
"Smart justice means more than just improving our law enforcement capacity. While we need to protect the public from violent criminals, we also need to invest resources to ensure that non-violent offenders do not become violent, endangering lives and costing taxpayers money. It is simply a better, smarter solution forMichiganto address offenders early on by providing alternative treatment programs to those who commit crimes as a result of underlying addiction or mental health issues."
Back in 1994, the Clinton administration pushed through an anti-crime bill that centered on hiring 100,000 more police officers and included a plethora of other programs, including funding for "midnight basketball" programs to keep teens occupied and off the streets and arrest rolls.
* "Public safety must begin with crime prevention. Crime prevention starts with strong communities. In addition to law enforcement, our crime fighters range from parents, to teachers, to responsible landlords to engaged employers."
From a Clinton administration site touting its anti-crime record: "'By working in the same neighborhoods day-in, day-out, we developed real ties to the community. We took real steps to fix problems in neighborhoods. We formed partnerships. We problem solved. We prevented crime... COPS money makes this possible' -- Corporal Irma Rivera, Arlington County Police Department,Arlington,Virginia."
* "Truancy. Our education system plays an important public safety role. Children who do not regularly attend school are more likely to confront the challenges of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and juvenile delinquency. For the 2010-2011 school year,Michiganpublic schools documented 83,491 cases of truancy. This is a tragedy for our students and our state. To break the cycle of crime, we must tackle truancy."
In 1996, President Clinton announced an anti-truancy initiative to put $10 million into 25 school districts to push innovative methods to combat school absenteeism.
Snyder's message is in stark contrast to the one peddled a few weeks ago by Attorney General Bill Schuette for a "four strikes and out" policy for repeat felons in which the AG talked repeatedly of the fear in local communities. (The AG also urged the Legislature to fund the hiring of 1,000 new police officers over the next two years.)
“Too much fear and seniors citizens can’t go for a walk in the park." Schuette said. "If there is too much fear and parents are afraid to let their kids go out for a walk. If there is too much fear school kids don’t get the education they deserve and don’t get the hope that they need. And if there’s too much fear, entrepreneurs don’t build jobs in a community.”
You can distill Schuette's message into: Fear, cops, cons.
Snyder's message comes out more as an exercise in problem-solving. Crime rates are high in specific areas of the state, let's see what we can try to address them. Snyder, too, wants more enforcers in the field (he wants a surge in Michigan State Police troopers), but as part of a much more varied, nuanced approach.
In trolling through the Web for background on this, I was struck by two moments in time affecting Michigan's last Republican governor, John Engler.
During the 1998 campaign, in which he won his third term, Engler touted:
"The nation's toughest crackdown on juvenile crime"; and
"The nation's first Drug Dealer Liability Act."
Four years later, at the end of his third term and no longer facing the challenges of a political campaign, Engler signed the repeal of Michigan's mandatory minimum drug law.