One Catch-22 of criminal justice reform is that law enforcement will always ask for more powers, whether crime is down or crime is up. If crime is up, they need more powers to deal with criminals who have “gotten the upper hand.” If crime is down, they need more powers to keep it from rising again.
The Globe reports that major crimes in Boston are sharply down in the first three months of 2013 compared to 2012. In case you think this is a momentary glitch in the overall statistics, let’s look again at how crime per head in Massachusetts has been falling for a long time:
Mayor Menino attributes the drop to community policing and neighborhood watch groups, assisted by the more severe winter. It’s almost as if militaristic and confrontational policing is actually less effective at reducing crime than people like to think.
So, we have a simple challenge for Attorney-General Martha Coakley. How far does crime have to fall, before you back off on your biennial demand for vastly expanded powers to take out electronic wiretaps when investigating minor crimes? Lazy, “one crime is too many” thinking is not enough when our Fourth Amendment rights are on the line. We don’t just need better community policing; we need an AG’s office that is willing to look at criminalization as a problem rather than looking at every person drawn into the criminal justice system as a victory for them.