8.22.2007

Public Safety and Personal Privacy

Nice piece on Governing.com's website about the bind future mayor
Michael Nutter is in as far as his response to the growing murder
count in Philadelphia:
http://governing.typepad.com/13thfloor/2007/08/in-a-conversati.html#more.

Those who are not immediately in the crossfire (I mean this
literally) can muse in theory over whether more police and more
intrusive policing is the solution or if it causes a bigger problem in
the form of loss of civil liberties. Those who are immediately in the
crossfire are directly affected on both counts. Not surprisingly,
from those in the latter camp, there are strong opinions both ways -
"Yes, we need more cops to keep us safe" and "No, we don't need more
'stop and frisk.'"

I personally am in a tweener neighborhood - reasonably safe, but not
without its low-level violence, and geographically proximate to places
of high-level violence. Our closeness to the Penn campus means we're
in the halo of their stepped-up uniformed presence, which is a comfort
for me walking home late at night and a particular comfort when my
wife and kids are walking home late at night. But then again, I don't
know what it's like to be pressed up against a concrete wall and felt
up by the po-po's just because of the color of my skin.

A solution to the dilemma of more invasive or less invasive policing
is to do things that improve the quality of the policing, GIS-based
Compstat being one. Largely credited for steep drops in crime in New
York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, the real-time accountability and
deployment tool has fallen out of favor with the current
administration, and one hopes the new administration will resurrect
its use as well as peg a new police chief who will give it some teeth.

After all, in addition to the question of whether more cops make us
feel more or less safe, a mayor has to think about whether more cops
is worth the public expenditure. For when resources are scarce and
other services are necessary and people are calling for tax reform,
you want as much bang for your public expenditure buck as possible.
And in the fuzzy area between public safety and invasion of privacy,
maybe better policing will make it easier to make the tough choice
between more policing and less policing.

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