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The Collateral Costs of Crime

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Enforcing the criminal law is not cheap. It doesn't need to be as expensive as it is, but it will never be cheap. The costs are producing a rising chorus of people who want to water down the law.

But what are the costs of not enforcing the criminal law? We can talk about the direct monetary costs to victims. Some researchers even assign dollar values to the deaths and injuries caused by violent crime. But there is more. The cost of crime goes beyond the direct victims. Crime is a major factor in the decay of neighborhoods and even whole cities. Alex Kellogg has this article in Saturday's WSJ:

DETROIT--This shrinking city needs to hang on to people like Johnette Barham: taxpaying, middle-class professionals who invest in local real estate, work and play downtown, and make their home here.

Ms. Barham just left. And she's not coming back.

In seven years as a homeowner in Detroit, she endured more than 10 burglaries and break-ins at her house and a nearby rental property she owned. Still, she defied friends' pleas to leave as she fortified her home with locks, bars, alarms and a dog.

Then, a week before Christmas, someone torched the house and destroyed almost everything she owned.

The article is titled "Black Flight Hits Detroit," but the underlying issue transcends race. Crime drives the responsible, productive people out of a neighborhood and leaves behind two kinds of people -- criminals and those who can't leave.

Let us keep this in mind when someone claims it is "smart on crime" to grant short sentences or even probation to the "nonviolent offenders" who drove Ms. Barham out of Detroit. Let us particularly keep that in mind when the same politicians who want leniency for the criminals bemoan the urban decay that they have done so much to cause.

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Here's a particularly horrifying example of the costs of not enforcing the law from Joel Jacobsen's blog, Judging Crimes:

http://www.joeljacobsen.com/journal/2010/6/6/436-astorga.html

This cost also explains the geographic distribution of crime, which is intentional. It is logical that the inner city would have the most expensive real estate, since one may walk to work from it.

Here is the situation. I live in a lawyer residential neighborhood. Response time? 2.5 minutes, three police cars. The death penalty is at the scene if they find a criminal at the scene. That is where the lawyer lives.

Only five miles away? Fallujah. The police does not show up until the fun is over. There is no room in the jail. So, no one is arrested unless they get in the face of the police. Why bother to investigate a murder. The murderer will likely be murdered by the time the case is built. If the police arrests people? They get sued, with ruinous, frivolous claims of racial discrimination.

What would happen if the police took back the inner city? Home prices would soar, at the expense of the prices in the suburbs, the lawyer residential neighborhood. So a bankruptcy lawyer has a vested interest in keeping the crime rate high in the inner city, despite no direct financial interest in crime.

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