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Manhattan Institute's Lehman: Use 'Sentinel Cities' To Get Crime Data

In 2018, President Trump signed the First Step Act, a law intended to improve prison conditions and get more people out of custody sooner. He did so at a time in which criminal justice reform was a rising concern among conservatives. Five years later, many conservatives seem to have changed direction, fighting against marijuana legalization and urging stricter penalties and an end to bail reform. The New York Times interviewed Charles Fain Lehman of the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, who argues for a bigger, more federalized response to crime using “sentinel cities” to collect crime data. As crime rates declined in past years, libertarians believed that "public safety was pretty good, and we were in a dire fiscal position and de-carceration seem(ed) like a way to save money. Now, there is what Lehman calls a " sometimes bizarre double think on policing, with some Republicans seeking to dismantle law enforcement agencies and others saying, "We need to back the blue. We believe in public safety, we believe in strong enforcement.”


"We don’t know how much crime happens in the United States," Lehman says. "The police departments don’t use the same standards. It’s an incredible lag: we don’t know how much crime happened last year ... It’s a huge mess.." He suggests having major cities report data daily or weekly to the FBI, which would then issue a public report. What are effective crime control practices? Lehman says, "There are a bunch of non-policing interventions that help at the margins. That’s like greening vacant lots and cleaning up houses and putting up lights. That stuff really does seem to help, although you can only do it once, so it doesn’t have the same elasticity as policing ... Hot-spot policing really does work. And I think that there are legitimate procedural justice, legitimate racial justice concerns there. And the way that you get around that is basically caring about community outreach and community coordination." He concludes, "You can be tough on crime and smart on crime, and you can be tough on crime and dumb on crime ... it’s hard to get that right ... the formula that I generally try to talk about is, criminal offending is highly concentrated. Most people don’t commit crimes, most places don’t have a lot of crime. We now have the capacity to identify those people and places in a way that we didn’t even 30 years ago. Modern technology lets us do that. You want to focus on identifying who the problem actors are, where the problem places are, and remediating those problems to the most efficacious solution. Let the evidence, let the data guide your behavior."

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