NEW VOICES: "Police Officials Argue Death Penalty Doesn't Make Us Safer"

Four law enforcement officials from various countries who came together in Washington, D.C., in 2010 for a groundbreaking international dialogue on the death penalty recently published an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News regarding their discussion.  From their experience, they discounted the argument that the death penalty deters potential offenders. According to the op-ed, “The deterrence argument … goes against our experience investigating serious crimes: the majority of offenders do not think through the consequences of their actions. In fact, they do not think they will ever be caught.” Other areas of agreement addressed the cost of the death penalty, the risk of executing an innocent defendant, and the punishment’s impact on murder victims’ families. The law enforcement officials recommended replacing the death penalty with more cost-effective alternatives: “All of the money that states spend on the death penalty could be used to hire more police officers, train them better, solve cold cases, and prevent crimes from occurring in the first place. We should spend our limited resources on programs that work.”  The op-ed was written by: James Abbott, police chief of West Orange, N.J., who served on the state's Death Penalty Study Commission; António Cluny, senior attorney general and public prosecutor in Portugal; Bob Denmark, a 30-year veteran of the British police force and a former detective superintendent of Lancashire Constabulary, England; and Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association International Leadership Institute and a 23-year veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.  Read more for the full op-ed and a video of the panel discussion.

NEW VOICES: Montana Assistant Attorney General Calls for Death Penalty Repeal

Montana Assistant Attorney General John Connor has voiced support for a legislative measure that would abolish capital punishment in his state. Stating his belief that the death penalty does not deter crime and is expensive, Connor told the Montana House Judiciary Committee, "It seems to me to be the ultimate incongruity to say we respect life so much that we're going to dedicate all our money, all our resources, our legal expertise and our entire system to try and take your life. . . . Frankly, I just don't think I can do it anymore." Senator Dan Harrington, who sponsored this year's repeal measure, added that it is wrong to teach children "that to prevent violence we beget violence." He also noted that the death penalty is costly and unfair.

NEW FROM DPIC: Video Excerpts from the International Police Forum on the Death Penalty

On October 13, officials from the U.S. and Europe held what may have been the first ever international forum of law enforcement officers on the merits of the death penalty in reducing violent crime. The officers discussed whether capital punishment actually helps to keep citizens safe, assists healing for victims, and uses crime-fighting resources efficiently. The panelists, who included current and former police officers from the U.S. land Europe, addressed issues such as deterrence, closure to victims’ families, and costs as compared to alternative sentences.  The panel was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. You can find resources regarding the forum and video clips of the presenters' remarks on DPIC's new webpage here.

NEW VOICES: Police Forum --Is the Death Penalty Necessary?

On October 13, law enforcement officers from the U.S.

Police Chiefs Fear Budget Cuts May Lead to Crime Increase

Police chiefs from around the country are expressing fears that crime rates will increase as law enforcement resources are cut during the economic downturn. In Sacramento, California, homicides are up 43% and assaults on police officers are up 13%, while the department was forced to eliminate its vice unit.  In Phoenix, Arizona, a lack of funds is causing police vacancies to go unfilled.  Similar concerns were expressed by police chiefs in Maryland and Virginia.  Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said, "For the longest time, people thought that the police didn't matter, didn't affect the crime rate. Now we've seen that's not true." The Research Forum said that law enforcement agencies experienced an average cut of 7% this year.  In the past, improved policing led to dramatic drops in homicides in such places as New York City and Washington, D.C.  Now those gains are in jeopardy.  Budget reductions in Sacramento forced the city to cut important government programs and services, such as mental health services and job training programs for inmates being released from prison. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are also in decline. 

STUDIES: 2009 FBI Crime Report--Murder Rate Highest in the South, Lowest in the Northeast

According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report released on September 13, the national murder rate has dropped from 5.4 (per 100,000 of population) in 2008 to 5.0 in 2009, an 8.1% decrease. Each region of the country experienced a decrease in its murder rate, with the Northeast experiencing the most significant drop of 9%, from 4.2 to 3.8. As in the past, the Northeast continued to have the lowest murder rate in the country, while the South continued to have the highest (6.0, the only region above the national average). In 2009, the South accounted for about 87% of the executions in the country. The other 13% of executions came from the Midwest, the region with the second-highest murder rate (4.6).

NEW RESOURCES: Slide Presentation of Police Chiefs' Views on the Death Penalty

The results of a poll of police chiefs recently featured in DPIC's report "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis" is now available in the form of a slide presentation on the Web, suitable for use in workshops or discussion groups. The poll, commissioned by DPIC and conducted by R.T. Strategies of Washington, DC, surveyed a national sample of 500 randomly selected U.S. police chiefs on questions regarding the death penalty and reducing violent crime. Although the police chiefs did not oppose the death penalty philosophically, they found it to be an ineffective crime fighting tool.  Among those surveyed, only 1% of the chiefs listed greater use of the death penalty as the best way to reduce violence. The poll also showed police chiefs ranking the death penalty as the least efficient use of taxpayers' money among programs to fight crime.  Most of the police chiefs did not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.

Access the slide presentation here; read DPIC's "Smart on Crime" report.

STUDIES: Researchers Find "No Empirical Support" for Deterrence Theory

Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas recently published a study on whether executions deter homicides using state panel date and employing well-known econometric procedures for panel analysis. The authors found "no empirical support for the argument that the existence or application of the death penalty deters prospective offenders from committing homicide."  The study was published in the journal of Criminology and Public Policy and authored by Tomislav V. Kovandzic, Lynne M. Vieraitis and Denise Paquette Boots, all professors of criminology.  The study concluded, "In sum, our finding of no deterrent effect of the DP (death penalty) on homicide suggests the risk of execution does not enhance the level of deterrence. Therefore, we conclude that although policy makers and the public may continue to support the use of the death penalty based on retribution, religious grounds, or other justifications, defending its use based on deterrence is inconsistent with our findings. At a minimum, policy makers should refrain from justifying its use by claiming that it is a deterrent to homicide and explore less costly, more effective ways of addressing crime."