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.
On October 13, law enforcement officers from the U.S. and Europe held the first public discussion about whether the death penalty helps or hurts in keeping citizens safe, assists healing for victims, and uses crime-fighting resources efficiently. The panelists addressed issues such as deterrence, closure to victims’ families, and costs in relation to alternatives. Former Detective Superintendent Bob Denmark of Lancashire Constabulary, England, who investigated over 100 homicides in the U.K., said, “Out of the 100 or more cases that I was personally involved in… in the vast majority of those, I do not think deterrence would have been an issue at all.” He continued, “If you were to use execution of killers as a deterrent, I think you would end up having to execute every killer in the hope that you might deter some potential killer in the future. I think the deterrence argument, while I do not dismiss it, is very, very weak.” Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey, the Republican appointee to the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, talked of how his time with the study commission changed his mind about the death penalty. He said, “I ... know that in practice, [the death penalty] does more harm than good. So while I hang on to my theoretical views, as I’m sure many of you will, I stand before you to say that society is better off without capital punishment… Life in prison without parole in a maximum-security detention facility is a better alternative.” The forum also included Ronald Hampton, Executive Director of National Black Police Association International Leadership Institute and a 23-year veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and António Cluny, Senior Attorney General and Public Prosecutor from Portugal.
("Fighting Crime in the U.S. and Internationally: Is the Death Penalty Necessary? A Unique Conversation Between U.S. and European Law Enforcement," National Press Club, Washington, DC, October 13, 2010). See Costs, Deterrence and New Voices.
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.
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).
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.