A new study by Professor Franklin Zimring of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law provides an in-depth analysis of the factors that influenced the dramatic twenty-year decline of street crime in New York City. According to the study, which was recently discussed in Scientific American, the rate of common crimes such as homicide, robbery and burglary dropped by more than 80 percent in New York City. By 2009, the homicide rate was lower than it was in 1961. Zimring suggests that one of the most influential factors in the reduction of crime rates was the improvement of policing around the city. Beginning in 1990, New York City added over 7,000 new uniformed officers. Along with adding new police to the streets, the city implemented several new strategies that were focused on high-crime settings. One of the tactics was deploying more police officers in crime "hotspots" that were determined by sophisticated data-mapping technology. Zimring concludes, "The steady, significant and cumulatively overwhelming crime decline in New York is proof that cities as we know them need not be incubators of robbery, rape and mayhem." The article also dispels some of the misconceptions about the drop in crime: Zimring states that it was not due to changes in the ethnic makeup of the city, to shifts in illicit drug use, or to an increased use of incarceration.
Donald Heller (pictured) served as both a California and federal prosecutor and was the author of the state ballot measure that greatly expanded the list of murders eligible for capital punishment. After the trial of one defendant, Heller volunteered to "throw the switch," a comment that earned him the name "Mad Dog." But his views on capital punishment have changed sharply over the years. A recent interview in the Los Angeles Times explored how Heller came to have his greatest regrets for his promotion of the death penalty. He recently testified in California in support of a bill that would lead to ending capital punishment. Heller said he first changed his mind about the death penalty after the execution of Tommy Thompson, who was convicted through what Heller believed to be "a clear abuse of the death penalty law." He realized that the initiative he created "can and may have resulted in the death of an innocent person." Heller debunks many arguments in support of the death penalty, including that it is needed to deter crimes. He said, "Statistically, in a number of states where there is no death penalty, state crime has dropped. I have found from my years as a lawyer in the criminal process that it doesn't deter anyone. When someone kills, they're thinking of satisfying whatever [made them] decide to kill. They never think about the ultimate punishment." He concluded, "My view is that as a civilized society, we've reached the point where capital punishment should be completely abolished." Read full op-ed below.
A recent article by Terrence P. Dwyer (pictured), retired New York State Police Investigator, and George F. Kain, a police commissioner in Ridgefield, Connecticut, dismissed the notion that the death penalty is needed to protect law enforcement officers. Dwyer and Kain wrote that a majority of police chiefs believe that the death penalty does not deter violent crime and rank the death penalty last in a list of effective tools for fighting crime. "In states like New York, which abolished its death penalty in 2004, or North Carolina, where there has been a de facto moratorium since 2006, the numbers indicate no statistical increase in police officer homicides after the death penalty was repealed or rendered moot through moratorium," the authors wrote. They also encouraged lawmakers to weigh the substantial costs of the death penalty in their decision-making. They stated, "The Connecticut death penalty costs $4 million annually, according to a 2009 estimate by the General Assembly's non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. While capital cases in Connecticut account for just .06 % of cases in the Public Defender's office, the cost to defend these cases was nearly $3.5 million, over 7 % of the office's entire budget."
A new study from North Carolina shows that the state’s death penalty is error-prone and rarely implemented. A study of the death penalty from 1977 to 2009 found that two out of three death sentences were overturned on appeal, an error rate of 67%. The study also found that only 20% of death sentences resulted in an execution. The review of the state's death penalty was made by Matthew Robinson, a professor of Government & Justice Studies at Appalachian State University. He made a series of conclusions based on his research:
A group of over 60 former state and federal prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials recently wrote to Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois urging him to sign the bill passed by the General Assembly to repeal the death penalty. The law would also transfer state funds used for the death penalty to a fund for murder victims' services and law enforcement work. The group cited the death penalty's ineffectiveness in deterring violent crime and its high cost of implementation as the primary reasons for ending the death penalty. The letter stated, " Throughout Illinois, law enforcement officials are struggling to find needed dollars for police, forensic investigations, and aggressive prosecution of a wide range of criminal activity. The vast sums that would be spent on the death penalty in the years ahead are sorely needed for other, more effective law enforcement purposes." The letter also cautioned against retaining the death penalty in order to obtain guilty pleas in exchange for life sentences, saying that "using the death penalty as an instrument of coercion has led to false pleas and erroneous convictions." And merely limiting the death penalty, the group said, " would not solve the underlying flaws that inevitably occur when the authorities are under pressure to win convictions in high-profile cases." See below for list of signatories.
Retired Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin recently wrote in the Huffington Post urging Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to sign a bill that would repeal the death penalty. He wrote, "I am certain we could all list persons who committed outrageous and despicable crimes that we would want executed. Many of us want revenge, retribution and the ultimate punishment in those cases, but, nonetheless, I am opposed to the death penalty." Judge Sarokin highlighted deterrence, costs, racial discrimination, the risk of wrongful executions and personal moral views as among the most significant reasons for his opposition. He believes that, “deterrence plays no part whatsoever. Persons contemplating murder do not sit around the kitchen table and say I won't commit this murder if I face the death penalty, but I will do it if the penalty is life without parole. I do not believe persons contemplating or committing murder plan to get caught or weigh the consequences.” Reall full article below.
Police Chief Charles A. Gruber of St. Charles, Illinois, a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, recently stated that "the death penalty does nothing to keep us safe," and should be abolished. Chief Gruber served as president of both the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He worked with national organizations for over a decade to devise reforms to make the death penalty effective and fair but now now believes Illinois will always leave open the possibility of executing an innocent person and will subject murder victims’ families to excruciatingly long proceedings. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, he wrote, “I am grateful that SB 3539 not only gets rid of a system that has proven itself too flawed to fix, but that also puts the savings from the death penalty where they are desperately needed: law enforcement training. The best thing we can do to ensure the safety of our communities and men and women in uniform is to see that law enforcement have the resources and training they need to do their job well.” Read full op-ed below.
On January 14, in one of his final acts as governor, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell wrote a letter to the state General Assembly urging legislators to consider replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole if it cannot be made more effective than it has been. Gov. Rendell wrote that the death penalty in Pennsylvania is not a reality: “As a former District Attorney and as a death penalty supporter, I believe the death penalty can be a deterrent – but only when it is carried out relatively expeditiously. However, a 15-, 20-, or 25-year lapse between imposition of a death sentence and the actual execution is no deterrent… To criminals on the street, our death penalty is simply not a reality.” The governor said the current system was frustrating to both police and victims' families. He said if the process could not be streamlined, while still protecting defendants' needs for a thorough appeal, it might be time to consider abolition: “If you conclude that there is no avenue to achieve this [careful streamlining], then I ask you to examine the merits of continuing to have the death penalty on the books – as opposed to the certainty of a life sentence without any chance of parole, pardon or commutation.” Read full text of Governor's statement below.
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.
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.