In an election characterized by calls for change, both major presidential candidates have plans for addressing crime that hew to traditional party lines.
The centerpiece of Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama‘s plan is a program that was a favorite of the Clinton administration, while Republican nominee Sen. John McCain‘s has emphasized tough laws and border security.
“They sort of complement each other,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I think if you could merge both policies, it would be wonderful.”
National crime statistics have remained relatively steady during the past decade, though some analysts say that doesn’t account for large increases in certain cities and among certain groups, such as the nearly 40 percent increase during the past five years of young black men who fell victim to homicide.
Willard M. Oliver, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, said crime has been given scant notice in this year’s campaign, which has been dominated by talk of the troubled economy.
But the two issues may become related as a sagging economy is one of the factors typically associated with increased crime.
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“We need about another year for the economy to continue going down, or being sour, before crime goes up fairly dramatically,” Mr. Oliver said.
Mr. Obama’s plan calls for reinvigorating the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which uses federal money to hire state and local police officers. The program began under President Clinton and is credited with playing a significant role in the dramatic decreases in crime during the 1990s.
Critics say the program is more pork than policy and has been cut extensively during the Bush administration.
Mr. Obama plans to put $1.15 billion a year into the program, which his campaign says will allow the hiring of 50,000 more police officers. The plan doesn’t call for a budget increase, and the campaign said the costs will be offset by cuts in other areas.
“It’s an outrage that the Bush administration has been decimating the COPS program since it took office, taking police officers off the streets at the very moment they’re needed most,” Mr. Obama said in response to a questionnaire from the International Association of Police Chiefs (IAPC). “Cutting support for state and local law enforcement is not being ‘tough on crime’ - especially when we’re asking local law enforcement to address crime and homeland security.”
Neera Tanden, the Obama campaign’s domestic policy director, said of the COPS program: “We know it works to protect our citizens from the scourge of crime.”
Mr. McCain favors giving federal funds to local law enforcement agencies the same way he - and Mr. Obama - plan to distribute homeland security grants: to the places they are needed most.
“I strongly support federal funding for state and local law enforcement. However, rampant earmarking of federal funding to state and local law enforcement has reduced funding to many … law enforcement authorities and local jurisdictions,” Mr. McCain said in response to the IAPC questionnaire. “We must see that America’s tax dollars are used in the most effective way possible and spent on programs, be they in major metropolises or rural communities, where they will produce the most efficient results.”
Mr. Oliver, the Sam Houston professor, said Mr. McCain’s campaign lacks the central crime issue that Mr. Obama has with the COPS program.
“It’s a little bit more fuzzy as to what to say about McCain,” said Mr. Oliver, who has analyzed both candidates’ crime policies and plans to co-write a paper about them.
He said Mr. McCain’s policy aligns with traditional conservative views.
On his campaign Web site, Mr. McCain says he will strengthen laws against child predators, push for lifetime sex offender registration for those who abuse children, and fund the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to track the trade of child pornography.
Mr. McCain also supports improving communication equipment systems for police and other first responders and programs that aim to decrease recidivism among former prisoners. He calls for securing the border and ensuring illegal immigrants in prison are deported once they complete their sentences.
In the area of counterterrorism, both campaigns call for greater information sharing among federal and local law enforcement agencies. But neither campaign offers many specifics about how to accomplish that.