- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Columbia Daily Tribune, Jan. 14

A way to say crime prevention

Citizens worried about crime - isn’t that everybody? - often yearn for police to somehow prevent bad behavior and not just respond after the fact, but this is devilishly hard to do. How can cops anticipate where the next incident will happen and be on hand to thwart the crook?

On the other hand, police know many of the most suspicious characters and where they are likely to operate. Even in this column, which some observers think is a bastion of liberalism, I earlier suggested Columbia cops do a local version of stop-and-frisk, in which suspicious characters in certain neighborhoods would be approached and searched for weapons.

The idea created strong pushback from police officials of the day as an unacceptable invasion of civil rights, and now in the age of new tension between police and neighborhoods, stop-and-frisk is further out of the question. But the rough idea has merit, and the Columbia Police Department is launching a modern version it calls “focused deterrence,” a proactive effort to identify people most likely to cause trouble and let them know they are under surveillance.

The program is modeled after similar programs in Kansas City and High Point, N.C. After Columbia shootings, officers have told associates of the victims they are under surveillance, apparently helping reduce violent retaliation.

“Just going out and making the contacts seems to be helping,” Assistant Police Chief Jeremiah Hunter said.

In Kansas City, police tell suspects they will be prosecuted if they commit crimes. If they do not, they will be offered programs to help change their lives, such as job training or food stamps.

“Focused deterrence” is community policing with a little more oomph. In the general sense, community policing simply means getting to know people better in neighborhoods where trouble often erupts. Focused deterrence involves more targeted contacts with particular people to head off criminal activity.

We have known all along most violent crimes in Columbia and elsewhere are committed by a small number of people. Concentrated attention from law enforcement ahead of time might encourage some to make lifestyle changes or at least think twice before causing trouble.

Of course this is not a panacea, as police Lt. Jason Jones told judges earlier this week, but it’s the best approach we have seen to proactive policing.

One caveat: Focusing on individuals known to be troublemakers might produce disproportionate contacts with minority groups. This should be a non-issue because the goal is focused on help as much as warning and involves nothing that should be interpreted as a violation of civil rights. In the spirit of heading off trouble, let me urge ahead of time support for focused deterrence from all quarters.


The Jefferson City News Tribune, Jan. 11

Outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon erred in pardoning the so-called “Medicaid protesters.”

As one of his last official actions, Nixon pardoned 16 religious leaders who were convicted of misdemeanor trespassing while protesting the Senate’s unwillingness to expand Medicaid.

The 16 were among 23 charged with the misdemeanor, and 22 convicted after disrupting the Senate’s May 6, 2014, debate by singing and chanting in the gallery after a protest rally in the Capitol Rotunda. The 23rd person still awaits trial.

The 16 individuals pardoned were the ones who asked to be pardoned. The others, while also believing their innocence, didn’t seek the pardons.

Nothing against the men and women involved in the protest. We personally know some of them. Our reporters have a good working relationship with them. We respect them.

We also respect that they were, and still are, fighting for what they believe is right.

But just as judges demand order in a courtroom, we must have the same in our legislative chambers. If we allow public protests during floor debates, our legislative process will deteriorate into chaos.

We don’t know the former governor’s rationale for the pardons. Nixon isn’t required to give an explanation, and he didn’t. Like presidents, governors have the ability to override the justice system, wiping clean the records and eliminating jail sentences and fines of those they choose.

The pardoning ability itself seems to fly in the face of our justice system, but that’s an editorial for another day.

At least in the past, Nixon typically explained his pardons. In this case, it especially seems ironic considering Nixon is a tough-on-crime former attorney general who often argued to the state’s high court to uphold convictions.

Hopefully, any groups considering disruptions in the House or Senate in the future will understand that the pardons are isolated situations and that any disruptive protests - regardless of the cause - won’t be tolerated.


The St. Joseph News-Press, Jan. 13

‘Ferguson effect’ cuts both ways

A new national survey finds many law enforcement officers - more than 3 in 4 - are reluctant to use force when the situation calls for it.

Almost as many say they, or their colleagues, are increasingly hesitant to stop and question people they view as possible suspects.

Both trends fall under the “Ferguson effect” - defined by USA Today as “officers becoming less proactive in their policing out of fear their actions will be second-guessed by their superiors and the public.”

The study from the Pew Research Center does not detail what police and sheriff’s department personnel in our region think. But they are both officers and human beings, and we can surmise they understand what officers elsewhere are experiencing.

Having your sense of fairness challenged and every decision subjected to scrutiny is part of public service. It doesn’t make the job more enjoyable, but for most officers it still is not enough to deter them from their career calling.

Fair enough, but this study uncovers a reality that is dangerous for law enforcement. Veteran cops will remind rookies that hesitation can get you or someone else killed.

It is the officer’s job to use his or her training and good judgment to size up situations, defuse events, minimize risks and protect the public’s safety.

Sometimes this will require a prompt interrogation of someone walking away from the scene of a crime. Other times, an appropriate deployment of force is a needed response.

Private citizens can do only so much to put officers at ease, and there is a reason for that. The events of the last three years, in cities as small as Ferguson and as big as Chicago, have shined a harsh light on law enforcement.

Through cellphones and body cameras, the public has played witness to criminal conduct, questionable conduct and dozens of instances when judgments can be second-guessed.

Still, it is incumbent on our police leaders to prepare officers for their daily shifts on the street and on patrol. This must include assurance they will have their backs, as will citizens who understand someone must be on the firing line and make difficult decisions in behalf of their safety.

The “Ferguson effect” cuts two ways - it changes the first impulse of law enforcement, and law enforcement must acknowledge it is in part a result of instances of conduct that have no place in our uniformed ranks.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 14

Editorial: Kansas’ experiment in voodoo economics is floundering. And spreading.

Trickle-down economics just won’t go away. The myth that tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves with growth that benefits rich and poor alike endures, like the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold.

Last week, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who sold this myth to his Legislature in 2012 and 2013, finally admitted that he has a big budget problem. He didn’t acknowledge the reason: Kansas has been the national laboratory for trickle-down economics. Not since Dr. Frankenstein’s has any laboratory produced such disastrous results.

Brownback wants the Legislature to raise liquor and tobacco taxes and make other fee adjustments to raise $377 million over two years. He wants to sell Kansas’ future $1.8 billion in proceeds from the nationwide tobacco settlement for a discounted $600 million in cash up front. And he wants to “borrow” money from the state’s highway fund to help plug a $900 million, two-year budget gap.

He would not fix the biggest problem, the elimination of income taxes for owners of pass-through corporations, such as limited liability corporations, partnerships and IRS subchapter-S corporations. Brownback freed them from income taxes, assuming they’d reinvest and grow the economy.

Instead the state discovered the reality that more than 90 percent of all corporations are set up as pass-through entities, meaning their owners weren’t paying their fair share. The state’s highest-paid employee, University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, was avoiding taxes on the bulk of $3 million income because he’d incorporated as a limited liability corporation, or LLC.

The tax cuts haven’t helped Kansas, much less provided the “immediate” economic boost promised by economist Arthur Laffer (of the eponymous Reagan-era “Laffer Curve”) and the Cato Institute’s Stephen Moore. St. Louis’ own Rex Sinquefield, the retired investor and anti-income-tax crusader, also promoted Brownback’s tax cuts.

Sinquefield then turned around and tried to sell them to Missouri, arguing that neighboring Kansas would steal Missouri jobs. The Missouri Legislature responded with a kind of “Kansas Lite” tax cut in 2014, a half-percent cut in the income tax rate that will phase in over five years. It’s a big part of why the state is looking at a $500 million budget deficit next year.

It gets worse. Back in December, Brownback and his band of trickle-downers tried selling the Kansas plan to President-elect Donald Trump’s economic advisers. Trump and the Republican Congress like the idea of preferential tax rates for business owners whose business income is treated as personal income. It’s been estimated that Trump’s plan would add $10 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

Call it “supply-side” or “trickle-down” or “Trumponomics,” it’s a gift to the few at the expense of the many. And it doesn’t work. George H.W. Bush had the best name for it: “voodoo economics.”

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