A Mayor Breaks the 'Tough on Crime' Mold

Most mayors go out of their way to be publicly supportive of the police because they think it's the politically smart course of action. Not Richmond, California's Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. When the Richmond Police Department was patting itself on the back for the role it played in a coordinated effort to execute search and arrest warrants that targeted gang members in the San Francisco Bay area, McLaughlin questioned the department's celebratory tone.

"While I understand that this action was addressing criminal activity, I do have concerns about the collateral damage and how this will be mitigated," McLaughlin wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "For example, oftentimes grandparents let their grandkids stay with them and they themselves are not involved in any criminal activity, yet they had their homes descended upon by hundreds of police. That can be traumatizing for innocent people."

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Unless they are too dramatic to ignore, public officials almost never acknowledge the collateral damage of aggressive warrant executions. Kudos to McLaughlin for questioning the blind assumption that violent law enforcement tactics are the best response to gang violence.

In a city where violent crime perennially ranks among issues most on voters' minds, the Police Department often can't work in a word after a flashy enforcement operation, with elected officials clamoring for credit and competing to appear toughest on crime in the public eye. But McLaughlin, a Green Party member elected in 2006 to the nonpartisan mayor's seat, breaks the mold in many ways.

McLaughlin recognizes that law enforcement has a role to play in curbing gang violence, but understands that it should be "part of a larger, layered approach to fighting crime that includes enforcement, intervention and prevention." And she's not afraid of the inevitable criticism that she's "soft on crime."

Richmond voters appreciate McLaughlin's willingness to stand up to the police department. Her opposition to the department's purchase of tasers and to its "driver's license checkpoints" (believed by many residents to target Latino drivers) is popular with much of the community.

Let's hope that voters everywhere are finally willing to reward politicians who think being smart on crime is more sensible than being mindlessly tough on crime.

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    oddly enough, (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by cpinva on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 08:16:43 AM EST
    there was a time in this country when there was no such thing as an "illegal drug". in fact, that time was longer than the time when there was. amazingly enough, in spite of that, we survived and thrived: fought & won a war which both unified the country and eliminated slavery; ushered in the industrial revolution and huge leaps forward in technology; learned how to fly without feathers; established the world's first public schools. i could go on, but i think you get the point.

    oddly enough, when few things were illegal, there were no criminal gangs to speak of, involved in ongoing criminal conspiracies. true, there were gangs that robbed banks & trains, but they didn't usually last very long. short shelf lives were the norm, not the exception.

    there will always be a segment of any society with an addictive nature, to heroin or peanuts. however, that % is pretty damn small, relative to the population as a whole. to assert that we should expend billions of dollars a year, to deal with that blip on the radar, makes no rational sense whatever. it just doesn't.

    deal with the individuals when they can't control themselves, don't treat the entire population as potential drug addled criminals. it's cheaper and more effective.

    with regards to tasers, the urban legend is that it's a "non-lethal" alternative. this is promoted by the manufacturers, to the law enforcement community. what they fail to make clear is that, for most people, when used properly, that's true. for some people, and when not used properly, it's potentially just as lethal as a bullet.

    beanbags are far less hazardous than tasers, but aren't nearly as much fun.

    Just politics (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jacob Freeze on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 11:24:02 PM EST
    Gayle McLaughlin is a white mayor in a city where the demographics are 21% white and 62.6 black or Latino.

    The so-called War on Drugs doesn't play well with either black or Latino voters.

    I think Mayor McLaughlin is right to express concern about collateral damage, and she would be even righter if she expressed a wish that the ongoing disaster known as the War on Drugs should come to a screeching halt.

    But there's no reason to believe she's doing much more than playing to the majority of voters in her district. It would mean a lot more if some mayor from Orange County or the Central Valley said the same things.

    McLaughlin may not be exactly a heroic crusader for sanity about drugs, but it's worth mentioning that she ran on the Green Party ticket, and Richmond is the largest city in the USA with a Green Party mayor.

    To me "gang" (none / 0) (#2)
    by Fabian on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 11:34:57 PM EST
    is not the same as "drugs".

    Organized crime is not simply about dealing in contraband.  It's about an entire range of illegal activities from racketeering to murder.  If drugs were decriminalized tomorrow, the organizations who make their profits off them would still be around.  Organized crime makes their money by controlling the market in order to maximize profits.  As long as the market exists, they'll be around.


    Deep C and the Trojans (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jacob Freeze on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 11:52:40 PM EST
    Yeah, I can see how you might think that Deep C or the Projects will branch out into counterfeiting and industrial espionage if their income from crack and heroin dries up.

    Or at least I can understand how you might think that way if you didn't know Richmond from Grosse Point.


    So... (none / 0) (#3)
    by 1980Ford on Sun Nov 23, 2008 at 11:46:29 PM EST
    The Contra Costa Times said No on 5 because it didn't want to appeal to its base (sell papers).

    A lot of foolishness. (none / 0) (#5)
    by JeriKoll on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 12:47:41 AM EST
    There is a lot of foolishness about whether "strict drug enforcement" is necessary and about "tasers" as well.

    Right now the drug that causes the most trouble in the US is alcohol.  Not because it is illegal so much (though it is for under 21's) but because of DUIs, wife beatings, fights, murders, robberies, etc.  i.e. after the drink has been purchased legally and consumed legally comes the problems.

    If weed was made legal tomorrow, it would just add to the DUIs, though it wouldn't add beatings and fights, I will agree.
    Then the pushers would go more to cocaine, heroin, meth, crack, etc.
    So say we legalize heroin which is probably the least offensive at least to bad behavior of the rest, the pushers concentrate more on the others.

    I guess you move all the way down the list and have only LSD, and PCP illegal.  Just so people wouldn't cut out their kids hearts, or do the old James Brown routine of shooting up the county sheriffs.

    You have to go get the crooks where they are when you have the personnel available.  That might mean their nap at grannys is interrupted.

    As for tasers, what to you want the police to use, their firearms?  Or do you want them to go back to the old baton which caused many more injuries and deaths than the tasers ever have.

    If you move back to the batons, then that will put a severe crimp on the ability to use women police officers because a baton requires more muscle, though I guess the ladies could just draw down on the perp immediately.  I sure would.  No wimpy taser for me.  Glock!!

    I don't think we'd see an increase.... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by kdog on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 08:56:23 AM EST
    in DUI's.  Everybody who wants to get high is getting high already, and if they are irresponsible and drive high they are already doing so.  

    I agree about tasers (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jacob Freeze on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 12:56:05 AM EST
    Tasers save a hundred times more lives than they cost in a few freak accidents, but there's an urban myth about them that the mayor of Richmond is pandering to.

    Polls in Richmond always show crime as a top concern, but virtually everything the police do in the way of arrests or anti-crime is unpopular.

    California is a tax-rebellion state in the full meaning of tax rebellion, and nobody wants to pay for rehab programs or any kind of outreach, so the whole burden falls on the police and the schools.

    They can't handle it.  


    FWIW there is a report on Taser safety at (none / 0) (#9)
    by JSN on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 05:40:33 PM EST

    The were two deaths and one injury serious enough to require hospitalization out of just under 1000 Taser uses.

    Evidently there were incidents where the use of deadly force would have been justified. But I suspect that finding is controversial.

    The evidence that injury rates were reduced by use of Tasers appears to be solid.