It can be tough to pin down the shapeless blob of current leftwing activism. In a world where the ACLU has thrown in on gun control, the abortion lobby has sounded off on immigration, and environmental activists are apoplectic about redistricting, there is no coherent through-line that does not include arch-progressive fantasy. It’s shocking when one of these groups—within its self-identified issue area—correctly identifies a policy prescription that not only is respectful of established rights but also targets a concern shared across the political spectrum.
On Oct. 4, the Senate Finance Committee met to discuss how Texas should to disburse $16.3 billion in recent federal appropriations. While the Texas Public Policy Foundation provided testimony recommending the responsible replenishment of unemployment funds drawn down during the pandemic, border security, and property tax compression—all to benefit every Texan—a long line of public and private special interest groups took the podium to advocate for cash infusions for their specific fiefdoms. Surprisingly, a small-but-vocal anti-Second Amendment group requested that the committee direct $20 million dollars towards “community violence interruption,” a crime control tactic not widely known to the population at large.
Even more surprisingly, the organization was correct in doing so.
In criminology and policing circles, community violence interruption is a vague concept. To the Left, it is often a pretext to spend vast amounts of public money on the suspected “root causes” of crime—the things they believe cause people to harm themselves and others. To those in the center and on the Right, these programs take the shape of “focused deterrence,” using police and prosecutor resources to target habitual violent offenders in at-risk communities. Collectively, focused deterrence have been associated with moderate crime reductions. These programs are by no means a panacea to all crime, but they can help get the shooters off the streets and behind bars.
Successful programs are often a combination of two distinct approaches: opportunities for desistance and enforcement. Before either can begin, the local police and prosecutors share gang and organized crime intelligence, creating a shared understanding of what type of violent crime is happening where. Individuals known to be associated with these crimes either through involvement or gang membership are brought downtown for a “call-in,” a session in which the individual is informed that their behavior is under police scrutiny and if it persists or there is a violent event, the individual will be prosecuted as harshly as the law allows. Oftentimes, this the individual will be paired with a social worker who can plug them into existing service providers. Ideally, the individual will take the available offramp rather than continue in their criminal lifestyle.
However, should they commit an act of criminal violence, they are immediately arrested, charged with each criminal act exceeding probable cause, and have the full weight of the criminal justice system brought to bear against them. This will likely result in a long prison sentence, one befitting a habitual violent criminal.
While focused deterrence strategies are promising, the policymakers who enable such programs and those responsible for the execution must be careful not to favor one approach over the other. Should they overemphasize desistance opportunities, taxpayers will be left with footing the bill for out-of-control social spending that has no meaningful impact on criminal activity. Similarly, if enforcement is the only functional goal, it is likely that there will be a small effect on crime, but justice system resources will be needlessly overburdened. This is doubly true if the program experiences “mission creep,” roping in nonviolent or low-level misdemeanors and treating them in the same manner. Neither extreme is fiscally conservative.
With crime rates skyrocketing around the state and country, it is critical for policymakers to investigate meaningful opportunities to interdict crime. Gun control absolutism has been shown time and again not to deliver the promised improvements in public safety, while making criminals of otherwise law-abiding people. Focused deterrence programs present an opportunity to punish the wicked, respect the Second Amendment and relevant recent improvements made to individual liberty, and provide a more efficient justice system for all.