Trump’s Crime Policy Comes to Lansing

Rhetoric about US cities’ “serious violent crime problem” is misleading and distracting

The federal justice department has launched a new Public Safety Partnership that aims to help 12 U.S. cities, including Lansing, Mich., with what Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls “their serious violent crime problems.”

Sessions announced the program on Tuesday, June 20, at a criminal justice summit in Washington, D.C. He cited a “staggering” increase in the national violent crime rate and touted the PSP as fulfilling President Trump’s promise to “make America safe again.” The program will make additional federal resources available to help cities fight violence. A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman explained that to be considered for inclusion in the program a city “must have levels of violence that far exceed that national average.”

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But Lansing is far from a dangerous city. “I disagree with the Attorney General on that,” Lansing Chief of Police Michael Yankowski said. “Violent crime in Lansing has gone down by 30 percent over the last 30 years, and property crime has gone down by 50 percent. We have a violent crime reduction plan that’s seen tremendous success.”

In fact, the Trump administration’s narrative on crime and criminal justice does not line up with the facts. Crime rates both in Michigan and nationally have steadily declined over the past couple decades to near-historic lows. To sustain this momentum, it’s critical that politicians and policymakers have a correct understanding of the true nature and extent of the problems on our streets and in our justice systems. Overstating the issue of violent crime could result in knee-jerk reactions to a perceived “crisis,” while diverting attention from other issues that are long overdue for successes like the one we’ve had in reducing the violent crime rate.

In the meantime, Lansing is poised to proceed with this federal collaboration. Chief Yankowski attended the summit in D.C. and said he expects federal help in the form of diagnostic services, not necessarily cash.

“We haven’t been guaranteed any money,” he said. “We’ll continue strengthening our relationship with the federal government and will always be open to learning best practices and how to fight the root causes of crime.” The LPD might get additional technology or training, assistance with grant writing or a consultant to help with data collection and analysis. The particulars won’t be known until a site visit is completed and an action plan written.

One thing, at least, is clear – Lansing has joined the PSP because Yankowski wants to be proactive, not because the city is overrun by violence. Trump and Sessions should stop misleading the American people with headline grabbing rhetoric about “serious violent crime.” Instead, they should get serious about expanding the success and attention of this issue to other areas.

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