Friday, June 16, 2006

Send in the cops

Spot is going to serve as a more-or-less aggregator on Katie’s latest column Two big problems cause rising crime (in Minneapolis). According to Katie, those problems are 1) the Hennepin County Drug Court, and 2) the incentive to do aggressive police work has been taken away. This bit of breathless opining (it certainly isn’t reporting) comes courtesy of Minneapolis police Sgt. Jeff Jindra.

Beth Hawkins at the City Pages Blotter blog asks the question Who is Sgt. Jeff Jindra?
If Jindra's name rings a bell, it's because he has frequently been named in association with some of those irritating misconduct investigations he grouses about. In the fall of 2003, Jindra was one of several officers named by Stephen Porter, a Minneapolis man who claimed that police had sodomized him with a toilet plunger. Following a seemingly thorough federal investigation, Jindra was exonerated in that case. And he was acquitted by a jury in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in which he was alleged to have roughed up the grandson of one of Minnesota's most revered civil rights activists in May 2003. A third incident, also from May 2003, is still pending: In another federal suit, Jindra is accused of kicking a suspect, Philander Jenkins, in the head and breaking his jaw. To complicate matters just a little further, Jenkins was charged with filing a false report in another incident in which he claimed jail officials had sexually assaulted him.

(For the record, neither of those agencies returned City Pages' calls today; in the past Sgt. Jindra's MPD personnel file and his record with Civilian Review have been without meaningful blemish.)

Katie, these are the kind of things that readers might find helpful in assessing the credibility of your source. Maybe they detract from his credibility – maybe they add to it – but they’re not irrelevant.

And it is curious, too, Katie, that St. Paul cops have much less problem getting the job done without attracting all the abuse allegations.

The drug court that Katie and Jindra dismiss has some big-wig admirers. Smartie at the Power Liberal tells us about that. City Pages also has a 2003 article about the Drug Court and its realities:
Hundreds of drug courts have sprung up around the country in the last 10 years, a byproduct of the nation's war on drugs. The idea is to stop users from cycling repeatedly through the system by reaching them in the hours after their arrest--a so-called teachable moment when people are thought to be especially open to chemical-dependency treatment. The hoped-for result: unclogged dockets and fewer tax dollars spent on prisons.

In the seven years since its inception, Hennepin County's drug court has indeed increased the pace at which narcotics cases are processed. Whereas drug cases used to drag on for months, most are now resolved within a few weeks.

But instead of making less work for the courts, the increased efficiency has made it possible for prosecutors to charge 50 percent more people, most of them minorities from a handful of Minneapolis neighborhoods caught with small amounts of a variety of drugs. And while most of the defendants who pass through this court are offered treatment and other help to get clean, the reality is that many will go back to using drugs. And when they do, that's hundreds more people who have criminal records in an era when being convicted of a drug felony carries sanctions not even attached to murder.

Between 1980 and 2000 there was a 1,000 percent increase in the number of drug offenders in state prisons, from 19,000 to 220,000. In 1980, some 52,000 people, or just 8 percent of the nation's inmates, were incarcerated for drug law violations. Today, one-fourth of the more than 2 million people behind bars are there for drug offenses.

Mandatory sentencing laws passed in the late '80s and early '90s have meant drastically longer prison terms for even casual users. The average drug offender released from a federal prison in 1992 was there for 33 months; the average offender convicted that year could expect to spend 70 months incarcerated. In 1995, it cost taxpayers some $9 billion to keep all of these people locked up.

Contrary to its liberal reputation, Minnesota has not been an exception. From 1986 to 1996, the year before drug court began, the number of state prison inmates with a drug offense as their highest charge went from 2 percent, or 34, to 10 percent, or 505. From 1993 to 1996, about 1,200 felony drug cases were filed in Hennepin County each year. The numbers threatened to bring the criminal justice system to a halt and drain public coffers.

In an attempt to resolve the impasse between politicians' tough-on-crime stances and the realities of trying to deal with the resulting flood of convicts, other cities had started drug courts. Hennepin County was already trying to divert some drug offenders into treatment when Chief Judge Kevin Burke crusaded to start a drug court here. The purpose, he told the Minneapolis City Council, was to make the system "work radically faster," the Star Tribune reported.

At the time, the first drug court had been in operation in Miami for five years and dozens more had sprung up in other states. Burke and the task force that helped set up the local drug court were aware of their shortcomings, and aimed high. As Hennepin County prepared to process its first defendants, doubts were waved aside. We were going to have "one of the good ones," organizers promised.

Whereas most drug courts won't take cases involving dealers, weapons, or in some cases even repeat offenders, Hennepin County decided to take every narcotics case except those in which the defendant was charged with a violent act. Further, recognizing that drug abuse doesn't crop up in a vacuum, the court arranged for an array of services for participants. In addition to treatment, defendants get help with mental health issues, housing, education, and parenting skills.

Possibly the most important distinction between Hennepin County's court and the others is transparent to most non-lawyers, however. To participate in most drug courts, defendants must agree to plead guilty and to surrender many, or in some cases all, of their rights. Not so here: Defendants can undergo screening and begin treatment, if it's appropriate, while retaining their right to challenge their police stop or even to go to trial. (Rights notwithstanding, less than half a percent of drug court clients end up at trial. More than 95 percent end up pleading guilty; the rest have their cases dismissed.)

From the start, the court got great press. A Star Tribune story written during its first few days of operation profiled a man who had gone to great pains to get himself arrested so that he could avail himself of the court's referral to county-financed treatment. Not counting the expense of treatment (which is paid for out of an already existing federal fund), the court's budget was $1 million, more than half of it from county coffers. Costs, supporters promised, would go down as fewer drug users re-offended.

Well, of course, the Drug Court filings have only increased. Spot really recommends the City Pages article linked above.

Katie winds up with these sage words:
Today's lax environment emboldens criminals, Jindra says. "It used to be people would steal VCRs or pass bad checks to get money for drugs. Now they rob people in broad daylight; stick a gun in their face in their own driveway and grab their wallet. The fear factor has gone up tremendously."

In short, while there's a ton of pressure on our police, no one's putting real pressure where it counts -- on the criminal.

Boy, if there’s one thing a tight-arse like Katie can’t stand, it’s a lax environment. It even sounds like laxative!


No comments: