August 19, 1993
By Paul Danish
We’ve been had.
For months, we’ve been hearing how crime is going nuts in Colorado. The situation has been portrayed as so serious that the Governor Romer has called for a special session of the Legislature. The Governor says he is even thinking about asking the Legislature to consider some ideas for fighting crime that he has been advised might be unconstitutional. “You bet, I’m pushing the boundaries,” Romer brags.
Well, it turns out it’s not just the boundaries of constitutionally he’s pushing. It’s the boundaries of truth. Lost in the welter of headlines about Denver’s “Summer of Violence” are statistics showing that the so-called crime wave Colorado is experiencing is fictional.
Serious crime in Colorado (defined as the FBI’s Part One felony list, which includes homicide, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny-theft, and auto theft) dropped 12 percent statewide in the second quarter of this year, compared with the same quarter last year.
Serious crime in Denver during the first six months of the year is virtually unchanged from the same period a year ago. In the first six months of 1993 there were 2,101 serious crimes committed in the city. The total for 1992 was 2,111. Homicides in Denver are down compared to the same time last year.
Gang-related homicides are down 33 percent; sexual assaults are off 50 percent; and robberies are down 22 percent. Only aggravated assaults are up; they rose 46 percent.
It is true that Denver has experienced about a half-dozen random shootings that are terrifying because of their randomness. But nevertheless, even in Denver, overall crime is declining.
Denver’s supposed “Summer of Violence” is pretty much like last summer, and the surge in gang activity and juvenile crime, which is the proximate reason for the special session of the legislature never happened. Some folks, in other words, are whipping up crime hysteria for their own purposes.
Suspect number one: Roy Romer. The governor is up for re-election next year, and an obvious point of attack for his opponents is law and order. Calling a special session of the Legislature would allow Romer to get out in front on the issue and bullet-proof himself (so to speak) against Republican charges that he’s soft on crime. Suspect number two: the media. There is nothing new about the press creating crime waves. All the media have to do is give excessive attention to crime for a while and the public soon will conclude the public order is threatened by lawlessness.
Denver is currently a fiercely competitive media market — it is one of the few that has directly competing newspapers — and crime always makes for good copy. Writing about crime allows reporters to produce bucketfuls of the psycho-babble and journalistic voyeurism that passes for investigative and in-depth reporting these days.
And the herd mentality of much of the media ensures that once an official panic is declared, there is little questioning of the underlying facts.
Suspect number three: the anti-gun lobby. Last winter the Colorado Legislature shot down half-a-dozen gun bills with little debate and less public outcry. If such measures are going to have a change of passing, it’s necessary to generate public support — and the way to do that is to create a climate of fear in the constituencies of suburban Republicans. And what better way to do that than to cry wolf on crime, an issue on which conservatives are prepared to believe the worst.
Suspect number four: the state’s criminal justice administrations. Thanks to the passage of Amendment 1, which limits taxes and spending, and Amendment 8, which phases out the use of Colorado lottery money for prison construction, the state’s criminal justice establishment is about to see its decade-long period of rapid growth come to an end. Unless of course, it can persuade the people that more money for government is all that stands between civilization and a return to barbarism.
Paul Danish wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a Golden think tank.
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Copyright 2000 David B. Kopel