In the past couple of weeks two crime stories in The Chronicle caught my eye; one as an example that, despite being described by some as nonviolent crime, really isn’t nonviolent, and in the other a step in the right direction in solving a really serious crime was taken, but didn’t go far enough.
Let me start with the second example.
I don’t know when we started fingerprinting everyone arrested for sure, but I know collecting evidence like that without a searchable database was almost useless. But, like many in law enforcement, I collected fingerprints from crime scenes and if they appeared useful, turned them in with my report. It could be effective if we had a suspect to compare it to, but if we didn’t, it really was just more paper in a file.
It wasn’t until a computer tool to quickly search for matches was created that everything changed. Everyone booked in any jail is fingerprinted, and now the information stored in a place where other agencies can search for matches. Once a potential match is discovered, a qualified expert can make a comparison and determine a match.
This past session, the legislature passed a bill to reduce rape kit processing times, and the unbelievable backlog of them. It’s a shame, but at a rate of 213 tests per month, (and because rapes will sadly continue to occur) with a backlog of about 10,000 kits, the math suggests they can’t catch up anytime soon, if ever.
In my opinion, the goal and funding to eliminate the backlog is a good start.
What’s missing is the collection, analysis, and inclusion of DNA results in the national database from every arrested suspect. It’s not hard to collect; the real cost is in the analysis and inclusion into the system and it’s not cheap.
However, DNA was a game changer in solving crimes; especially rapes by strangers. But it could also solve, and does solve, many other crimes too.
But the collection of a sample from all arrestees has been controversial and hasn’t been seriously considered.
I think it should be.
The other story was on the rash of burglaries in Centralia reported in the Chronicle last month. The twist here is that in our recent history, those who want to reduce prison populations often claim burglary is a non-violent crime. In this case as reported two of the suspects are also going to be charged with a murder in Ryderwood.
Of course all the characters in this are innocent until proven guilty, but it does suggest burglary isn’t always the non-violent crime it’s being sold as. Beyond that though, burglary is a very personal intrusion into someone’s life and often the victims feel violated. This can be true even if it’s a business and not a residence as reported by one of the victims in the story.
Property crimes including burglary seem to be out of control and there seems to be little stomach for effectively dealing with it. To be fair, in some cases the only way to stop some thieves is to keep them in jail, but that’s not exactly a viable solution in most cases.
Centralia’s police chief offered several useful ideas and made several suggestions to make your place less attractive to a would be burglar. And we know much of this kind of crime is related to the use of and abuse of drugs. But it goes deeper and is also related to change in the moral compass of people. In my view, a growing sentiment often legitimatized by politics is excuse it, like with the recent protests, vandalism and criminal conduct on some college campuses, or looting during a protest after some perceived (real or imagined) wrong by the police.
Excusing lawless behavior is just a bad idea. Incredibly DNA, like fingerprinting we do now, could help here too. But regardless of the tools applied to solving crimes like burglary, if the burglars aren’t discouraged by the penalty, solving it brings little consolation or confidence to the victims.
John McCroskey was Lewis County sheriff from 1995 to 2005. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.