The past few weeks have seen a typical display of just how formulaic and predictable our local elected officials are as they echo national talking points while trying to micromanage our lives, threaten gun rights, and in general treat us like incompetent rubes who couldn’t exist on our own without their guiding wisdom. They made big claims about wanting to deal with violent crime but presented no actual solutions.
On July 12, Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola recommended using American Rescue Plan money to fund a Department of Youth Services. You can find this quote at the 1:02:00 mark in the video or search the transcript for the tenth instance of “arreola”:
“We’ve had a lot of violence. Teenagers involved in that violence. We had a mass shooting at the American Legion, and it was gang-related violence as well. Someone lost their life. I really, really care deeply about including — I feel like it’s an emergency. I feel like all across the nation, it isn’t just Gainesville, all across the nation we’re seeing increases in violent crime that’s been reflective of the stress, the psychological damage this last year has done to us as human beings”
The irony that most of the psychological damage was probably caused by arbitrary lockdowns by power-hungry politicians was lost on Arreola.
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The next day, County Commissioner Anna Prizzia was on the same script. She nearly sobbed, “We’ve got young people as young as my daughter getting access to guns and shooting at each other… if they don’t have anything to do, they are going to find something to do.” (Search this transcript for “gun violence” to find her remarks.)
The sheer ignorance of these commissioners never ceases to amaze anyone who bothers to listen to their dangerous ramblings. Their ideas are nothing new and have already failed at other times and in other places.
Midnight basketball was started in the mid-1980s, became part of President George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light,” and was instituted in President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill… the same bill that NPR calls a “Terrible Mistake.” At its peak, the midnight basketball program involved over 10,000 men in 50 cities, but “the statistics didn’t bear out the effectiveness,” according to Joan Niesen. Not surprisingly, failed programs are frequently resurrected, and midnight basketball is no different. Since 2019, programs have been started in California, Connecticut, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. It will not be a surprise when Arreola’s Department of Youth Services starts up our own midnight basketball league.
Why the sudden push for government to play parent to young criminals and would-be criminals? The City’s original plan to solve gun violence was simply to pass more stringent gun laws. Our commissioners want to mirror laws in places like New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. However, preventing legal ownership of scary-looking rifles and large capacity magazines will do nothing to prevent crime and would violate Florida law. Arreola is one of four commissioners who are personally suing the state over its preemption of local firearms regulation (790.33). They never bother to say how additional laws will reduce gun violence, but these policies are guaranteed to violate Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens.
A quick glance at Florida Statues, Title XLVI, Chapter 790, reveals over a dozen laws related to weapons and firearms. Here’s a short list:
790.01 Unlicensed carrying of concealed weapons or concealed firearms
790.07 Persons engaged in criminal offense, having weapons
790.10 Improper exhibition of dangerous weapons or firearms
790.115 Possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school-sponsored event or on school property prohibited; penalties; exceptions
790.15 Discharging firearm in public or on residential property
790.151 Using firearm while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, chemical substances, or controlled substances; penalties
790.169 Juvenile offenders; release of names and addresses
790.17 Furnishing weapons to minors under 18 years of age or persons of unsound mind and furnishing firearms to minors under 18 years of age prohibited
790.19 Shooting into or throwing deadly missiles into dwellings, public or private buildings, occupied or not occupied; vessels, aircraft, buses, railroad cars, streetcars, or other vehicles
790.23 Felons and delinquents; possession of firearms, ammunition, or electronic weapons or devices unlawful
790.233 Possession of firearm or ammunition prohibited when person is subject to an injunction against committing acts of domestic violence, stalking, or cyberstalking
790.235 Possession of firearm or ammunition by violent career criminal unlawful
790.27 Alteration or removal of firearm serial number or possession, sale, or delivery of firearm with serial number altered or removed prohibited
Note that Prizzia’s concern is already addressed by Statute 790.17, which makes it a crime to provide a firearm to a minor without parent or guardian approval. It’s a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine. There are also statutes making it illegal to discharge a firearm in public or to use a firearm in the commission of another crime (like shooting someone), but maybe we need another one specifically for young daughters.
There’s renewed political interest in gun violence because Gainesville just had drive-by shootings on July 18 and July 19. The perpetrators already broke several laws, so an additional law preventing specific types of weapons won’t make a difference. More gun laws would be as productive at stopping drive-by shootings as a law preventing certain types of vehicles.
Without being able to take the simple (but illegal) path of new gun regulations, the commissioners want to be seen as doing something to reduce violent crime. While Alachua County and Gainesville aren’t facing major crime waves like Chicago or Detroit, our crime rate here is above state levels and growing faster.
Based on the most recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement annual report, total crime was down by 14.1% statewide, but only down 3.3% in Alachua County. Our crime rate per 100,000 population is nearly 50% higher than the state level (3,208 vs. 2,152). Worse, violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) was up 14.7% in Alachua County, compared to only 2.3% statewide. Rapes were the only violent crime that decreased from 2019 to 2020 in Alachua County. Here’s how the other crimes changed from 2019 to 2020 in Alachua County and Florida:
A majority of the crime problem comes from a very small minority of the population. Based on the Alachua County Jail booking logs, 2,729 unique individuals have been booked so far this year (as of July 16). That’s just 1% of the population, and the 80-20 rule generally applies for the real “bad apples” in that group: roughly 1 in 5 were booked more than once so far this year, roughly 1 in 5 were booked with 3 or more charges, and just over 1 in 5 were booked with violent offenses.
Stopping violent crime is not rocket science. The simple solution is more police, not less. Steven Mello from Princeton University looked at hiring grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Community Oriented Policing Services and found “large and statistically significant effects of police on robbery, larceny, and auto theft.”
The opposite is also true: less police and weak enforcement leads to more crime. Barry Latzer, professor of criminal justice at City University of New York and author of The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America, wrote: “When police, courts, jails and prisons are unable to cope with crime, their failures serve as an incentive to increased lawbreaking.” He cites a study that found half of released federal prisoners are rearrested within 21 months of discharge.
Earlier this month, Mayor Lauren Poe said, “You know, we laid out a challenge about five years ago to find a way to arrest fewer people.” That’s practically a confession of at least one reason for our increased crime rates.
Rather than pushing national talking points on crime (gun control, diversion programs, prisoner releases, youth activities, etc.), our commissioners should find ways to get more police on the streets. They should also push the state attorney to be more aggressive with repeat offenders and encourage our state legislature to toughen laws on criminals, not focus on new restrictions for law-abiding citizens.
Simple changes to existing criminal statutes would probably have a bigger impact on violent crime by keeping criminals off the streets rather than banning certain types of weapons, which only affects law-abiding citizens. For example, Statute 790.07 says the display, threat, use, or attempted use of a weapon to commit a felony or while under indictment is a third degree felony. (In that statute, “weapon” is defined as “any dirk, knife, metallic knuckles, slungshot, billie, tear gas gun, chemical weapon or device, or other deadly weapon except a firearm or a common pocketknife, plastic knife, or blunt-bladed table knife.”) It’s a second degree felony to do the same with a firearm, but the “or while under indictment” language is conspicuously missing for firearms. Using the same language for firearms as weapons seems like an easy fix to crack down on gun violence.
Another easy fix: Statute 790.169 allows the release of the name and address of minors convicted of any offense involving the possession or use of a firearm. If juvenile crime is a problem and we don’t want juveniles using guns, how about automatically charging them as adults if they use a firearm?
Probably the best way to reduce gun violence is to directly punish the people who have illegal guns. Statute 790.27 makes it a first degree misdemeanor to knowingly sell, deliver, or possess a firearm with an altered or removed serial number. That should be increased to a third degree felony, the same penalty as the act of altering or removing the serial number. The charge should also apply to anyone in possession of a stolen firearm. These laws would punish criminals with illegal guns and not affect law-abiding gun owners.
Crime was also increasing two years ago when Alachua County was pushing to avoid arresting non-violent drug users (in the name of equity). The Alachua County Sheriff at the time, Sadie Darnell, said she was in favor of second chances “but not about 4th, 5th, or 6th chances.”
It’s one thing to give second chances to non-violent drug users. It’s another to let repeat violent offenders roam the streets to inflict harm on more victims. That’s why Governor DeSantis vetoed Senator Keith Perry’s bill to expunge all juvenile records, not just first-time misdemeanors. A juvenile who commits a misdemeanor (with no additional offenses) deserves a second chance. That’s the current law. Why should juveniles with multiple misdemeanors or a violent felony have records expunged?
Sentencing guidelines are found in Statute 775.082 for prison terms and 775.083 for fines. More stringent guidelines for habitual offenders are outlined in Statute 775.084, which is a long, rambling, incoherent mess (over 3,200 words and prints over 5 pages). It has different requirements for “habitual felony offender,” “habitual violent felony offender,” “three-time violent felony offender,” and “violent career criminal.” Expunging juvenile records makes it even harder to identify habitual offenders and career criminals.
This all brings us to the best way to prevent violent crime: No bail for repeat violent offenders. Blaze Media writer Daniel Horowitz has published numerous columns on the problems with the “criminal justice reform” agenda, which he calls “the jailbreak movement.” Since 2018, Horowitz has been warning about the consequences of jailbreak and says we have an under-incarceration problem. Each week Horowitz discusses stories about violent criminals who are released with little or no bail and go on to commit additional violent felonies.
A particularly horrific example of the dangers of violent criminals let out with no bail is the death of Michelle Cummings, who was visiting Annapolis, MD, on June 29 to see her son’s induction at the Naval Academy. She was killed by an errant bullet fired at a rival gang by Angelo Reno Harrod. Harrod had eight convictions between 2010 and 2018, including robbery and assault with a deadly weapon (pistol whipping a driver over a $2 fare). He was charged twice this year (February 10 and April 12) for gun crimes and was released on home detention awaiting trial.
Extreme examples like this haven’t happened in Alachua County (that we know of), but we’ve had 30 people arrested four or more times already in 2021. Two-thirds of those had at least one violent offense or weapons charge, including two for kidnapping and one for murder. However, it’s difficult to tell from the booking logs whether these repeated offenses were committed after release or were additional charges while they were being held.
This is not a debate about whether jails are meant to be rehabilitative or punitive. They are meant to lock up people who endanger the lives and property of others. There is no excuse for violent offenders to be free to commit more crimes while awaiting trial.
Just last week, Horowitz said, “The purpose of a government… first and foremost, is to protect us from bad people so that we don’t have a dog-eat-dog world where the strongest and most evil and violent succeed. But instead that’s the one thing our government won’t do.”
Our local officials are more interested in preventing urban sprawl and giving rights to rivers than in fulfilling government’s basic job to protect life, liberty, and property. When they talk about preventing violent crime, we should be wary of their actual motives because they’ve shown no serious attempt to deal with crime.
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