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ON THE DEFENSIVE: Doubling down on a failed approach

Anthony Cotton is a partner at Kuchler & Cotton SC, Waukesha. He is the vice president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and previously served two terms on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Anthony Cotton is a partner at Kuchler & Cotton SC, Waukesha. He is the vice president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and previously served two terms on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

There has been an explosion in gun violence in Milwaukee this year. Homicides have hit a record number, even though Milwaukee is saturated with “shot spotter” technology.

Shot spotter consists of thousands of microphones that have been placed throughout the city. The system enables law-enforcement officers to learn almost immediately when and where a shooting occurs.

As a result, emergency personnel are responding to gun crimes in record time, evidence is being collected promptly, and suspects are being apprehended in short order.

So why has there been no reduction in violence?

Policymakers at all levels have been scrambling to find answers. Unfortunately, the ones they’ve come up with so far do nothing but add to the same failed script that has been in place for decades.

Consider the “Memorandum of Agreement” that was recently executed between the Attorney General’s Office and the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office. In short, the agreement will result in the Department of Justice’s providing two Assistant Attorneys General to work with the District Attorney’s Office to handle firearms-related investigations and prosecutions involving unlawful possession of firearms and non-fatal shootings. The DOJ has also committed to providing $50,000 in federal JAG grant funding to pay the overtime expenses that the Milwaukee Police Department will incur during these investigations.

In other words, we are going to try to prosecute our way out of these afflictions.

Shortly after this Memorandum of Agreement was executed, Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a news release declaring “war” on those who commit crimes involving firearms.

Declaring “war” on violence and putting more resources into prosecution fails to deal with the root cause of this sort of behavior.

Policymakers should instead begin the discussion by asking themselves why the epicenters of gun violence are found in the most impoverished parts of Milwaukee. They should then reflect on what they can do to bring opportunity back to our blighted communities. People who perceive their lives as hopeless, meaningless, and without opportunity will never respond constructively to the threat of a felony conviction or the thought of a draconian prison term.

Absent from the discussion has been any serious talk about improving services on the back-end of the criminal justice system. Too often, men and women are released from custody only to be supervised by an overworked probation agent. Little to no resources are dedicated to rehabilitating the probationer. In other words, the person leaves incarceration with none of the changes in mindset or abilities that would make a return far less likely.

Bold solutions are certainly needed. In the meantime, we should shift more of our resources away from punitive measures and put them toward rehabilitative ones. America has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners. As a society, we should have the courage to recognize that doubling down on a failed system is not a means of making our communities safer.

Authorities work the scene of a double homicide in Milwaukee on July 7. The city has already surpassed the total number of homicides it experienced in 2014, leaving officials scrambling to find answers. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP)

Authorities work the scene of a double homicide in Milwaukee on July 7. The city has already surpassed the total number of homicides it experienced in 2014, leaving officials scrambling to find answers. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP)

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