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July 15, 2014

MARCUS: Private sector option for safer streets

We were in Edinburgh at the Pixy Theater waiting to hear the Wright Brothers play. For reasons I cannot explain, I began to think of the growing concern about public safety in communities across the state. It was an incongruous series of thoughts in that delightful setting.

What is the essential problem? Too many guns is one answer we hear. Inadequate policing is another. Insufficient attention to mental health problems. Prison sentences that are too short. Breakdown of the family. All these and others are valid arguments, but let’s try to get to the core of the issue.

Family members killing other family members is not the central fear most of us share. Mass shootings by deranged individuals make national headlines, but are not systemic problems of our Hoosier communities. Our concern arises from the on-going violence among young people in urban areas. We wonder if, somehow, we could be incidental victims of flare-ups of street violence or drive-by shootings.

One solution to this problem is neglected too often: change the lives of these youngsters by increasing job opportunities for them.

Controlling the ownership of guns is desirable. Putting more police on the streets might be helpful. Yet, the life-changing effects of steady, well-paid employment are monumental.

The costs of putting more police on the streets are enormous. What if those funds were used to create useful jobs, at good wages, for young people (ages 16 to 25)? Some estimates indicate that an additional police officer, with supporting resources, costs $100,000 per year. How many jobs could be created, with necessary supporting resources, for $100,000? Probably three, no more than four.

How much more money is needed to bring the police forces of our major Indiana cities up to “full” strength? Five million dollars? Twenty million? Who is going to pick up the tab for this?

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