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Chief Bratton: We Cannot Arrest Our Way out of America’s Crime Problem

| March 17, 2011

Chief William Bratton, known for significantly reducing crime as both the Police Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and as New York City’s Police Commissioner, raised an interesting question in Criminology and Public Policy earlier this year. In his article, “Reducing Crime through Prevention not Incarceration,” he asked whether there is a viable alternative to increased and prolonged incarceration as a crime reduction strategy. And, according to Bratton, one thing we know for sure is that “we cannot arrest our way out of America’s crime problem.”

With states facing budget deficits, legislators are increasingly aware of the fact that prisons are expensive to operate. Traditional crime reduction methods, such as three-strikes programs and increased sentences, drastically increase those prison populations. However, Bratton argues that those methods have “limited impact on crime levels and recidivism,” and he believes there are far less expensive alternatives that “may have the same or better effect on preventing crime.”

One such alternative is what Bratton calls “predictive policing.” Since “personnel costs represent the single largest budget line item in most public safety organizations,” states facing budgetary limitations would be wise to more efficiently utilize their personnel. Also important is the role trust plays in changing the perception of police throughout a community, and Bratton relies heavily on the strategies set forth by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in their influential article, “Broken Windows.”

Unfortunately, today’s prisons are increasingly filled with lower level violators for whom prison “enhances the likelihood that they will increase their involvement in crime.” Increased sentences and incarceration rates have prison costs skyrocketing. However, developing strategies that “predict criminal occurrences and provide approaches that involve communities in finding solutions” could help lower costs and improve results.


RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.