Richmond is a hotbed of “progressive” ideas lately.
The working class Bay Area community struggling with crime, blight, and poverty three years back made national headlines with an unsuccessful ballot box effort to tax soda to fund anti-obesity programs.
Now the spotlight is back on the city joined at the hip with Chevron and its massive oil refinery.
It seems Richmond has been paying people not to commit crimes. Stipends of up to $9,000 a year are doled out primarily to those already convicted of a crime in a bid to stop them from becoming repeat offenders. They are also paired with a mentor.
“Progressive” think-tanks, pundits, and politicians have been calling this “innovative” and “out-of-the-box thinking” this week after the District of Columbia council cited Richmond as the inspiration for their effort to pay people identified with a high likelihood to become criminals not to commit crimes.
Actually, it’s an old idea.
Instead of calling them stipends, the old school folks called it protection money.
The mob and street gangs alike collect payments to help assure people that have a high tendency to commit crimes — namely the mob and street gangs — won’t commit a crime against those that pay them money.
Legal beagles use to call this practice racketeering. Of course, racketeering laws today are used by the government to go after those that hold different political viewpoints in a bid to silence them. As for dealing with criminals, the emerging trend is not to prosecute them but to give them stipends if they can obey the laws such as not robbing, assaulting, killing, raping, or vandalizing like law-aiding citizens do.
And you thought crime — or at least the tendency to commit crime — doesn’t pay.
One must wonder how this squares with character building.
Doing the right thing is no longer the price you pay for being part of a greater group such as civilized society. You should be compensated for not resorting to the laws of the jungle while living among other people.
Richmond cites the following statistics for its protection money program:
79 percent of the participants have not been suspected of any gun crimes since joining the program.
84 percent haven’t been injured by gun fire.
Richmond homicides are down 77 since the program started in 2007.
The last statistic — the drop in homicides — is not empirical proof since there is no data that can tie the drop of deaths with the doling out of tax dollars.
Then there are basic odds to consider.
If Richmond has 100 “fellows” as participants that accept money for basically doing what is expected of law-abiding citizens, it means 79 percent of them didn’t get in trouble using a gun. That sounds like a lot until you consider Richmond has 108,000 residents. You wouldn’t exactly be jumping up and down with joy if “only” 27,000 Richmond residents used a gun to commit a crime.
As for 16 percent of the participants not being injured by gunfire: how is that better than if they weren’t being paid a $9,000 a year stipend?
The powers that be who run DC say they will pay program participants only after they participate in behavioral therapy and other endeavors and then stay out of trouble.
It is arguable that the Richmond project is somewhat effective. Its supporters say it isn’t perfect or 100 percent effective. The same can be said of paying protection money to the mob or a street gang.
The problem with the pay-not-to-commit-a-crime program are the long-term and long-range unexpected consequences.
In the early days of the welfare program where social scientists theorized giving welfare payments to unwed mothers would improve the quality of generations to come who envisioned that such an endeavor would perpetuate welfare and actually work in a number of cases to entice unmarried women without means of support to actually have babies?
Logic dictated that social and cultural mores would work to keep that from happening. Instead welfare wrote a new norm.
It is quite plausible that paying individuals not to engage in criminal activities may become the norm. In other words why should anyone with an inclination to commit crime refrain from doing so if they don’t get money for honoring the law?
Taxpayers doling out protection money punches holes through the social fabric that is critical to hold a civilization together.
Besides, it won’t take too long before an enterprising defense attorney argues that their client isn’t guilty of murder because they were never afforded the same opportunities as others of the same ilk who successfully extorted money from society for simply agreeing not to shoot anybody.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.