253. The geographic solution

Every once in a while, the news makes a point of making my points for me.  The privatization of law enforcement has, from the beginning, been a theme of this blog. 

Were so used to the bars in front of windows, the military-grade storm doors, the concertina wire on the roof, the gated communities, the security guards, the anti-theft devices in cars, the parked cars spontaneously honking, and the idea that the person in the next car is very likely armed, that we hardly notice to what an extent weve outsourced the most basic function of society: protecting its members from danger.

Not so coincidentally, the society that privatizes its law enforcement has an enormous class bias in its incidence of violent crime.  The poorer you are, the more likely youll be victimized.  This is true of robberies and burglaries, too, counterintuitive though that might at first seem. 

Then along comes an article such as that in the Albuquerque Journal this morning:

Some neighborhoods are getting the best police protection money can buy.

But other not-so-wealthy neighborhoods are calling foul on a city program that allows homeowners associations to contract with the Albuquerque Police Department to pay officers overtime to conduct extra patrols there.

The story explains that the Albuquerque Police Department charges neighborhoods $34/hour for the services of off-duty officers (if theyre off-duty, why does the city get a cut? – an agents 10%, I guess).  The program brings in a million bucks a year to the city.  The off-duty cops patrol in uniform and squad cars and give out tickets, just like on-duty cops, except their patrol is limited by the boundaries of the neighborhood associations that pay them.

The neighborhoods in question are in the "foothills" – the last neighborhoods before you hit the Sandia Mountains wilderness area.  In Albuquerque as in almost all cities built on uneven terrain, a rise in elevation generally means a rise in real estate price.  

Police Chief Ray Schultz said the program has been in place for years. He also pointed out that much more of his departments resources are dedicated to some poor neighborhoods that have much higher crime than the wealthier areas that dont have as much of a crime problem.

"A lot of this is perceptions," Schultz said. "Some neighborhoods feel more comfortable with the extra patrols. They do it more for the quality of life than there being a lot of criminal activity."

Thats a pretty diplomatic way of saying that the neighborhoods getting the extra attention arent the ones that need it. 

Theres a lesson here.  If you dont want to be a victim of violent crime – if you dont want your children to get used to the sound of gunshots – if you dont want to attend their funerals before they have the chance to attend yours – theres a simple solution: move uphill.  Its the American way.

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