Opinion: Our crime conundrum

News  /  Opinion

John Hazlehurst

What do we want most in our communities? Apart from transient individual needs (better weather, saner drivers, a way to stop the neighbor’s dog from barking in the middle of the night) most of us would put public safety at the top of the list. We worry about homeless encampments, about non-neighborhood people walking the streets and about unexplained noises (was that a gunshot?) in the night. When we go out for dinner, we make sure the doors are locked and the security systems are armed. We may wish we lived in a peaceful little 1950s town, where no one locked their doors and there were no menacing strangers, but we’re not delusional. We may have been the City of Sunshine, but we seem to have become a City of Murderers — WalletHub data ranked Colorado Springs 11th in per capita homicides for fourth quarter 2022.

Politicians understand this. Ask any of the 25 candidates running for mayor or City Council this spring about crime, and they all say the same thing: They’re against it! They’ll hire more cops, recruit more cops, pay them better and make really, really sure that we have more than enough superbly competent officers to make our community one of the safest in the land.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Council/mayor candidates have been making the same empty promises for decades. As one who pleads guilty to making them in the 1990s, I’ve come to see such promises as part of an unvarying political ritual. Our 25 candidates should join together, hire a speechwriter, and issue a single anti-crime speech. It’d make campaigning that much easier, and certainly instill fear in wannabe criminals!

Crime statistics are beloved of politicians, who claim credit when they decline and blame their predecessors when they rise. But we peasants don’t care much about statistics  — we care about our own experience. Once you’ve been the victim of a crime, you never forget it. 

Fortunately, we’ve never been assaulted, but we won’t forget or forgive the burglars who broke into our house years ago and robbed us blind, as well as the car thieves who stole my wife Karen’s Toyota a few months later. The perps were never identified — they’re still out there laughing at us. We came to realize that there will never be enough cops to solve every crime, but I’m still pissed off.

There will always be angry young men with guns.

Life goes on. Unless you can afford to live in a gated, guarded and blindingly boring rich person suburb, you’re at risk. So you follow Carl von Clausewitz’s first principle of warfare: Secure your base. I’m the neighbor with the barking dogs, the cameras, the double-locked doors, the 6-foot fences and the spook lights. And if the perimeter security fails, burglars beware — there might be another line of defense.

Still, it’s heartening to see that Gov. Jared Polis and the state legislature are on track to make auto theft a felony, regardless of value. My beat-up 2002 Xterra has almost 200,000 miles on the odometer, but it’s still a reliable ride. It’s worth a lot less than $20K, so right now it can be stolen with virtual impunity — no jail time, just a misdemeanor and a meaningless slap on the wrist.

And violent crime? That’s both driven by — and prevented by — firearms. Armed would-be home intruders realize that many residents are armed, so armed robbery is a dangerous proposition. Conversely, the ubiquity and availability of firearms means that motivated murderers can easily get them. There are no solutions to this enduring dilemma. There will always be angry young men with guns.

Anyway, I’m glad that our candidates aren’t criminals and I’m sure that those unfortunate enough to be elected will do their best to make our city safer. Meanwhile, we might get another dog — bigger and meaner…

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