Say: "True Public
Safety Means Prevention!"
by Susan C. Strong
New reports suggest that some desperate Republicans are trying out "public safety" and "crime" as their 2013-4 state-level election frame.(1) Colorado and California are already seeing conservative moves to retake their state legislatures and governorships by accusing Democrats of being "soft on crime," and putting "public safety" at risk. However, nationally crime rates have actually been falling since 1994 and remain low. (2) In addition, even conservative states like Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina and Texas have lately been showing approval for measures that actually reduce repeat crime while cutting the costs of criminal justice.(3) Many communities are also finding that a variety of simple preventive measures work best to reduce new crime.(4) So given these facts, and especially if we don't live in California or Colorado, why should we worry much about some Republican's irresponsible new political frame?
First of all, as my readers are probably all well aware, the struggle to hold on to and increase Republican control of the House of Representatives is still happening at the state level. State legislatures dominated by extreme conservatives are redistricting their states into safe jigsaw puzzles to protect their most radical Tea Party colleagues. In addition, with the Supreme Court's gutting the most important piece of the Voting Rights Act, many of these same state legislatures are poised to pass increasingly restrictive voter access laws with new impunity. So "crime" and "public safety" are frames probably coming to your state sooner or later too.
With their new "public safety/crime" frames, some
Republicans are clearly trying to ride to victory by coopting a recent
mainstream frame that has gone viral in a very big way. I'm speaking of the "gun safety" framing first
launched in August 2012 on Twitter after the Sikh Temple Massacre in (
Prevention actually does stop a lot of crime, and it saves a lot of taxpayer money in the long run too. Moreover, once people have committed a crime, seeing to it that they get education and credible job training while incarcerated, and real support services when released also has a proven track record of reducing follow up crime. A little money spent on these efforts saves a lot more money later. Lifting the counterproductive legal constraints now existing that keep those released from getting housing or jobs or social services, including food stamps, also reduces follow up crime. (6) If you can't find a job, a place to live, or enough food, what other options do you have than more crime just in order to feed your family? Preventing this kind of desperation is cost effective too. That's just plain common sense.
But these are just the facts. Long experience and modern cognitive science have shown that we need a better frame much more than we need facts or statistics. That's why I propose that we counter-frame "public safety" right back to make it "true public safety means prevention." Let's make it the key to evoke an American story about how we are the "can do" people who have figured out how to prevent a lot of crime in practical new ways that work and save money too. That's just being American "smart on crime." The same American stories that work on the national level apply to state level politics too, because, as every 4th of July shows in the small towns of American, being American is a local story too.
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project,
1. Nicholas Riccardi, "Crime as a New Republican Political Tactic," Associated Press, referenced in Politico's Playbook for 7.06.13.
2. "Peace in Gangland," by John Buntin, The New York Times Magazine, 7.14.13, p. 38.
3. Ibid., and also "How to Cut Prison Costs," House editorial, The New York Times," 1.30.2012.
4. See note 2 above re "Peace in Gangland," p.44 especially. This section of
the article includes a fascinating set of findings about the importance of the
street's perception of "fairness" and "legitimacy" in police work. It also
includes a very interesting examination of why
5. Although I first launched the "gun safety" frame on my Twitter feed,
@SusanCStrong, on August 14, 2012, it began to go viral in a big way after the
6. "Unfair Punishments," House editorial, The New York Times, 3.17.13.