Cops Kid Around

The press packet makes it sound exciting. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, it says. That's the name of the Washington, D.C.-based organization that's in Phoenix to discuss initiatives aimed at preventing kids from becoming criminals.

"Arizona could cut crime--perhaps by half or more--by cutting the enemy's most important supply line: its ability to turn kids into criminals," says the flier.

Today's conference is a gathering of Arizona's key law enforcers. They include Phoenix Police Chief Harold Hurtt, his Tucson counterpart Douglas Smith, Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden and Glendale Police Chief David Dobrotka. Attorney General Grant Woods is also scheduled to be present, as is our local Genghis Khan, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Non-Arizonans might find it strange that anyone would be excited to hear it publicly acknowledged that conditions and treatment experienced during childhood are major factors in adult behavior. But, in Arizona, this represents a significant advance in the discourse of crime prevention. This is a state where, until recently, we had a popular governor who argued that crime was not caused by social deprivation or abuse, but by criminals. To that governor, criminals were a self-created phenomenon, and there was nothing that could be done to prevent crime--all we could do was punish the criminals after the fact. This man, of course, turned out to be a felon himself.

So now we have a meeting to discuss crime prevention rather than punishment. The meeting is held in the Phoenix Child and Family Learning Center in South Phoenix. I get there at noon, and the yard outside is packed with cops and other officials enjoying a major schmooze fest. Arpaio, as usual, is talking about himself.

"If the people don't want me, then I retire," he's telling someone. "They might do me a favor." If only, Joe.

Woods the lame duck is probably doing a lame radio show somewhere; he doesn't appear.

The event kicks off with some opening remarks by Amy Dawson, associate director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. A young woman with a beaming, fixed smile that never varies, she starts by making a revelation that makes me glad I work for a weekly paper--if I worked for a daily, I'd have to call and tell them to hold the front page.

"Abuse and neglect is a bad thing," she declares.
Actually, they are bad things. Dubious grammar notwithstanding, now it all makes sense. I'm going to have to seriously rethink my views on child-rearing.

Dawson recites statistics--92 percent of police chiefs nationwide agree that home visitation, child care and after-school programs are important in the prevention of delinquency; 17 percent of children denied such services become delinquent; of chronic adult offenders, 35 percent were denied any such services, while those who had these services and still offended amounted to only 7 percent.

"But," chirps Dawson, "the good news is that we know how to prevent abuse and neglect--and prevention is 80 percent effective."

Great. How do we do it?
Home visitation, child care and after-school programs.
But didn't we just hear about that a few minutes ago? And are there any plans for the implementation of such programs? Apparently not, because Dawson is now blithely introducing Sanford Newman (whom she calls Sandy), her organization's president who bears a disquieting resemblance to Alfred E. Newman, the guy on the cover of MAD Magazine. Like Dawson, he never stops grinning.

He begins his spiel with an attempt to placate law enforcement hardasses. "We know dangerous criminals need to be behind bars," he reassures them. "But we also know we have to prevent kids from becoming criminals . . ."

Yeah, we know. Dawson already told us. But how are we going to do that?
Same methods she listed.
Okay. But how are we going to implement them? Who's going to do it? Where's the money to come from?

Newman gives the floor to the next speaker.

I had wondered what Joe Arpaio was doing at such a forward-thinking event. Then I realized that as Arpaio finds it harder and harder to get publicity, he'd probably attend a drumming circle wearing a breechcloth if he thought it would get his name in the paper.

"It's interesting that the government can fund room and board for criminals--so they should fund our children," he says sagely. "Children are our future. We need to keep kids busy, keep them off the street."

Arpaio has given himself a promotion. He used to call himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," but now he declares, "They call me the toughest, meanest sheriff in the universe, but we have great programs in the jails--that I won't go into--that nobody will print."

This last remark undoubtedly is a little tantrum that's been brewing inside Arpaio since the last time the mainstream media snubbed one of his "Joe Shows." Which is happening with regularity these days.

Before long, Arpaio is singing his familiar song. Rather than discuss the issue in question, he talks about how much he needs a new jail. "It was a big fight to get the Legislature to let the people vote to build a new jail." Someone asks him what he thinks is more important, funding for child care or a new jail. "I'll take the new jail," he says. "We have to put bad guys in jail."

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