I was at a school board meeting Tuesday night when my phone quietly buzzed.
I discreetly checked my screen to see a message from a friend that the city of Sacramento has decided to pay gang members to stop shooting people.
What? Surely this is one of those fake news websites, right?
I got back in the office late Tuesday and did a little Googling. Sure enough, there are multiple news sources reporting that the city council had voted unanimously to set aside $1.5 million for a ceasefire.
According to the local Fox 40 TV station, the city board approved a Sacramento branch of a controversial program called Advance Peace. The program offers gang members cash stipends for graduating from school and generally staying out of trouble.
The vote on this topic was moved up two weeks on the request of the mayor after a shooting in a city park left one person dead and four injured, Fox 40 reported.
“Let’s get going on doing everything we can to save innocent lives,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg told Fox 40.
The money will go to 50 men who are suspected of killing people, but there’s not enough evidence to prosecute them.
“Fifty is a huge number. That’s 50 shooters who have the possibility of taking a life,” Nicole Clavo said, according to KCRA, NBC 3 TV station. “If we can reach those 50, how many lives have we changed?”
So let me get this straight. The city has already targeted 50 troublemakers who are likely to cause mayhem, possibly shooting deaths. And the council’s response to this threat is to offer a bribe to stop the criminals from carrying out criminal activities?
This sounds like the old “protection” racket you see in gangster movies. A couple of thugs go into a shop and tell the owner to pay them protection money every week to keep the store safe. Without the payment, something bad could happen to the shop.
Then to illustrate their point, the thugs knock over a display so that some merchandise shatters on the floor. “Oops.”
These gang members have gone around scaring law-abiding citizens so badly that they are ready to pay their protection money to prevent any more damage.
To continue the analogy, however, what problems have we learned from this approach? One, more thugs could pop up out of the woodwork looking for their cut of the pie. “I know you paid Flat-Nose Freddie, but now you gotta pay me.”
Second, the thugs always get greedy. “Yeah, I know it was $50 last week, and now it’s $60. And if you give me any lip, the new price will be $70. Capisci?”
There are half a million people in Sacramento. If only 1 in 1,000 is a criminal (which is a ridiculously low figure for a big city), that still comes to 500 people. What do you think the other 450 criminals are going to think of only 50 troublemakers being singled out for the program? Think they might want to create more trouble in the hopes of getting their own payday?
The idea behind this Advance Peace initiative is that we reward people for doing right, and it’s positive reinforcement for following the law.
I might counter that the only way they got into this program is by being singled out as a threat to shoot people in their own communities. That leads me to think that a child from an impoverished home life looking for a way out might still turn to crime, thinking they could always take the Advance Peace option if things aren’t working out as a supervillain.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to look at this issue.
Imagine that you are a police officer patrolling those streets. You’ve tried to build cases on these 50 lowlifes only to see them slip through your fingers time and again. Now you hear the city is about to reward them for their bad behavior with $1.5 million. You think this wouldn’t feel like a slap in the face?
Plus, imagine if you gave these police departments $1.5 million to put more boots on the ground. At a round figure like $50,000, the city could hire 30 full-time officers to deter crime and arrest more crooks so that the city isn’t held hostage to criminals.
And that’s just old-fashioned manpower. What could $1.5 million in high-tech surveillance equipment do to help catch bad guys?
Or, hey, this is North Carolina. Imagine if you rounded up about 10 deer hunters.
“Hey guys, how would you fellows like $150,000 each? All you have to do is take out five lowlifes each that are a mortal threat to the good folks of Sacramento.” Remember, these are excellent shots. There will be no drive-by ‘spray and pray’ shootings that result in innocent bystanders getting hit. My neighbor could buy a lot of .270 rounds with $150K.
Okay, okay. Even criminals deserve a day in court. We can’t just shoot them without a trial.
Still, this is just one person brainstorming for an hour or two. Surely a whole city council debating the issue for weeks or months or even years could come up with some better ideas than paying a protection racket.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.