By Mike Loomis
Law enforcement protects a community through its police agencies. Collectively, if law enforcement is functioning effectively, those agencies create “deterrent value.” Deterrent value is the concept that prevents people from committing wrongful acts, by making perpetrators afraid of what will happen to them if they commit the act. Think of it as discouraging crime by using punishment as a threat. Deterrent value is prevention. Fort Wayne is under siege
from homicides, armed robberies, assaults and property crimes. Our “deterrent value” isn’t working, because it isn’t strong enough. There are many reasons for that, but know this: we can lower the number of those crimes by being not only “tough on crime,” but by being “smart on crime.” Solve more cases, and do it more quickly. We need to fix this problem. We need to improve our deterrent value. I suggest three significant steps.
The first step in improving deterrent value begins with improving communication among all of the involved agencies. All of public safety, from the coroner to the Fire Department and everyone in between, and including our citizens, must participate in the effort toward preventing crime if deterrent value is going to work. This means that agencies must communicate well between and among themselves. Problems must be solved, and solutions must be found, together as a network. An effective network must have a hub. The logical hub for a network of public safety agencies that protect the public is the place where the work of investigations is delivered: the Prosecutor’s Office. In a community with effective deterrent value, the Prosecutor must be responsible for maintaining and coordinating effective communications with all of public safety and law enforcement. If we are going to improve deterrent value, we must start with better communications between the Prosecutor’s Office and the law enforcement agencies, and the prosecutor must work diligently to improve communications between the law enforcement agencies themselves. Communications are “personality driven” so we need personalities that can work together without petty infighting.
The second step in improving deterrent value is deciding upon a priority. Given the current circumstances in Fort Wayne, the top priority for the Prosecutor’s Office MUST be addressing the homicide problem! The most popular reason offered for not being able to solve, investigate, or prosecute homicides is a failure of witnesses to step forward. I disagree. All federal criminal cases are prosecuted through a grand jury; every last one of them. The Allen County Prosecutor’s Office needs to have a year-round grand jury to combat this homicide problem. Witnesses will be REQUIRED to provide testimony, by subpoena. Failure of witnesses to cooperate may lead to charges of contempt of court, and direct contempt of court carries a jail sentence of 180 days for each deliberate count. We need to create a new county-wide task force for unsolved homicides, and not just FWPD, and include cooperation from all agencies. I established an annual homicide conference in 1997 where, as chief deputy prosecutor, I brought together all of law enforcement for a full Saturday during the dead of winter in January, and we discussed new changes to the homicide protocol, new case law, and new leads in specific cases. We also all got to know each other better, which was important for communicating, as described in the first point, above. That annual homicide conference has been discontinued, and we must restart it. In addition, the Investigation Division at the Prosecutor’s Office must be beefed up to be able to filter through investigations involving armed robberies, assaults, and property crimes much more timely and effectively. There is an old saying that “justice delayed is justice denied” and so we must move more quickly and decisively to prosecute crimes in Allen County. In addition, the Victim’s Assistance Program must be expanded, to continue to provide aid to victims of crimes and their families and significant others.
The third stage of improving deterrent value must come from proactive efforts in our community to engage and educate our youth about the dangers of gangs, violence and drug use, but on a level that youth can relate. We need to establish peer courts in the high schools; all night basketball and other activities on weekends; youth clubs for entertainment; mentoring through Big Brother and Big Sister groups; better parenting education for singles; and, we need to ask our youth what THEY think will deter their age group from going down the wrong track. There is no reason why the Prosecutor’s Office cannot use its bully pulpit to accomplish some of these things. All it takes is desire.
There are many other existing ideas that we can incorporate into a community-wide effort to re-establish deterrent value, and we can continue to look for new ideas. It isn’t difficult to do.
We just need leadership.
Mike Loomis, a Fort Wayne native, was a deputy prosecutor in Marion County (Indianapolis) and chief deputy prosecutor in Allen County for a total of 15 years. During one stretch of 15 months, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld homicide convictions that Loomis had obtained in four high-profile cases while Chief Deputy. He prosecuted the Taurus Butler, Rodney Jenkins and Jack Lee cases, among many others.
© Mike Loomis, 2014. All Rights Reserved.