We were in Edinburgh at the Pixy Theatre waiting to hear the Wright Brothers play. For reasons I cannot explain, I began to think of the growing concern about public safety in communities across the state. It was an incongruous series of thoughts in that delightful setting.
What is the essential problem? Too many guns is one answer we hear. Inadequate policing is another. Insufficient attention to mental health problems. Prison sentences that are too short. Breakdown of the family. All these and others are valid arguments, but let’s try to get to the core of the issue.
Family members killing other family members is not the central fear most of us share. Mass shootings by deranged individuals make national headlines but are not systemic problems of our Hoosier communities. Our concern arises from the ongoing violence among young people in urban areas. We wonder if, somehow, we could be incidental victims of flare-ups of street violence or drive-by shootings.
One solution to this problem is neglected too often: Change the lives of these youngsters by increasing job opportunities for them.
Controlling the ownership of guns is desirable. Putting more police on the streets might be helpful. Yet, the life-changing effects of steady, well-paid employment are monumental.
The costs of putting more police on the streets are enormous. What if those funds were used to create useful jobs, at good wages, for young people (ages 16 to 25)? Some estimates indicate that an additional police officer, with supporting resources, costs $100,000 per year.
How many jobs could be created, with necessary supporting resources, for $100,000? Probably three, no more than four.
How much more money is needed to bring the police forces of our major Indiana cities up to “full” strength? $5 million?
$20 million? Who is going to pick up the tab for this?
If we go to taxpayers, they will, as ever, deny government the funds to increase policing. What if we went to taxpayers and asked them for contributions for safer streets? Could we raise the funds from individuals and businesses in place of taxes? It’s an iffy proposition, but one worth considering.
Citizens and businesses are worried about their cities’ attractiveness for new residents and expanding businesses because of their reputation for street crime. One need think of only Indianapolis and Gary in this regard.
Are those citizens and businesses sufficiently concerned to make voluntary contributions to a nongovernmental organization that would train and find employment for young people? This could be a major funding opportunity for the many foundations in our communities.
Do we need the compulsion of taxes to make our streets safe?
We hear the argument that many of the young are unprepared for jobs. Then let this private sector organization prepare them. The idea is to open opportunities without the encumbrances of government.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.