THE average citizen hardly needs to be persuaded that crimes will be committed more frequently if, other things being equal, crime becomes more profitable than other ways of spending one’s time.
–James Q. Wilson, “Thinking About Crime” Atlantic Monthly, September, 1983
Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that police in Clayton County may have solved a whole lot of Metro Atlanta crimes when they arrested four men and charged them with “breaking into dozens of businesses,” and “stealing more than 200 flat-screen televisions” throughout the city.
The article announcing the arrests mentioned “50 investigators from 17 police agencies [who] joined forces last year after noticing a spike in burglaries and flat-screen TV thefts.” Just last Wednesday, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington announced the formation of a presumably different multi-jurisdictional task-force to address flat-screen thefts.
I imagine citizens weary of crime would say: “I don’t care who’s doing what, just get them off our streets.”
Add to that, “this time.” For, of course, at first glance, at least two of the men have faced previous charges in Clayton County alone (the current crime spree extends to Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Douglas Counties — a wide swath on the map — and I have not checked those yet). Devon Sherman Anderson was charged in Clayton with simply battery, disrupting a public school, and disorderly conduct in 2004, the year he turned 18. The first two charges were dropped, and he received six months probation on the third. Schoolyard fight? Maybe. Or it could be the first adult charge after a lifetime of juvenile crimes, which are sealed. Bershan Lewis‘ record is more extensive. It also begins the year he turned 18: it was a busy year for him. He was charged with four counts of entering autos.
Prior to the current charges, neither man’s records indicates a major crime wave (some of the charges that appear more than once are simply working their way through different courts). But the crimes with which they have now been charged seem outlandishly prolific. If they are guilty, they have been driving Anderson’s gold Mercedes all over the metro area for months, or years now, committing crime after crime after crime.
That’s a lot of broken glass, insurance hikes, and security expenses for small businesses. It’s also a lot of employees of sports bars and laundromats who have the eerie task of opening or closing the doors when nobody else is around, hoping that whoever committed the last break-in isn’t coming back.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution story reports that the men named themselves the “Hit Squad” and that an AK-47 was found in one of their homes. Anderson’s new charges include armed robbery, and there are more charges to come.
There were nearly 10,000 burglaries in the city precincts alone in 2008.
People are scared, and tired. They are sick of hearing that prisons are overcrowded and that judges are looking for alternatives to incarceration for people with records like Johnny Dennard’s. Dennard had at least five burglary convictions when he was arrested on the most recent charge. He was convicted a sixth time and released to an “outpatient treatment center” rather than being sent to serve the (apparently mandatory) minimum five years for the crime.
How many burglaries net you six convictions in our broken justice system?