STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Criminals Get Chance to Change

STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Criminals Get Chance to Change

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From Peru, where the crime level dropped 84% in one month, to Chicago, from San Salvador to New York, the crime rate has drastically declined during this time of safer at home. Not only are we all safer from the virus, but it seems we are safe from street crimes, robberies, shootings and drug violence.

This lockdown has been a game changer in many ways, but what we didn’t imagine is that it could be a life changer for hardened criminals who are taking a break. Gangs that are calling a temporary truce and many drug dealers aren’t getting their supply or don’t want to risk exposure so they are laying low.

Domestic violence is up considerably, however, and homicides in many cities, including Milwaukee, are up. Police and social services are able to respond quicker to the calls, because other crimes are down in number. There is a time to see true reprieve from crime, also when it is 40 below in the Midwest, but this pandemic has shown marked improvements.

In London and surrounding areas in the United Kingdom, they have come up with a plan to capitalize on this pause in the chaotic world of crime and set up programs to assist criminals in making better choices. Who else but the civilized British Police force would decide to go door to door, just like the welcome wagon ladies of days gone by, and offer opportunities, information and friendship to criminals?

I am not actually sure that is how it is done, but I have heard that they are paying home visits to the addresses of 1,000 identified criminals and gang members and offering the opportunity to relinquish contraband items, firearms, and drugs. In one case, a Lamborghini was ceased. That might have been a little more difficult to give up, but I am sure the police were more than appreciative.

With this cooperation comes a chance of a lifetime to turn in their weapons, change their careers and move in a different direction once they re-enter society. Once business picks up and they go back to a life of crime, there will be no turning back for most. But now, during the coronavirus lockdown, these known criminals, gang members and violent offenders are being offered an out.

These house calls by law enforcement are in response to the fact that stabbings, robbery, and gun crimes have been down enough to believe this would be a time to reset society on all levels. The newly formed “Violence Suppression Units” consist of more than 600 professionals ready to aide and encourage healthy life styling, and of course “suppress” criminal behavior.

I doubt that they are quickly signing up for online university courses, and they may not be brushing up on their art and knitting, but some are rethinking the perils of life on the streets. As the police are relieving the more familiar criminals of the burden of housing drugs, weapons and other illicit items, youth organizations and services are working on the potential crooks.

BBC reported that teenager recruitment into the seedier parts of society have slowed down. Those who were on the streets and caught up in drug activities are now home with families or friends and have had more time to reconsider their life choices. Is it too much to hope for thinking some are setting puzzles and streaming Brady Bunch while they are in isolation?

As they have had to slow down a bit and examine their futures, the government, local authorities, youth service providers and funders are reflecting on how they can take advantage of this period of what they are calling “street peace.” Putting programs in place, and making them available is a start.

Although heroin prices have doubled and greed often drives behavior, the optimists in England have hope that some of these procedures in place will make a difference.

We’ll have to wait and see, and maybe we will be hearing about similar attempts to curb re-entry into the life of crime somewhere in the United States. Seizing any opportunity to redirect criminal behavior is worthy. Can one good deed deserve another?

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.

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