November 4, 2019

ANALYSIS: TRUE. The left seeks to “normalize” crime. At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff writes:

The Washington Post has a Sunday magazine. This week, the entire magazine, an unusually thick edition, is devoted to the topic of prison. All of the articles are written by people who are incarcerated now or were incarcerated in the past. The illustrations and photographs are also exclusively by this cohort.

The lead article is by Piper Kerman. She served 13 months in federal prison for money laundering and drug trafficking. Thirteen months seems like a lenient sentence for these offenses.

The illustration accompanying Kerman’s article is by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his mother and brother, but had that sentence commuted. Whitaker is serving life in prison. That sentence too seems lenient.

The title of Kerman’s article is “We’ve Normalized Prison.” But if incarceration is frequent enough to have been “normalized,” this isn’t the work of “we.” It’s the work of criminals. If they committed less crime or abstained altogether, incarceration wouldn’t be normal.

Meanwhile, back in saner times, the Atlantic magazine put the “Broken Windows” theory of crime prevention on the map with their 1982 article by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. The techniques outlined in the article were used brilliantly by Rudy Giuliani and police commissioner William Bratton to turn New York around in 1990 after the city hit rock bottom during the Dinkins era. Whatever Giuliani’s successor Michael Bloomberg’s obsessions with “green” energy, banning Big Gulps, and turning Manhattan into one giant bicycle lane, he was smart enough to leave Giuliani’s crime prevention techniques largely in place.

Today though, the Atlantic has an article headlined “The Porch Pirate of [San Francisco’s] Potrero Hill Can’t Believe It Came to This: When a longtime resident started stealing her neighbors’ Amazon packages, she entered a vortex of smart cameras, Nextdoor rants, and cellphone surveillance.” The article attempts to make a serial thief of Amazon packages the victim of her neighbors’ high-tech efforts to keep their neighborhood safe, and have their property safely delivered:

Yet around that time, Fairley relapsed on drugs, and the deliveries that were dropped daily on her neighbors’ porches caught her attention. At that point, she didn’t know about the cameras or Nextdoor. In the months that followed, the police would find a cache of the neighbors’ belongings and mail in her possession. Her sister told me that Fairley generally sold the packages “for a little bit of nothing, just to get high,” or ate any deliveries that contained food. (Police say thieves generally sell their pickings on eBay, Craigslist, or to middlemen, who may hawk them at flea markets.) Fairley insisted to me that she stole only a small number of items—“I did it maybe once or twice, three times at the most; it wasn’t like a new job I went into”—and that she sold just one of them, a set of storage bins, for about $20. (She also told me she stole mostly in order to buy necessities, not drugs.) She thought the packages would be replaced by Amazon and other senders, so her gain wouldn’t be her neighbors’ loss. “That’s what eased my conscience taking someone’s property, because I’m not a bad person, it was just a bad choice,” she told me. “I was in a desperate state.”

As Fairley started hitting the stoops, her neighbors took to Nextdoor to discuss what to do. One group thought it was naive to expect a package to sit undisturbed for hours on a city stoop. Another camp felt the residents deserved the same rights to deliveries as in any other town. A third group was the solutions crowd: They advised having the boxes delivered to workplaces, or to Amazon Hub Locker, or with Amazon Key, a smart-lock system that allows couriers to drop packages directly inside a home or car. It turns out that while delivering packages is big business, so is thwarting their theft.

* * * * * * * *

While porch cams have been used to investigate cases as serious as homicides, the surveillance and neighborhood social networking typically make a particular type of crime especially visible: those lower-level ones happening out in public, committed by the poorest. Despite the much higher cost of white-collar crime, it seems to cause less societal hand-wringing than what might be caught on a Ring camera, said W. David Ball, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. “Did people really feel that crime was ‘out of control’ after Theranos?” he said. “People lost hundreds of millions of dollars. You would have to break into every single car in San Francisco for the next ten years to amount to the amount stolen under Theranos.”

That perspective was little comfort to San Franciscans in late 2017, when the city was the nation’s leader in property crime. In Potrero, Fairley had been captured on camera enough times, snatching packages or walking down the street with bundles of mail, that many in the neighborhood had a face and a name to attach to their generalized anger about ongoing nuisances. Fairley was correct in thinking that, in many cases, Amazon will replace pilfered packages. Her major miscalculation was in thinking that her neighbors would, therefore, just shrug and move on.

Funny that — even in far left San Francisco.

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