Thursday, March 6, 2008

Senator Feinstein, the FBI, and the War on Crime

Yesterday in Washington DC, Senator Diane Feinstein and FBI Director Robert Mueller engaged in an extended an colloquy concerning the FBI's general lack of attention to the war on crime since 911. The Senator, who has clashed with the FBI repeatedly over issues in the war on terror, turned in yesterday's hearing to the question of why violent crime was 8th on the FBI's priority list. According to National Public Radio's account (listen to it here), the FBI director testily noted that the rise in priority of counter terrorism and intelligence had inevitably lowered the priority of crime before going on to practically embrace the Senators criticisms about the diminished role in the war on crime.

The episode is another illustration of how bipartisan the war on crime has been in Washington for a long time. It also underlines the danger that the war on terror will only become an additive to a continue war on crime, and that the combination of the two will diminish the practical and legal freedom of Americans even faster that it has declined in the past four decades.

On the real issues of crime it is worth noting that there is virtually no evidence that the FBI's role in combatting drugs, bank robbery, and related violent crime contributed meaningfully to the powerful crime declines of the 1990s, nor that increases in murders last year (mostly driven by a number of large cities) is a response to the "redeployment" of the FBI. The violent crimes that most people rightly fear are local in nature and must be addressed with tools of local knowledge. The Senator is rightly concerned about the recent violent crime surge in California cities, but the right role for Washington to play is providing funding for local law enforcement and crime prevention programs, not the largely symbolic role of the FBI.

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