Today we begin with America’s crime wave. Crime rates are up in many cities around the country, and it seems like every week there are new examples of horrific violence, committed by people who should have been in prison. The alleged New York subway shooter Frank James is reported to have had a lengthy criminal history, including making terroristic threats. The alleged mass shooter in Sacramento, California, who killed six and injured 12 — Smiley Martin — had a violent record including domestic violence and assault. There’s an ongoing debate over where blame lies. Today we investigate whether “Soft on Crime” policies could be at fault or if that’s a figment of political imagination.
From rampant smash-and-grab crimes, to the woman pushed in front of a subway in New York City, from teens hijacking cars with babies in them, to shocking attacks on the street, senseless crimes captured on camera seem to provide hard evidence of a national crime wave.
Sharyl: In your experience, is there a real increase in crime that we're seeing, or is this more perception than anything else?
D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee: No, I'm seeing it is definitely an increase in crime.
Robert Contee is police chief in the nation’s capital where, like other cities, graphic examples are piling up.
An Uber driver is killed when two children steal and flip his car. The girls responsible get sentenced to juvenile detention. An 11-year-old boy shot in the head. A six-year old girl shot and killed, five others wounded.
Sharyl: Do you have any thoughts about some things that could be done?
Contee: There are many jurisdictions all around our country you'll find people walking the streets who have been accused of committing a murder, but they've been released with an ankle monitor on, a home confinement, or something like that. There was a case not long ago here where a person had been released, and I got an email from the victim's father, who said, "Hey, how is it possible that this person is out? Like, why is this person out?" And that's mind boggling to me. But unfortunately it's not just a thing that happens here in Washington, D.C. It happens in jurisdictions all around our country.
In Los Angeles, Shawn Smith had a dozen arrests on record, and a current arrest warrant, when he allegedly stabbed to death store employee Brianna Kupfer. In Wisconsin, Darrell Brooks was charged with beating a woman and running over her with a car. Two days later, out on bond, he drove an SUV through a Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring more than 60.
Critics increasingly blame a major shift in criminal justice policies backed by millions of dollars from billionaire activists like George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg. The efforts are led by groups such as Fair and Just Prosecution, which tells Full Measure there are about 70 "reform prosecutors" on the same mission nationwide. They’re accomplishing it through such policies as reducing prison sentences, dialing back on prosecution of misdemeanors and juveniles, and bail reform.
Sharyl: Can you explain what bail reform is?
Korey Brown is undersheriff at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in Rochester, New York.
Korey Brown: So in New York, bail was messed up for a long time. So somebody could commit a low-level crime and because they had no money, they'd stay in jail where somebody that had money got out of jail. Everyone agreed that it absolutely had to be fixed. But when they fixed it, they changed it so for many crimes people are not going to jail at all. And what has happened is judges have taken that and gone even further, so now we're getting people that are in possession of a weapon that are immediately released.
Amid the reforms, the city of Rochester broke a record for murders in 2021.
Brown: Eighty-one is an all-time high. So now it's a fact that 81 people lost their life in the city of Rochester last year. It's unacceptable. We can't, as a society, accept that.
Now a growing number of prosecutors implementing criminal justice reforms are finding themselves in the crosshairs. The district attorneys where Kupfer’s stabbing and the parade massacre occurred are now targets of citizen-led recall efforts to boot them from office. Same with Soros-funded prosecutors in San Francisco, and Arlington County, Loudoun County, and Fairfax County in Northern Virginia.
Sharyl: George Soros interests have funded a lot of the elections of people like you, including you. Do you guarantee something in exchange?
Steve Descano is Fairfax County Virginia’s Commonwealth attorney.
Steve Descano: Well, I'll say, first of all, I've never met Mr. Soros. And I believe an organization that may be funded through one of his foundations reached out to me because they saw that I had like-minded values from what they wanted to see out of our justice system. I can tell you that there were no promises made. We got a lot of support in county from people who wanted change. We have support in the community because of what we were trying to do and support from outside just help us amplify our message, not create our message.
Sharyl: People from the outside, when they hear about these policies, sometimes it starts to sound like you’re serving the criminal more than you're serving the community.
Descano: I think that some people, many people, have that misimpression that reform prosecution is all about helping defendants. And it's really though about community safety. But in many ways, you improve community safety by helping defendants.
Descano argues that in Fairfax County, the reform policies under attack have led to measurable success.
Sharyl: Tell me about your results.
Descano: The results I'm very, very pleased with. Crime in Fairfax County is down 9.6% year over year.
Sharyl: So, according to the stats, 3,187 fewer victims last year. Robbery fell by 1%. Domestic assaults, 4%. But 40% more murders. 21 murders in 2021, 15 in 2020.
Descano: Let me say, first of all, a single murder is too many. Because while 21 murders is 21 too high, we are the safest jurisdiction of our size. We have 1.2 million people and to only have 21 murders is quite extraordinary.
Sharyl: But do you think there has been a real increase in violent crime and homicides around the country? Or is this something that's being ginned up, and the statistics, if we examine them further, wouldn't really match up?
Descano: Well, I think, particularly homicides and some violent crime, not all violent crime, I think there has been an uptick. Now, the idea that those numbers are being used as a cudgel against reform prosecutors, I think that also is correct. So I think both can be true because I think both are happening.
Robert Woodson: This is a shot detector.
With the debate very much open, we visited the heart of a notorious, crime-ridden Washington, D.C. neighborhood to meet up with community activist Robert Woodson.
Woodson: It does nothing to prevent it from happening, but this is where we're spending our money.
Sharyl: Billions of dollars have been spent, maybe trillions over the years, providing programs and things to help solve the very issues we're talking about.
Woodson: In the last 50 years, the government has spent $22 trillion to address problems like this. 70 cents of every one of those dollars goes not to the poor, but to those who serve the poor. We've created a commodity out of poor people. So you got a lot of professionals making a lot of money. The worse the problem gets, the more their funding goes up. And the more the people in these communities suffer.
Sharyl: Would it be fair to say that in a way, there's a commodity surrounding crime too?
Woodson: Oh yeah. I think that you got people on both the left and the right. The people on the left say, well, it's injustice, racism, and therefore we must train white people to be less racist and then you'll have less problems, which is false. And there are people on the right who also point to the problems and complain. They are part of the race grievance industry too.
Here in this D.C. neighborhood, a group of men — ex-cons, shooting victims, young fathers — are meeting as part of a special conflict resolution program. They’re not focused on how crimes are prosecuted, but on how to prevent them in the first place.
Larry McMichael: I've had murder charges, drug charges, been shot, been through the whole circle of that street world.
Among all the discussion about causes and solutions, not one person here blamed outside factors.
Tyrone Parker: But the answer is in you all. It's in y'all. You are the solutions to the problem.
Ishmael Reid: I've been shot at. I done a lot of things to people that I'm not proud of. But the thing is, I'm put here today. I never thought I'd be sitting here today trying to give out positive feedback.
Clayton Carter: Everybody just want to be self-sufficient. I want this program to help me be self-sufficient in ways that I'm not.
Woodson: And you notice the issue of race never came up? They didn't talk about injustice. They talked about personal responsibility. They talked about resilience.
There’s little doubt America will continue the heated discussion about crime and punishment— or lack thereof, and where the ultimate answers lie.
Contee: People need to know that we are serious as a nation about this. When you commit a violent crime, there are consequences that are associated with that.
John Parker: And in the same way how y'all doing it for me, I'm going to do it for the next generation coming up.
Sharyl (on-camera): A special election to recall the San Francisco District Attorney, who was elected in 2019 with funding from Soros, is scheduled for June 7.