[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/03/intv.timoney.ramsey.cnn.jpg caption="Chief John Timoney of the Miami Police Department (L) and Commissioner Charles Ramsey of the Philadelphia Police Department (R)."]
Crime rates are falling in big cities across America, even though unemployment is high and it’s summer – two factors that historically are a prescription for trouble. So what's going on?
Commissioner Charles Ramsey of the Philadelphia Police Department and Chief John Timoney of the Miami Police Department spoke to Alina Cho on CNN’s “American Morning” Monday.
Alina Cho: Chief Timoney, I want to start with you. As I just said, we're dealing with a bad economy, the dog days of summer, usually a recipe for higher crime. But crime rates are actually falling in major cities across America. What exactly is going on in your estimation?
Chief John Timoney: Well I think it's a myth the whole notion there's a direct correlation between a bad economy and crime. All you have to do is really look at the Great Depression. Crime rates did not skyrocket. Similarly, here over the last year and a half – and we've monitored [it] pretty closely – the assumption is crime is down. So some guy that’s a truck driver one day, loses his job, goes out and commits robberies and burglaries the next day is simply not true. Over the last year and a half at our CompStat crime meetings, we're looking at the people that were arrested for these crimes and it’s the same people. It’s the frequent flyers, guys with 15, 25 prior arrests. If the economy had a direct impact we'd be arresting people for the first time and that's simply not happening.
Cho: Commissioner Ramsey, I want to get to you. You currently head the Philadelphia Police Department but most of our viewers know you best for heading the D.C. sniper investigation in 2002. I certainly remember that quite well. Homicide is down in Philadelphia 11%. That's astounding. What do you think is happening? What is your department doing differently?
Commissioner Ramsey: Well we're actually 25% down over the last year and a half, when I first took office in January of '08. So we've been making good progress. Our clearance rate is up near 80%. That is one of the factors. Our homicide investigators have been clearing cases a lot faster and getting the right people off the job. And plus, we’ve put in place some strategies so that if there's a violent act that takes place, we look toward retaliation or the possibility of retaliation and we can deploy more real-time than we were before using technology and keeping track of what's going on to get people in the right spots at the right time.
Cho: You mentioned technology. A lot of police work has gone high-tech, officers using mobile phones and the like. That's helped a tremendous amount, has it not?
Ramsey: Well it has helped but it still gets down to good basic police work, I think. In Philadelphia, for example, we're actually a bit behind in technology. A lot of big cities are because it's so expensive to get some of these systems. But if you use what you have, use it wisely, and make good critical decisions early on, you can avoid some of the problems.
Cho: Chief Timoney, I want to move onto the Henry Louis Gates case, the Harvard professor arrested in his home on July 16. You wrote an op-ed in The Miami Herald, saying it's a shame that people on all sides have reacted so quickly and that the case may have been triggered by misconceptions. Explain that.
Timoney: People right away, and it seemed like everybody, jumped to conclusions, read into the situation things that weren't there. For example, that the officer went there strictly as a result of a racial description when, in fact, the 911 caller never described race. There were other things that people latched onto. Some of them having to do with stereotypes, some of them have to do with preconceived notions. A whole host of things. The bottom line is in situations like that they become highly volatile. They break down, unfortunately, sometimes along racial lines. And you see, even on television, people who are colleagues and friends breaking down along racial lines. It seems when you look at the facts, the dispassionate, cold-hearted facts, you can still find fault on either side. But it's not as bad or as inflammatory as initially it was charged in the early days once the arrest surfaced.
Cho: Commissioner Ramsey, let me ask you this. Yes, that is all true. Some people have suggested that as unfortunate as this was that really it has opened up a larger discussion on race and is that such a bad thing. I'm curious to know if you have done anything differently, planning to do anything differently in terms of race relations inside your department?
Ramsey: Well it does open up a larger discussion, which I do think is a good thing. But I think everyone needs to take a deep breath when these things take place. I agree with John that we're too quick to jump to conclusions. I've heard the term racism thrown around more in the past week or two than I have since the 1960s or '70s. So that’s a very dangerous thing. And I think that people need to really stop and take a look. I think you've got two people, both of whom if they had it to do over again might have done one or two things slightly differently. But it wasn't a racist act. It wasn't anything that had to do with anything like that. It's just unfortunate where you had a police officer and a citizen that didn't see eye to eye on an issue, things got out of hand and we wind up talking about it here on your program.