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Crime and punishment



No one knows exactly what will happen when the big clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, so the Colorado Springs cops aren't taking any chances.

The force will be on maximum alert, and staffing, expecting anything from major partying to civil unrest in the event that Y2K computer glitches shut down the world as we know it. CSPD Lt. Skip Arms said they don't expect massive computer problems.

But in a worst-case scenario, he posed the "what if" scenario if things do get screwy. As in, what if computers screw up and shut down all the cash machines? "People will likely be agitated, and then we may need to handle that," Arms explained in the driest of terms.

Unlike Denver, Colorado Springs police haven't mounted an effort to install a curfew to force raucous revelers to cease and desist all partying at a prescribed time.

The number of homicides this year in Colorado Springs reached 26 this week with the shooting death of Dejay Cerrell Lott. That is a 300 percent increase over last year's eight murders in the city. Four cases, including the most current one, remain unsolved.

The number of homicides isn't a record-breaker for Colorado Springs; the city's deadliest year was back in 1991, when 28 homicides occurred. But the trend does reflect an increase in violent crimes. In 1999, the number of sexual assaults, robberies, homicide and aggravated assaults have risen 5.9 percent.

Earlier this year, the mainstream media reported that violent crime across the country has decreased in recent year, and suggested Colorado Springs crime-index increase made us the odd man out. But a new study counters those optimistic reports, noting that the earlier comparisons were based on high crime statistics from the early 1990s.

This week, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence reported that violent crime in America has risen by 40 percent since 1969. The commission noted that, while crime is still a major problem in most cities, the trend is also hitting rural America at an increasing pace.

When the commission was established, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, and riots and anti-war demonstrations underscored a time of incredible social upheaval. At the time, the commission reported that violence and unrest stemmed from "unmet socioeconomic needs."

Now, Americans report they feel less safe than they did back then and are often afraid to walk down the street.

"The intent is to gain perspective by looking back," explained Elliott Currie, one of several authors of the report. "This is the kind of crime rate that we would have said is a disaster when we went to work on that [original] crime report 30 years ago."

It's a sobering wake-up call. And so was the media's response this week to the latest schoolyard shooting in Oklahoma. After a 13-year-old boy pulled a gun out of his backpack and shot four fellow students for reasons he couldn't even fathom, the media barely gave it a blip on the radar screen.

On the radio on Monday, NPR announcer Carl Castle relayed the breaking news story with about the same urgency as he would report a potato-virus outbreak -- and a minor one at that.

On Tuesday, neither Denver paper even bothered to put the story on page one. Instead, the Denver Post chose to report the compelling news item "Vail wires slopes for stock e-trading." (To their credit, the G placed the story up front and top.)

It's a startling thought that school shootings have now apparently become so commonplace that they have been relegated to the inside pages. The collective media yawn over the story was perhaps the most distressing evidence that we have effectively numbed ourselves to the outrage of children killing children.

Just as outrageous, though, is the continued stereotyping that some of our leaders have exhibited when it comes to youth violence.

In the Oklahoma shooting, as in most of the other attacks, the seventh-grader came from a small, close-knit, religious community. He had a lot of friends, belonged to a Christian teen group and other school groups, came from a really good family. Sound familiar?

Maybe not to James Dobson. In his syndicated advice column, the president of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family recently extrapolated about violent behavior in youth. But, despite the fact that the rash of school mass shootings have occurred in white, Waspy, middle-to-upper-class suburbia, Dobson instead concentrated on the ghetto child of America as the source of his alarm.

Children from the slums, he cautioned, have been neglected and abused and have been doing drugs since before they were born. Because of that, these ghetto children are literally biologically altered, according to the child psychologist. "Many of today's abused kids can kill and destroy without pangs of conscience, because they are literally brain-damaged," wrote Dobson in a Nov. 21 paid column, printed locally in the G.

"So lock your doors, and avoid eye contact when you drive through certain sections of your city," Dobson warned. "There are kids there who would just as soon kill you as to look at you."

Something tells us that the good doctor wasn't exactly talking about Highlands Ranch, home of the Columbine Rebels.

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