VOICE OF JUSTICE
February 2002                          Official Publication of JUSTICE FOR ALL                             Volume 10 Issue 2
"Justice will only be achieved when those who are not injured by crime, feel as indignant as those who are."
-King Solomon 635-577 BC

PSYCHOSIS OR REVENGE?
UNDERSTANDING ANDREA YATES

By Timandra Sinclair, Ph.D.

When a heinous crime occurs, immediately lines are drawn between the "good guys" and the "bad guys." These lines are often drawn with broad strokes of morality - "this is blatantly not socially acceptable behavior." Eventually those lines of morality are blurred with, "he must be crazy, no normal person would do that!" in an effort to distance ourselves from the actions of the perpetrator we feel a degree of comfort in deciding that these killers simply must be insane.

That's exactly what attorney George Parnham is counting on.

When Andrea Yates drowned her five children, the country was shocked and horrified. We watched her with a careful eye as this seemingly normal woman with long, brown hair and a motherly face was escorted around county buildings in shackles. She simply must have been insane. How could someone who looks so normal, how could a mother, do this to her own children?

Parnham is launching a defense on behalf of Andrea Yates claiming that some six months after the birth of her last child, Mrs. Yates was suffering with delusions brought on by Postpartum Psychosis. It is important that we take a few moments to fully get a grasp on what actually constitutes genuine psychosis - then we'll take a look at the rare occurrence of psychosis in new mothers.

Often times, the media confuses psychotics with psychopaths, in turn confusing the populace. Psychotics are rare - extremely rare. When a psychotic commits a violent crime, it's never in a subtle or clandestine way. There is no planning of a crime for the psychotic. Psychotic criminals commit their crimes regardless of their location, time of day, and witnesses. Any crime that requires planning to avoid being caught during or after the crime can categorically be dismissed as the act of a psychotic. Psychotics have no impulse control, they would happily commit their crimes in broad daylight and "at the elbow of a police officer" with no recognition that their crimes are in any way unacceptable.

Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a poorly documented psychological ailment that occurs within the first few weeks after delivery. What is happening physiologically are massive hormone changes within the new mother's body. Her hormones are snapping back quickly and causing chemical imbalances within the brain. These chemical effects on the brain usually peak around the second or third week postpartum and are undetectable within two to three months postpartum. Often times, the mothers experiencing psychosis become extremely irrational and suffer with hallucinations, delusions and obvious drastic mood swings.

Now, was Andrea Yates genuinely suffering with postpartum psychosis?

Rather than jump into the great debate between defense expert Michelle Oberman, a Professor of Law at DePaul University (a mother and self-admitted sufferer of postpartum depression), and what limited medical research has been done on PPP, I can only offer my opinion as a psychologist whose primary focus and job is to analyze a crime scene to glean psychological information about the perpetrator of the crime. That by understanding the crime, we can understand the criminal, their state-of-mind and their motivations.

We have the advantage of knowing who committed this crime. Andrea Yates has never denied killing her 5 children. Married to Russell Yates for eight years, Andrea gave up her job as a nurse to become a full time, stay-at-home mother. She gave birth to five children, Noah (7), John (5), Paul (3), Luke (2), and Mary (6 months). She took on the task of home-schooling her older children while managing the toddlers and infant. It should also be noted that a few months prior to the murders, Mrs. Yates' father had passed away.

Although I am certain that almost everyone is familiar with the events of this crime, I would like to take a few lines to review the case so that we can understand the psychology of Mrs. Yates as she killed her five children.

Shortly after Russell arrived at work, he received a phone call from his wife, telling him to come home. He stated he didn't like her tone, but remained at work. A short while later, she phoned again, telling him to come home. "I said, 'Is anyone hurt?'" She said, "Yes." "I said, 'Who?'" She said, "The children. All of them." Russell Yates said, "My heart just sank."

At the Yates' home, Andrea had methodically drowned her children. Carefully going in an order where she was least likely to be interrupted. First killing the three younger boys, who would trust their mother without question, thus being very easy to physically dominate and control. After she murdered young Luke, Paul and John, she took their lifeless bodies, laid them on the bed and covered them over with a sheet. Moving on to the baby, Mary, Yates was then interrupted by her eldest son, Noah. Mrs. Yates recounted his murder to county officials saying that when he saw what she was doing to little Mary, he ran from her, she then pursued and dragged the fighting boy back to the bathroom and drowned him.

Now, the defense team would quickly have us believe that Mrs. Yates was having a psychotic episode during the time it took to kill her five children; that she simply would have to be psychotic to commit these crimes against her own children. But now we have to apply logic and our knowledge concerning psychotics to this case (both of which tend to make defense lawyers shake in their boots.)

First, it seems to me that Mrs. Yates was clearly dealing with some sort of depression. I will not argue with that. She was being treated with medication and was under at least minimal medical care. Whether or not it was postpartum, is irrelevant. Clinical studies have shown that depressed individuals, especially women, turn their anger and depression inward, more often displaying self-destructive behavior as opposed to violence (as was evident in Mrs. Yates' previous suicide attempts.) These studies and facts alone are the main reason that defense is not using basic postpartum depression as their primary argument against Mrs. Yates' sanity. Too much research has been done in this area of psychology. If she were depressed, she would take herself out. So in order to prove her insane, it was going to have to be something bigger than depression.

Defense has thus decided in an effort to muster some sort of excuse for her behavior, that they would claim that Mrs. Yates was suffering with some sort of psychosis. Being the mother of a very young child, psychosis as a result of postpartum hormone shifts presents an "easy" excuse. In spit of scientific and medical research into PPP clearly indicating that the hormonal shift that would be sufficient to induce psychosis is no longer a factor after three months after giving birth (Mrs. Yates, as you recall, was a full six months postpartum).

Defense seems to be ignoring a lot of damning psychological evidence against this claim. Mrs. Yates waited until after her husband had left to kill her children, indicating clearly that she had thought about her actions and knew what she needed to do to carry them out. She had, in fact, planned the crime to at least the extent that she did not wish to be interrupted while she killed her children. Of interest to this psychologist is the first phone call made to her husband. Had she at the time of that first call simply killed one child in an "accident" and was looking for her husband's attention to the situation? When he brushes her aside, she calls back sometime later saying that all of the children had been harmed.

Mrs. Yates took the bodies of four of her children and laid them out ceremoniously on the bed, covering them over with a sheet. This is not uncommon in killings where the perpetrator knows the victim, covering them over "covers" the act. Almost as an act of remorse, they give the victim a modicum of respect and cover them over almost as if they were merely sleeping - nullifying the crime. What impresses me most about the covering is the fact that of the five children, Mrs. Yates left Noah, the eldest, in the bathtub - uncovered, unmoved.

Noah was the first-born. Shortly after Andrea and Russell were married, Noah was conceived. It was for Noah that she left her work to become a mother. Giving birth to five children in seven years is also of interest. I am assuming from reports that Mr. and Mrs. Yates were very religious people. This I am concluding from their choices in University education for themselves, as well as their decision to Christian home-school their children and the biblical names given to each child. Mr. Yates clearly established himself as the family patriarch, he was the breadwinner, and it was Andrea's job to care for the children. She was to be "super mom."

Now, before I upset those of us who are stay-at-home mothers, (myself included in this group), there is an understanding among mothers who choose this path. Stay-at-home motherhood is not for wimps. It's very difficult work, and not meant for everyone. That if any of us felt forced into the role of child bearer and nurturer, without having any other option as to how many children we would have, how they would be educated and how family finances would be earned and spent, depression and resentment would surely follow.

Andrea Yates is no exception to this.

She knew what she needed to do to get back at her husband. I strongly doubt that she would be able to kill Mr. Yates directly - he wouldn't suffer enough then. She was out to cause him direct, individual suffering. To take from him what he obviously cherished more than he did his own wife. That she had given up her life to serve him and be his wife...and he didn't care about her, he only wanted her for breeding. She would take away his kids.

There was no "episode" in these killings, and Andrea Yates knew what she was doing. She didn't want anything to stop her. She left Noah in the tub, he was the first, and the one that started all this. He was "the first son" and no doubt the love of Russell Yates' life. This wasn't an act of psychosis - this was malice. She wanted Russell to come home to find his first born like this. This would surely destroy him.

The argument that lawyers and psychiatrists present in court is that when a person is psychotic, they do not understand the difference between right and wrong. Andrea Yates knew what she was doing was wrong. Or she wouldn't have waited for when she couldn't be seen. She wouldn't have covered over the lifeless bodies of her children in order to cover her crime - you don't show remorse when you don't understand what you are doing is wrong.

The motivation for this crime lies in the words of the defense team's expert witness, Michelle Oberman, "...the debate over Yates' sanity is ludicrous. Here is a woman who gave up her career to devote her life to her family. If she were thinking rationally, as many suggest, what would be the point of killing her children and then immediately confessing her guilt? If her goal was to spend her life in prison or receive the death penalty, she could have killed anyone or just killed one of her children."

Mrs. Yates did give up her career to devote her life to her children. This served to make her resentful and hateful of her kids, not to love them more. Why would she confess? She had no choice. Let's face it - even a tree stump could sort out who killed the Yates children within a short while, and Andrea Yates doesn't really fit the profile of a criminal on the lam; nor is she the conniving Susan Smith type to fabricate a phony attack - Andrea Yates is more of the passive-aggressive type. She knew she would likely be spending her life in prison, taking away everything from Russell Yates that he seemed to value. No kids, and no wife to make him more. He loses it all.

Ms. Oberman, while she may be an authority on law, certainly is lacking in forensic experience with women. Women who kill, typically kill close to home, "easy targets," their children, their husbands, and their patients. If she'd been truly psychotic, then she would have killed, "anyone", or flown into a rage and "just killed one of her children." The psychological indicators Ms. Oberman uses as illustration for psychosis is actually better applied to prove she was fully aware of her actions.

Andrea Yates, in cold blood, in order to strike back at her husband in the most effective way she could think of, killed his children. There is clear motivation, clear meditation and planning - and five children are dead at the hands of their mother.

A mother that was fully aware of what she was doing - and who is now, fully accountable for her actions.


Tribute to Women Killed by Intimate Male Partners in Texas in 2000

This is the second installment in a tribute to the 87 women killed by intimate male partners in Texas in the year 2000. This month we include 15 more stories. We will list the remaining victims in future newsletters.

January Lawson Brockway, 22, Alvarado
Around 1:30 p.m. on April 1, 2000, police received a 911 call reporting an accidental shooting. When they arrived at the scene, the evidence showed that a domestic disturbance between January and her husband, Clifford Even Brockway, 24, resulted in her death. The couple had three daughters; aged four, two, and ten months.

Michelle R. Brown, 20, Holiday Beach
Michelle's mother tried to talk her daughter into leaving her boyfriend, Mario Montellano, 41, but she was not successful. Around midnight on August 4, 2000, police found Michelle in Mario's arms, dying from a shotgun wound to the back.

Precious Burleson, 24, Fort Worth
Precious dated Tony Board, 25, on and off for more than five years. They had two children together. On March 3, 2000, Precious and Tony got into a fight when he attempted to burn some of her clothes. She was stabbed repeatedly in the head, neck, and chest.

Shuketa Clark, 25, Texarkana
Raymond Stanley, 49, was very jealous of his young wife. Police had responded to family violence calls on three occasions in the last year and a half. On June 12, 2000, as Shuketa pleaded for help to the 911 operator, he shot her in the head and leg. Stanley was sentenced to 40 years in prison and fined $10,000. Shuketa had three young children.

Semetria Colbert, 25, Dallas
On July 29, Semetria called her parents to say she wanted to install new locks on her doors. The next day, Semetria's body was found, shot in the back. Later that day, police found her five- year-old daughter, Alexis Lee, dead from a blunt force head trauma. Police assume she was killed because she witnessed her mother's murder. Semetria's boyfriend Marvin Andre Jones, 28, was charged with capital murder.

Lisa Meyer Cosper, 38, Gatesville
Lisa's estranged husband, Douglas Shane Cosper, 42, burst into her house with a shotgun shortly before 10:00 p.m. on March 24. Lisa and her co-worker, Jeffrey Doyle Miller, 40 were killed in her living room.

Lena Crawford, 47, Texarkana
Lena's body was found by her son at midnight on April 28, 2000. Witnesses say she and her boyfriend, Curtis Charles Solomon, fought earlier in the day. He was indicted for her murder.

Ginger Crow, 25, Fort Worth
Steven Dean Passmore, 21, Ginger's boyfriend, had two previous arrests for assaulting her. Witnesses to the March 7, 2000 shooting said he shot her in the head as she cowered on the floor. Her two young children were in the apartment at the time of the murder.

Blanca de la Garza, 42, Brownsville
Ramon de la Garza, 45, threatened to kill Blanca if she divorced him, but she was determined to do something about her escalating abuse. On June 27, 2000, five days after he received divorce papers, he waited for her to come home from work and stabbed her to death in front of their 12 year-old son. Then he hung himself in the garage.

Petra Enriguez, 44, Littlefield
Petra and Jesus Enriquez, 51, were married for 25 years and had five children, but in January 2000, Petra moved to Lubbock to escape "troubles" at home. On the afternoon of April 18, she drove to the Littlefield house to sign over the title to a vehicle. An argument ensued, and Jesus shot his wife and then himself. Their daughter found the bodies in the living room.

Norma Flores, 29, Fort Worth
Norma was pregnant when she left El Salvador to escape an abusive husband. She worked for several years to save money to bring her older son to the U.S. When she had enough saved, her husband convinced her that he had changed and persuaded her to allow him to accompany the child to Fort Worth. It wasn't long before the abuse resumed and Norma and her children were forced to flee to a shelter. After she divorced her husband and he returned to El Salvador, she began dating Miguel Martinez. This time Norma was not able to escape her abuser. In the early hours of July 4, 2000, she and Miguel were found dead. Police believe he killed Norma, then shot himself.

Norma Sepulveda Esparza Galindo, 23, Monahans
A family cookout on the afternoon of October 30, 2000 was disrupted when Jose Ignacio Galindo, 29, lost his temper with Norma, his wife of six months. After the family left, someone called 911 to report a violent dispute at the residence. Three minutes later, Ward County Sheriff's Deputy Lee Russ entered the house. Investigators believe Galindo stabbed Deputy Russ, then Norma. Russ then shot Galindo with his service revolver before succumbing to his wounds.

Cindy L. Freitas, 33, Hurst
Cindy was working as a caregiver when her intoxicated 26-year-old boyfriend came to see her on January 26, 2000. An argument ensued and Ernesto O. Verdeja stabbed her with a kitchen knife. The next morning, Cindy's 77-year-old employer found her body.

Teresa Gandy, Brenham
Teresa's body was found when police and firefighters responded to a fire at her home on April 8, 2000. Her husband, Darrell Keith Gandy, 30, was charged with murder.

Irene Beltran Garcia, 46, El Paso
Irene's husband, Armando Herrera, 44, was scheduled to go to trial in a month for injuring their 15-year-old daughter, Sonye Herrera. On the evening of April 16, 2000, just after Irene returned home from celebrating her birthday, Armando shot her as she walked through their front yard. He then went into the house and killed Sonye, then turned the gun on himself.


PAROLE PROTESTS

On May 21, 1987, Kenneth Paul Weir brutally murdered Roxy Juanita Gunter by repeatedly stabbing her to death. This senseless murder was the result of Weir's robbery of the convenience store where Mrs. Gunter worked as a cashier. Weir's gain from the robbery was $3.00.

Weir was convicted, and sentenced to only "45" years, with the possibility of parole after serving 10 years of his sentence. This case has gone into the parole review process and we do not want or need this brutal person back on the streets to kill again.

Weir took a lifetime of love given by a wife, mother, and sister away from her family. In doing so, he left a young girl to grow up without a mother. He has not done his time.

We are asking you to please write letters protesting the release of Kenneth Paul Weir. This murderer savagely took the life of Roxy Juanita Gunter and remains a menace to society.

SAMPLE LETTER

Raven Kazen, Director; TDCJ - Victim Services (Date)
P.O. Box 13401; Austin, Texas 78711

Re: Kenneth Paul Weir - TDC-ID # 00473205

Dear Ms. Kazen:

Please DO NOT grant parole to Kenneth Paul Weir. The heinous nature of this murder should preclude this murderer any consideration. Anyone capable of perpetrating a crime of this magnitude must serve their sentence in its entirety. There can be no justification for parole.

Sincerely, (Your Name).


In 1993, while serving a probated sentence in an unrelated crime, McGuire committed, and was convicted of “Aggravated Assault w/ a Deadly Weapon”. Through a plea bargain, he received a 30-year sentence. McGuire is a prime suspect , but has yet to be prosecuted for a murder that also occurred while he was on probation.

Please send protest letters to;

Raven Kazen, Director; TDCJ - Victim Services (Date)
P.O. Box 13401; Austin, Texas 78711; Fax # 512/452-0825;
E-mail to: victim.svc@tdcj.state.tx.us

Re: Carlton Ray McGuire TDCJ-ID# 00633974

Dear Ms, Kazen,

Please DO NOT grant parole to Carlton Ray McGuire. He is obviously a repeat offender. After all, he was out on probation when he committed the aggravated assault he is doing time for now. For the safety of our society please keep Carlton Ray McGuire behind bars where he can harm no more!

We ask that you send a copy of your letter to us to be forwarded to the victim's family.

Texans For Equal Justice
P.O. Box 241; Willis Texas 77378
E-mail: tej@lawandorder.com
Fax: 936/494-0311


A FAMILY'S EXPERIENCE IDENTIFIES MAJOR PROBLEMS FOR ALL CRIME VICTIMS
by Vincent M. Torres

This article was taken from the Fall 98 Visions Magazine published by the Attorney General of Texas. Vincent Torres also wrote our lead article in the May, 2000 issue of Voice of Justice.

Although average citizens and state legislators are much more aware today both of how victims are treated in the criminal justice system and the problems they must overcome, we still have a long way to go in Texas. Our family’s story illustrates the all-too common problems that still remain in the system. It also demonstrates how we can overcome the problems if we not only persevere, but also act on the problems we encounter, and remain positive about achieving our goals. Through my family’s experience, I have identified three major changes that are needed in the Texas criminal justice system: standard training and certification for criminal investigators; creation of a cold case squad to assist crime victims; and development of minimum standard qualifications and training for all individuals assisting crime victims.

The Carmen Torres Case
In July 1990, my 68-year-old mother, Carmen Torres, was living her life caring for my father. He was 80 years old, and his stroke two years before had left him unable to care for himself. His walk was unstable, he had short-term memory problems, and was incontinent. Married nearly 44 years, my parents had a loving relationship. They had many friends and no known enemies. My mother was a very religious person and loved caring for her family and plants. With a new grandchild in her life, my mother was very happy.

On that fateful summer evening, my father had already been put to bed for the night when my mother opened the front door for some unknown reason. An assailant forced his way in, struggled violently with her, and knocked her unconscious. He cut off her clothes, continued to beat her, slashed her throat twice—almost beheading her—and left her to bleed to death just inside the front door. Based on the position of her body when she was found and other evidence at the crime scene, the family believed that she had also been raped. Yet as obvious as this was to us and to the medical examiner’s technician who made the crime scene, the criminal investigators told us that there was “no evidence of rape.”

This brutal murder occurred late on July 16 or early on July 17 at my parents’ home just outside the northwest city limits of San Antonio. When my mother’s body was discovered two days later, my father was still in his hospital bed with the bed rails up. He was unharmed. The difficulties my family would have to overcome as a result of this crime began almost immediately.

My sister, who had not been able to reach my mother by phone, was the first one to arrive at the house. She had to pull herself together to do a number of things before any other family members could arrive to help. First she had to identify our mother’s body without any warning or preparation about what she would see. Then she had to phone my brother and me to tell us about our mother’s death. Next, she had to attend to my father, cleaning up two days of urine and excrement. She had to buy food, feeding my father in his room because the rest of the house was off-limits during the collection of evidence. Finally, she waited by herself trying to decide how and when she should tell my father about his wife’s death.

At no time did the Bexar County Sheriff ’s personnel ever offer to help my sister. They did not ask if they could take her and my father somewhere else while they processed the crime scene. Nor did they offer to get my father, who had not eaten in two days, some food. To this day, a crime victim liaison from the Bexar County Sheriff ’s Office has yet to contact any member of our family, as required by law, to inform us of our rights as crime victims. The investigators did not spend time to develop leads in this case and were incapable of identifying any suspects.

No suspects, that is, except for my father. They convinced themselves, without any evidence, that my father committed this brutal crime. The investigators tried twice, unsuccessfully, to obtain an indictment against him. If they had taken the time to speak with his doctor they would have learned that it was physically impossible for my father to have murdered my mother because of his mobility and agility limitations.

Because we criticized the performance of the investigators, they labeled my family as uncooperative, even though we had complied with every request they made. They also sought every motive possible for each of us to murder our mother, despite a lack of evidence for these ideas. I was not going to give up trying to find out who raped and murdered my mother even though the detectives had. The murderer had to be found and held accountable for this crime. For many years we offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. This proved fruitless. I concluded that the investigative work that had been left undone needed to be performed by a competent law enforcement agency if we were to ever solve this case. It took almost six years to find and convince an outside law enforcement agency to perform these investigative tasks.

In March 1996, based on the compelling investigative work that still needed to be done, and with the help of Ann Hutchison of the Austin Police Department, a task force was formed to investigate this crime. The task force was headed by the Prosecutors’ Assistance Division of the Office of the Attorney General and consisted of their prosecutors and investigators, the Texas Rangers, and a different detective from the Bexar County Sheriff ’s Office. In less than two months, the task force discovered a rape kit from my mom’s autopsy that had been sitting in the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office, forgotten for almost six years. It had not been processed. The rape kit contained sperm. The task force requested permission to compare DNA from the rape kit to that of my father. We gladly complied. After six years of being the only suspect in my mother’s murder, my father was the first person to be eliminated as a suspect. To this day, both the medical examiner and the original detectives point fingers at each other as to why that rape kit was forgotten and never processed.

On December 17, 1997, Billy Bob Southerland, 27 years old, was indicted. He was arrested the next day for the capital murder of Carmen Torres after his DNA proved to be a one in 25 million match to the DNA in the rape kit. He was caught while climbing into the back yard of his mother’s house where he had lived at the time of the murder—right next door to my parents. On April 6, 1998, just before the start of jury selection, Mr. Southerland, fearing he would receive the death penalty, pleaded guilty to murder and accepted a life sentence for his crime. However, a life sentence for a crime committed in 1990 means he will be eligible for parole after only 15 years in prison.

Overdue Changes
As a result of our family’s experience, I see three major changes that are needed immediately. First, we must require standardized training and certification for criminal investigators in Texas. Right now they do not exist. Not until we have standardized training and certification in place and in practice, will we ever increase the clearance rate for all violent crimes above 50% and reduce the number of crime victims and families who have to conduct their own investigations to solve crimes.

During the past year and half, I have made presentations to the Sunset Commission and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE), met with representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, and discussed this issue with numerous law enforcement investigators and prosecutors. As a result of these meetings and others that are being planned, proposals for changes in policies and legislation are being developed. Anyone who would like to support this effort is welcome, and I encourage you to contact me immediately.

Second, we must create and fund an office for a Texas cold case squad to reopen or reinvestigate both old, unsolved crimes and crimes that involve complaints by victims about the investigation.

All victims and their families must be guaranteed that homicides will be investigated properly, regardless of where they occur. In this regard, I have been gathering information from various law enforcement agencies and crime victims for recommendations on the organization and location of this squad. Several proposals have been put forth and are being discussed at this time. I am asking Texas crime victims who have unsolved crimes to contact me so that the magnitude of this problem can be conveyed to the Legislature next year.

Third, we must establish victim services as a profession in Texas if we ever expect to see consistent delivery of high-quality services for victims of crime. To accomplish this, we must begin establishing and requiring minimum standards and qualifications for all personnel providing services to crime victims. Various groups are currently attempting to develop these standards. It is critical that standards are developed and implemented immediately. This activity could be greatly enhanced if one or more state agencies joined in this effort.

If You Want Change, You Must Make It Happen
Crime victims have many rights in Texas. However, being provided with those rights is an entirely different matter as there are no sanctions for noncompliance in Texas. I have learned the hard way that in the criminal justice system things do not happen like clockwork. You must monitor the system every step of the way; if you want change, you have to make it happen. You must be willing and able to dedicate the time and resources it takes to pursue your goals. It falls upon us as crime victims, victim advocates, and victim assistance personnel, to be the guardians of victim rights, ensuring that these rights are provided.

We must be the visionaries who conceptualize the additional changes needed to have a victim friendly criminal justice system in practice, not just on paper. How do we know if our current rights and services are achieving their purpose and are being provided to all crime victims in Texas?

The Attorney Generals’ Crime Victims’ Institute (CVI), the research arm of the legislature charged with assessing the impact of crime and victim assistance legislation and policies, is currently conducting a survey of service providers, including law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, and a survey of crime victims. These surveys, which CVI expects to complete late this year, will develop baseline data on how well victims’ rights and services are being provided and victim assistance programs are being implemented in the state. Texas will finally have objective research to help guide, propose, and support the changes needed to help victims of crime in Texas.

To improve the criminal justice system we must be prepared to delve into the more serious problems regardless of how complicated and politically sensitive they may be. Those who are genuinely concerned about crime victims and improvement of the criminal justice system will be able to put aside politics and turf issues to make needed changes that will greatly benefit all Texans.

Vincent M. Torres is a Victim Advocate and Chair of the Crime Victims’ Institute Advisory Council, Office of the Attorney General.


EXCERPTS FROM "WHY DID THE CRIME RATE DECREASE THROUGH 1999?
by Leonard A. Marowitz: December 2000

Effective Strength of Law Enforcement Agencies
Community policing has been extremely successful in some cities and has approached social work in its style (“Defeating the bad guys,” 1998). The most successful such effort against juvenile crime in the country is generally credited to the Boston Police Department. Their campaign involved cooperation between police and citizens to scrub off graffiti, run youth clubs, provide tutoring and counseling, and look out for truants. A dramatic decrease in juvenile murders followed. Witkin (1998) stated that no factor has been cited to explain the decline in crime more than better policing. Researchers are beginning to think that more police do help decrease crime. Virtually all experts agree that smarter policing has been a major factor in the decrease of violent crime in New York City. Yet, violent crime has dropped dramatically in Washington, D.C. where police have not been highly functional. In addition, homicides have increased by 50 percent in Nashville despite a 16 percent increase in police. Therefore, while smarter policing has been an effective crime deterrent in some cities, it probably has not been a key factor across the nation.

Roberts (1999) reviewed the broken windows hypothesis and discussed the related social norm theory. Social norm theory states that communities, especially inner-city neighborhoods, benefit from policing that maintains order because promoting orderliness norms deters crime. The author argued that identifying individuals as being “visibly lawless” promotes racism and gives legitimacy to police harassment of blacks. In contradiction to social norm policing, Roberts (1999) cited statistics showing gang homicides in Chicago increasing disproportionately in 1994. She stated that the gang homicide decrease seen in 1997 only mirrored the decreases seen in other large cities and was possibly related to unexplained national trends. The author stated that the large decline in serious crime in New York City may reflect the shift from crack cocaine (whose trade is associated with violence) to heroine (whose trade is not associated with violence). Roberts concluded that social norm theorists misjudge the social influence of order-maintaining policing and misinterpret empirical data on its efficacy.

Hoover (2000) indicated that aggressive policing had a considerable effect on the recent decrease in the crime rate. He noted how Houston, alone among major Texas cities, experienced a sharp decline in the crime rate in 1992. The decrease occurred at a time when Houston was dramatically increasing arrests, and correlated on a month-by-month basis with arrests. A decline in crime occurred two years later in New York City when the same policies were put into place there. The author especially noted the effect that enforcing vice and narcotics offenses had on decreasing serious crime, including murder. He indicated that the logical connection between these arrests and the immediate decrease in serious crime suggests a causal relationship, not just a correlational one.

Commentary:
Increased proactive community policing, including a citywide campaign against minor offenses, led to a steep decline in the homicide rate (especially those committed with guns out-of-doors) in New York City and other large cities. The link between maintaining order and preventing crime was reestablished by a fundamental change in police policy involving a shift from focusing only on crime to focusing on maintaining order in neighborhoods. Aggressively confronting low-level criminal activity successfully decreased the occurrence of more serious crime. The upward spiral of individuals to serious and violent crime was deterred by community policing which focused on guns, youth violence, domestic violence, quality of life, vehicle crimes, and more. This policing policy made a very substantial contribution to the decline in crime rates in New York City, Houston, Boston, and elsewhere.

Most researchers agree that smarter policing has been a major factor in decreasing violent crime in New York City and elsewhere. However, similar decreases were found in other large cities which did not adopt smarter policing, and increases in crime were observed in at least one city that enlarged its police force. This suggests to some that smarter policing is not a key national factor in the recent decline in the violent crime rate. While smarter policing has not been necessary for a decline in the crime rate of all cities, it has been effective where applied.

New York City’s zero-tolerance, order-maintenance policing began after the crime rate began decreasing. It did not cause the initial decrease. The crime rate dropped in cities that did not adopt zero-tolerance policing, such as Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, because of other factors. The contention that San Francisco’s law enforcement policies caused a decline in crime rates similar to New York City is highly suspect because the period analyzed was one of considerable gentrification of San Francisco neighborhoods. Many lower income areas were transformed into wealthy neighborhoods with new residents. Dwellings were remodeled with wealth derived from the computer industry in and near San Francisco. Since higher income areas tend to have lower crime rates than lower income areas, the gentrification of San Francisco’s neighborhoods likely contributed substantially to the declining crime rates.


JUVENILE CRIME - IT'S EVERYONE'S PROBLEM
by Greg Shaw

Since assuming the bench of the Justice of the Peace (JP) Court in Precinct Three (Place Number Two) Judge Tony Polumbo has had many juvenile offenders come before his bench. He has put a lot of effort in trying to help these young people get on the straight and narrow path. During this time, he has experienced the joy of watching “at risk” children succeed and the sadness of the times when they don’t.

Judge Polumbo and I had a long conversation about juvenile offenders in his office just before Christmas 2001. From our visit three themes kept resurfacing. First, the case of each young offender is unique and should be treated as such. Second, the role that a young person’s family plays in his or her life cannot be overemphasized. Finally, the problem of juvenile crime cannot be dealt with by one or two agencies. Rather, a concentrated effort involving an entire community is required.

“People are looking for one answer for all the problems with youth crime,” Judge Polumbo lamented, “but for each child there is a different cause of his or her problem.” This has lead the Judge to develop a two-part philosophy in his sentencing. First, he holds all accountable for their own actions. Each juvenile who has committed an offense will suffer a consequence.

Second, he attempts to structure a sentence that builds character. Judge Polumbo believes that the number one priority in setting a young person on the right path is character building. For without character, one won’t have self-esteem, and without self-esteem, one won’t establish positive goals.

The Judge has built and maintained an extensive network of support programs that, for the most part, had already existed within his community. He regularly offers an offender the option of paying a fine or attending a course. These courses, offered by various not-for-profit groups, have subjects like “Evaluating My Values,” “Gangs Are Not a Family,” and “My Responsibilities to My Community.”

Judge Polumbo has used many different programs to counsel juveniles. Yet, he has come to an interesting conclusion regarding young peoples’ character development - that the most important people in a youth’s life are that youth’s parents. “You’ve got to deal with the entire family because that’s who the child will learn his or her values from,” explains the Judge. So, at times the Judge has been forced to become involved in family situations. For example, he once had a child brought before him because that child had been chronically truant from school. After the hearing, the Judge suspected that the child’s mother had an alcohol problem. Some investigating confirmed his suspicions. The Judge gave the mother a choice: she could pay what would have been a huge fine for all the days her child had been truant, or the mother could successfully complete a local alcohol abuse program. The mother chose the latter option. The results have been that this mother has (with some understandable struggle) regained control of her life and the child has been considerably more successful academically.

Judge Polumbo believes that a young person goes through four stages in a sad road from misguided youth to hardened criminal. Those stages are “Hurt, Frustration, Anger, and Crusting Over.” He believes that his court is a first line of defense in a battle to keep troubled youths from reaching that fourth stage. This is a battle that we should all be engaged in because it’s a fight we can’t afford to lose.

The network that I earlier spoke of that the Judge has developed and maintained is crucial to this struggle. The Judge remembers in the early 1990’s when an epidemic of gang violence shocked the citizens of Baytown. The local school district, police agencies, and courts united as never before to deal with this cancer. Since then, with headline-making acts of violence having subsided, too often the attitude of these former partners is “that’s someone else’s problem.” This story is one that has been repeated throughout the Houston area. Judge Polumbo is doing his part by taking the attitude that it is important to always be on the look out for a program that can help a child.

It is time that each one of us ask, “what am I doing about this ongoing problem?” Justice For All has played a leading role in increasing public safety. One of the most important things that we have done is to have ensured that violent offenders serve longer sentences. Yet, doesn’t it make sense to try and get hold of these juveniles and stop them BEFORE they become hardened criminals?

I believe that it does. Our local county commissioners, constables and JPs have numerous programs available to them that can be employed to help “at risk” youth. Why isn’t every public servant using every available program to help stop juvenile crime?

Please call these local officials and ask them what they’re doing about this issue. Remember, that juvenile you help today will not be a violent criminal you have to fear tomorrow.