Beyond rhetoric on crime
October 12, 2006
KERRY HEALEY is trying to damage Deval Patrick’s reputation by digging up crime blotters from the past. But she’s light on specifics for enhancing public safety in Massachusetts now and into the future. Healey has to provide more information about what she would do to convince voters that her tough-on-crime pose isn’t just a campaign gimmick.
Her most outrageous attack is the television ad that portrays Patrick as unworthy of the governorship because he assisted in the appeal of a man who murdered a police officer in 1973. Patrick, then working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was right to urge the Florida Supreme Court to reduce Carl Ray Songer’s sentence to life imprisonment. As Florida’s high court found, the trial judge did not consider mitigating circumstances when sentencing Songer to death. In death penalty cases, procedures must be flawless to ensure that this ultimate sanction is not applied capriciously.
Songer remains in prison today and the Florida Parole Commission has repeatedly decided he will not be eligible for release until 2098. Clearly, the public is safe.
In the Benjamin LaGuer case, Healey seeks to portray Patrick as a coddler of a man convicted of rape in Leominster. But there were legitimate doubts about LaGuer’s guilt, and Patrick acted properly by contributing $5,000 to get LaGuer a DNA test. Patrick says his advocacy stopped after LaGuer flunked the test.
For someone whose academic specialty is criminal justice, Healey’s website offers sparse detail about her crime-fighting proposals. She would impose the death penalty for the murder of police officers and other criminal justice officials, but Massachusetts enjoys a low murder rate without state executions. She wants to increase the penalties for methamphetamine production and distribution, which might have limited value in reducing use of this addictive drug. And she would put photos of less serious sex offenders on the state website, which might lead to harassment of people who pose little threat. Her best idea involves better monitoring of inmates after release, but she doesn’t say how much that would cost.
Patrick, in contrast, has unveiled a comprehensive public safety strategy, the centerpiece of which is the deployment of 1,000 extra police officers in high-crime areas, at a cost of $85 million. He would also improve post-release monitoring, redouble efforts to reduce the flow of guns illegally brought into the state, and improve coordination among federal, state, and local authorities.
In an interview with WBUR yesterday, Healey said: “When people go downtown in a city, what they want to feel is safe.” Recriminations about Songer or LaGuer won’t contribute to that sense of security. More police and fewer guns will.