Lawrence Sherman: The concept of the power of few is absolutely critical to criminal justice policy. It means that a very small proportion of the units in any population is accounting for a very high proportion of whatever problem or opportunity you’re trying to deal with. It’s the frequent flyers who drive the airline industry. It’s the repeat offenders who commit the majority of the offenses. It’s the hot spots of crime where the majority of the crimes occur, and once we identify these high-risk targets, we can completely transform the entire enterprise of crime prevention just as businesses have done very successfully. But we haven’t really made the most of power few yet, so that’s why we have to keep talking about it even though people say, “Yeah, I understand that.” Yeah, but why don’t we do something about it? That’s the question. Push-button criminology identifies the buttons that a governor can push, or even a prosecutor, maybe even the President of the United States, in the same way that push-button economics tries to deal with depressions and recessions. Paul Krugman says that the discipline of economics was all very interesting, but it didn’t have any buttons to push when the Great Depression hit. And what John Maynard Keynes did was to transform a very interesting field into a very useful field by identifying the buttons that governments could push to try to get the economy restarted. And so he talked about deficit financing, and interest rates and the supply of money as all being critical to creating more consumer demand, which would then drive up the employment rate. So his model of the buttons to push when economies get into trouble got discredited when they pushed too many buttons in that direction and caused inflation in the ’70s, and Keynes fell out of fashion until the Lehman Brothers bust of 2008. And now Keynes is a very popular fellow in Washington because it seems that all the buttons that we could push in the wake of that were the ones that everybody agreed to push with the Recovery Act and the stimulus package and so on. It’s all Keynes. It’s all inconceivable before Keynes because nobody ever thought that it was legal or wise for governments to do those kinds of things. We’ve got a sentencing policy in this country right now that has the highest incarceration rates in history. We still have too much violent crime. Maybe we don’t have enough police. The question of how you push these buttons and who can push them has never really been raised before. And what I think criminology can do for the states, and the cities and the nation is to talk much more about the relative investment between the different parts of the criminal justice portfolio and to ask systematic questions about whether we’re putting too many people in prison and we don’t have enough police on the streets, and whether we need to reconfigure the way we do our sentencing and our prosecution and even the arrest policies of the police in a way that emphasizes much more about prevention through visibility, and police patrol and problem solving, and much less about incapacitation. except to the extent that we would incapacitate the right kind of people, the power few who are posing the greatest harm that will drive the nation’s fear of crime and the suffering from crime in a way that we’re not even tabulating right now with the crime rate. Part of the idea of push-button criminology is to put together all of the decisions that affect criminal justice at the local, state and national level. And because different decision-makers have different parts of the investment portfolio in criminal justice, they don’t think about it as a total portfolio. The only people who should think about it are the taxpayers, who have to pay local, state and federal taxes. And it’s in our interests to get the overall portfolio in the right balance between prison and policing. Policing is primarily a local cost. In recent years it’s had some federal input, but it’s a tiny fraction of all of the police costs. Governors don’t think about police costs because they have to run a state where the police are all local but they’ve got to pay for the prison system. So nobody is being given an accountable blame for getting the portfolio investment wrong, and I think that’s the unique role of federal leadership in a place like NIJ to start talking about that and to suggest that the governors ought to get a handle on this as something that they can do if only to get their own prison populations down, not because it will save money, which is a really disastrous political approach, but because it will reduce crime. If the state can figure out how to cut the prison population, save that money and invest it in local policing, I think you’ve got much greater chances of success than simply releasing thousands of inmates before the end of their term willy-nilly.