November 03, 2010

Former Justice official to discuss policing, crime

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The stark reduction in violent crime over the past two decades is the centerpiece of a lecture next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Jeffrey Leigh Sedgwick, a former assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, will present the Morton-Kenney Public Affairs Lecture at 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 8, in Student Center Ballroom B.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and SIUC’s Department of Political Science sponsor the lecture. The event is free and open to the public.

Sedgwick is now managing partner and co-founder of Keswick Advisors, LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on statistical and economic policy analysis.

Prior to his appointment by President George W. Bush in January 2008, Sedgwick was director of the agency’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Before those appointments Sedgwick taught political science for 30 years at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is now a professor emeritus.

Sedgwick said he’s honored to speak at the alma mater of Jerome M. “Jerry” Mileur, an SIUC alumnus who established the lecture series in 1995 in honor of two of Mileur’s political science professors -- Ward Morton and David Kenney -- who inspired him as a student.

The Morton-Kenney lecture series brings speakers to campus in the spring and fall of each year. Mileur, originally from Murphysboro, is a professor emeritus in political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, retiring in 2004 after a 37-year teaching career there. He earned his bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 1955, and a doctorate in government in 1971, both from SIUC.

Sedgwick said Mileur was chair of the search committee that brought him to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1978. The two have been close friends since, in spite of what Sedgwick calls being a “political odd couple,” sharing among their interests, a love for politics.

“In an era where scholars say Americans are sorting themselves out into like-minded enclaves and listening to nothing but the echo of their voices, Jerry and I tenaciously hang onto personal friendship and mutual professional respect,” Sedgwick said.

Institute Director David Yepsen is looking forward to Sedgwick’s lecture.

“As a former assistant U.S. Attorney General, Sedgwick helped to lead the nation’s fight against crime and should provide us with an interesting talk about law enforcement challenges in the 21st century,” Yepsen said.

In his lecture, “The Dog that Didn’t Bark …” Sedgwick will discuss how crime and calls for more law and order that date back to the 1960s have “always been an important and significant topic in American politics.” That is, however, until this current election cycle, when crime and public safety “dropped from public and campaign discourse,” Sedgwick said.

Sedgwick said there are “some obvious and superficial reasons” why crime isn’t viewed as an important issue, including the economy, meltdowns in the housing and financial sectors, and terrorism. Since Sept. 11, “Terrorism has displaced street crime as a public issue,” he said.

But a deeper reason for crime not being a public issue in this election cycle “points to … success of the public sector at a time when public confidence in government is at an all-time low,” Sedgwick said.

Crime is less of a public issue because violent crime in the United States, as measured by either the FBI Uniform Crime Report or by the National Crime Victimization Survey, is at “historic lows,” Sedgwick said. Violent victimization in the nation has fallen 67 percent since its peak in 1994, and equals the lowest rate measured in the National Crime Victimization Survey’s 36-year history, he said.

Sedgwick said distinguished criminologist Franklin E. Zimring of the University of California Berkeley School of Law characterizes the decline as “the most important sociological and socioeconomic development of the second half of the 20th Century.” The statement, Sedgwick said, is “remarkable” because it covers a time period that included three assassinations, the Civil Rights movement, the Great Society, the Vietnam War and anti-war movement, the feminist movement, and end of the Cold War.

Sedgwick said his lecture will focus on one reason behind the drop -- a transformation in law enforcement as police used community policing to physically connect with their communities on a grassroots, block-by-block level.

But there are also challenges ahead for the public safety community “that will test anew its ability to manage both violent and property crimes,” Sedgwick said.

Public safety discussions 25 years ago focused on crimes that include murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary and arson, Sedgwick said. While those crimes still exist, a new list of crimes that include drug trafficking, identity theft, internet crimes against children, human trafficking and cyber-crime are now contemporary challenges that have global and international roots, he said.

“Successful policing in the 21st Century will require a new set of skills and practices including cross-jurisdictional and multi-jurisdictional task forces, intelligence and information sharing, and adjustments in international law and legal norms,” he said.

“Whether or not the dog barks again in the future depends on our success in reinventing policing to meet the evolving challenges of the 21st Century,” Sedgwick said.

For more information on this program, contact the Institute at 618/453-4009 or visit