Public Safety Indicator
The Public Safety Indicator maps the rapid evolution in the debate about this aspect of our quality of life. In October 2001, after 9/11, the US instituted a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security (DHS), now a sprawling conglomerate of agencies with a $40 billion annual budget. This has elevated the public’s awareness about all aspects of public safety and altered the nature of law enforcement along with new laws on security promulgated by the Justice Department. Information-age crimes, from money-laundering and Internet fraud to terrorists and global mafia, now affect domestic public safety. Many critics see the efforts to alert the American people continually about non-specific threats – daily amplified in mass media – are leading to misplaced focus on domestic surveillance, greater screening of airline passengers and carry-on bags. Such tragedies as the much-covered Boston bombing, with 5 fatalities and over 200 injured are leading to a deeper debate, such as why the tragedies of the Sandy Hook School’s 26 fatalities, the 12 fatalities and 50 injured in the movie house in Aurora, CO, and the Columbine fatalities are not also classified as “terrorist acts” as they clearly were, and put under jurisdiction of the DHS.
Our Indicator takes a probabilistic approach, i.e., between chances of becoming a victim of crime or terrorism versus many statistically greater threats in daily life – often self-imposed, such as cigarette smoking and unsafe driving habits. While homeland security could be greatly improved, many other safety risks besides terrorism need addressing. As our society became more complex, the views that safety was a personal affair and risk-taking a private choice have evolved. The Department of Homeland Security now focuses more effort on domestic terrorists, hate groups, private “militias” and widely uses the in-depth research of NGOs, including the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While individuals are still largely responsible for their behavior, today we live in an interdependent world. Many risks of daily life (e.g., exposure to toxic wastes, gun violence which claimed over 1,000 lives since the Sandy Hook School fatalities, mostly in cities), as well as car and highway design, and risks in foods and other products which are involuntary and often unavoidable. Thus our indicator also captures these new concerns in public safety and links today’s risks to health, education, and cultural factors. Crime statistics and the tragedies of gun violence are seen in this larger setting. This systemic view provides insights for individual risk-reduction and may help us rethink our views on improving public safety.
Some of our expert colleagues have suggested that we gather data on the increase of white-collar crime (for example the daily revelations of corporate criminality), as well as money-laundering, international trafficking in drugs, arms and even human beings since the US is involved in all these criminal or terrorist activities. The investigative activities of the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, state attorneys general and prosecutors, often in cooperation with Interpol and other UN agencies are bringing greater, more effective resources to bear on all these concerns. We welcome all such constructive suggestions from professionals in the indicators field.