State auditor: the only way to achieve justice is to enforce the law

January 10, 2022

If you turn on the TV today, you hear it frequently: there is a big push to ‘defund’ the police. A group of misguided people has actually done it, too. According to The Guardian, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle reduced police budgets this past year.

The results were catastrophic for the residents of those cities. Crime has skyrocketed. The lesson should be clear: if you stop enforcing the law, crime gets worse. The poorest people are often hurt the worst.

This lesson became all too real last month at the Waukesha Christmas parade in Wisconsin. A man named Darrell Brooks plowed his car into the parade and killed multiple people, which included children. Brooks should never have been on the street that day. He’d been let go on bond for multiple previous crimes. And he had a separate sex crime warrant out for his arrest at the time he killed the parade-goers.

A lack of police to serve the warrant and a lack of strict enforcement by judges and prosecutors cost the lives of those Waukesha residents. We need harsher sentencing, faster prosecution, and more police, not less, to prevent things like this from happening.

We see similar problems in Mississippi, too. Jackson has had a record number of homicides this year. The average victim, according to the Clarion Ledger, is a Black resident between the ages of 20 and 35.

And the problem? Jackson’s police chief said, ‘We have repeat offenders terrorizing the city of Jackson.’

Faster adjudication of crimes and locking people up—not letting them out—would be a great start to protecting the innocent victims of these crimes in our capital city.

I’ve seen lax enforcement of criminal laws in my own job, as well.

In multiple cases, we will find a public official stealing taxpayer money, and the official will plead guilty, only to have the judge wipe the perpetrator’s record clean or just make them pay the money back without any real consequences.

State auditors have been dealing with this for a long time. During then-State Auditor Phil Bryant’s first full term in office, he worked with the legislature to pass a law that required prison time if someone embezzled more than $10,000 of public money. It was a victory for taxpayers.

But when I came into office, I noticed that plenty of judges had found a loophole. Instead of making defendants plead guilty, judges would send defendants to pre-trial diversion or non-adjudication. Basically, they would perform a maneuver that avoided the guilty plea altogether.

Just as in the case of repeat offenders Darrell Brooks and the Jackson murderers, I’ve found some of those same people who take advantage of the loophole then go and embezzle from taxpayers again.

So I decided to plug the loophole. I worked with the legislature to pass two laws that banned pre-trial diversion and non-adjudication for people who embezzle more than $10,000.

Problem solved? Not so fast. Judges now have created another loophole. Instead of finding the perpetrators guilty of embezzlement, they’ll find them guilty of a different crime, like making a false statement on government documents. That’s not covered by the Bryant statute or the statutes my office wrote. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Every time we solve a problem, another one appears.

State auditors could continue trying to close these loopholes every single year, but the problem of lax enforcement will never be solved until we have a groundswell of support—from everyday taxpayers to prosecutors and judges—for the idea that the penalties for breaking criminal laws need to be stiff. This is the only way to achieve justice for the people who are hurt and to truly prevent the crimes from happening again involving the same people.

Each of these three stories—the Waukesha parade, the homicides in Jackson, the embezzlement we’ve found—have the same moral: the defund the police and ‘let people out of jail’ movement so popular among some politicians is costing lives and money. We need to stop being soft on crime, for the sake of the victims.

Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor to serve Mississippi.