It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

Crime has become a high-decibel subject of conversation in Indianapolis. From the persistent challenges posed by jail overcrowding, the recent sharp increase in homicides, and the hotly debated merger of the Indianapolis Police and  Sheriff’s Departments, crime prevention has become the topic of the day. And it sometimes seems as if everyone has figured out what we need to do if we are serious about ensuring public safety and fighting the bad guys.


We need Superman.


Superman—AKA Clark Kent—didn’t just appear after a crime had been committed. No siree. He had x-ray vision and superkeen hearing, so he knew beforehand when a crime was about to be committed, and usually he got to the scene (just) in time to foil the attempt. His response time was outstanding.


Just his presence in Metropolis made the city safe. His take-home cape struck fear in the hearts of the criminal class, and deterred many crimes. (Undoubtedly, this ability to keep the crime rate down was the reason there was always room in the Metropolis Jail for the culprits he brought to justice.) Plus, he supplied his own—admittedly idiosyncratic—uniform.


Best of all, we didn’t have to pay Superman. He protected citizens out of the goodness of his heart. He didn’t require a funded pension, or health benefits, or fancy equipment. He kept crime under control without demanding a single dollar of our tax money. A simple “thank you” (and perhaps an adoring look from

Lois Lane

) was all he needed. In the language of economics, Superman made everyone in Metropolis a free rider.


It may seem silly even to say this, but Superman is fantasy. And no matter how reluctant we may be to inhabit it, we live in the real world.


In the real world, even the most diligent police officer is only human. Most of the time, officers will not be able to avert crimes before they are committed, and will not be able to get to the scene within two or three minutes, even if our police force had an optimum number of sworn officers, which it doesn’t. A take-home car may or may not be part of a cost-effective crime prevention program, but in either case, the police are going to need vehicles, guns, ready access to computer records, a crime lab filled with expensive equipment and a certain amount of clerical and staff support in order to be effective. They are also going to need adequate space in the jail to house the bad guys they catch.


Being only human, police need salaries. Given the inherent dangers in their line of work, they especially need health benefits and retirement savings.


If we truly want to improve public safety, we will have to pay for that improvement through our taxes. The police merger was an effort to achieve economies of scale, to do more with less, but at some point, there are no more places to cut.


Superman isn’t going to save us from fiscal reality.