By: Natalie Gochnour
It’s been a violent summer in our community and country. A disturbed man gunned down a mother, her sons and another child as they returned home from school. A drunken fight turned into a murder in Murray. A drug bust in the basement of a Cottonwood Heights home revealed garbage bags full of cash and hundreds of thousands of fake opioid pills. Road rage incidents seem to be a weekly occurrence. And now members of Congress can’t even practice baseball without being targeted with a gun.
Violence, and the illegal drug use that often fuels it, is becoming all too common. We are left wondering, “What is going on?”
My husband and I talk about this all the time. Somewhere in the mix of mental illness, graphic video games, access to firearms, violent television programs and movies, drug and alcohol addiction, the breakdown of the family and other forces, society doesn’t seem as safe anymore.
This fear doesn’t get any more real than the chilling 2:30 a.m. 911 call made by Memorez Rackley three days before she and her children were attacked on a residential Sandy street. If you haven’t done so already, get online and listen to the recording.
Rackley said, “I fear for my and my children’s safety.” She continues, “I’m worried…he’ll come hunt me and my children down.” No one should ever have to live this way. No one should ever have to die this way.
This week, I had a conversation with violent crime expert John W. Huber. He was nominated this week by President Donald Trump to serve as the U.S. Attorney for Utah. Huber, who served in the same role under President Barack Obama, is an impressive guy. He’s a vintage Utahn — Magna native and current resident, family man and University of Utah alumnus and fan. Better yet, he’s dead serious about fighting violent crime.
Huber launched the Utah Gang Initiative in March, making fighting gang crime a top priority. He’s also leading some of the largest drug busts in Utah history. He’s quoted as saying to the bad guys, “I will use the full force of federal law against you to bring swift, sure and significant penalties.”
During our conversation, he explained violent crime statistics in broad strokes. Violent crime in Utah and the nation increased from 1960 to 1991 and then declined until most recently. Now, violent crime in Utah is on the rise, increasing by an alarming 13 percent in 2015. This compares with a national increase of approximately 4 percent.
I asked Huber to share his thoughts on reducing violent crime. He immediately turned to the problems caused by drugs, particularly opioid and heroin addiction. Statistics reported by the Utah Department of Health support Huber’s concern:
- An average of six Utahns die every week from opioid overdoses
- From 2013-15, Utah ranked seventh-highest in the nation for the rate of drug overdose deaths
- 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids
Of course, there’s more than the “opidemic,” as many have called it. When asked about the root cause of our problems Huber said we have serious societal challenges — such as violent crime and drug addiction — with many variables that complicate our efforts to address them.
He said, “Legislation, policies and regulations are well-intentioned and can bring a measure of success, but our homes and families are where our communities will rise or fall.”
I find this is true with nearly every public policy challenge. Peel back the layers and eventually, you discover families are the most important ingredient of personal and societal success. We need to support successful families of all shapes, sizes and compositions.
Huber told me, “We need strong, supportive families where our children will form a solid foundation to build upon through their lives. Through small spheres of influence, such as a supportive and nurturing home, we can strengthen our nation and improve our world.”
I want to thank our newly nominated U.S. attorney for reminding me that our fight against violent crime begins at home.
Natalie Gochnour is the associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.