NEW VOICES: Police Forum --Is the Death Penalty Necessary?

On October 13, law enforcement officers from the U.S. and Europe held the first public discussion about whether the death penalty helps or hurts in keeping citizens safe, assists healing for victims, and uses crime-fighting resources efficiently. The panelists addressed issues such as deterrence, closure to victims’ families, and costs in relation to alternatives. Former Detective Superintendent Bob Denmark of Lancashire Constabulary, England, who investigated over 100 homicides in the U.K., said, “Out of the 100 or more cases that I was personally involved in… in the vast majority of those, I do not think deterrence would have been an issue at all.” He continued, “If you were to use execution of killers as a deterrent, I think you would end up having to execute every killer in the hope that you might deter some potential killer in the future. I think the deterrence argument, while I do not dismiss it, is very, very weak.” Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey, the Republican appointee to the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, talked of how his time with the study commission changed his mind about the death penalty. He said, “I … know that in practice, [the death penalty] does more harm than good. So while I hang on to my theoretical views, as I’m sure many of you will, I stand before you to say that society is better off without capital punishment… Life in prison without parole in a maximum-security detention facility is a better alternative.” The forum also included Ronald Hampton, Executive Director of National Black Police Association International Leadership Institute and a 23-year veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and António Cluny, Senior Attorney General and Public Prosecutor from Portugal.

(“Fighting Crime in the U.S. and Internationally: Is the Death Penalty Necessary? A Unique Conversation Between U.S. and European Law Enforcement,” National Press Club, Washington, DC, October 13, 2010). See Costs, Deterrence and New Voices.