GT: There seems to be a new awareness in this country, a more realistic appraisal if you like, of exactly what government is and is not capable of solving with regard to crime and justice.
Meese: Yes, I think we now recognize that many of the major problems that are perplexing our country today are not amenable to governmental solutions. Many of these are problems of family disintegration. Many of them are an issue of values. Many of them are what can only be solved by individuals, by families and by some of the mediating organizations that we have traditionally had in our society to deal with patterning of the culture, such as schools, religious organizations and private voluntary associations.
This doesn't mean that government should not do what it can in order to alleviate the suffering. The number one function of government -- going back to its earliest days when people gave up the privilege of individual revenge for a societal protection -- was to protect the lives and property of citizens against crime and delinquency. .
GT: Citizens in America continue to be concerned about what appears to be increasing levels of crime in this country. Should we be dealing with crime as a crisis?
Meese: We have had, over the last 15 years, a general plateauing of the crime rate. Now that's good. What's bad is that the crime rate today is roughly 300 percent higher than it was in 1960, because what you had was a spiraling increase in crime between 1960 and 1980. And so we have a plateau, but at a much higher level than we had a few decades ago. The concern is that the crime-prone age group, which is 14 to 24, is going to dramatically increase between now and the year 2010 or 2015. So the future does look bad.
Now, going back to something that is good -- police have been more successful in the last few years in reducing crime significantly than at any time in recent years. A 36 percent reduction in New York City, for example. And other things that have been done in Houston, San Jose and a variety of places around the country, have all been very effective in reducing crime in the short run. We don't know if that is going to be effective in the long run. But it does show that police can make a difference. They can't solve all the problems. It is not a panacea. But there are some techniques that police can use that make incremental changes in the crime pattern.
GT: You are an advocate of using new technology to rapidly change the way that many different justice and public safety institutions actually go about their day-to-day activities. Why is embracing new technologies so important at this time?
Meese: I think that technology has two promises that, even if we wanted to, we cannot ignore. The first is that technology already surrounds us. It is growing and it is increasingly pervasive as we move toward the end of this decade and into the new century. And we can either do something worthwhile about it or get out of the way and let it progress.
The second promise is that the result of ubiquitous technology is massive and continuing change. We see this reflected in all kinds of institutions. One of the institutions where it is particularly noticeable is in the armed forces. The army came out a couple of years ago with a whole new concept, saying in the next century we have got to do things better and differently than we did in the last century. The interesting thing was that this was just after one of the most successful military campaigns in history -- the Persian Gulf war, where through technology we were successful against a much larger army.