Mayors Can Reduce Crime by Creating High School Career Academies

It is time for mayors to take responsibility for solving the root cause of crime, not just try to improve policing of crime. Mayors must understand that policing is a Band-Aid to crime, not a solution. Of course, there are ways to improve policing. You can improve recruitment to get smarter people, you can improve training, and you can improve retraining. You can improve management selection, management training, and personnel evaluation at all levels. The problem with improving policing is that it does not get at the root cause of crime. Of course, you must address ongoing policing issues, however, the far more significant issue is for mayors to confront the primary cause of crime in America, rather than the symptoms.

Mayors must face the reality that all policing is done after-the-fact and it is not preventative. Actually, better policing may increase crime statistics by becoming more aware of crimes that have been happening all along. This is what happened in the case of rape. The rapes were always happening just more are reported today. Mayors need to understand that the basis for most crime is economics. People need money. In America today, there is a great mass of millions of unskilled people. These people have great difficulty in obtaining jobs, particularly decent paying jobs. The jobs they can get typically don’t pay well or come with benefits. And the management of these low level jobs treats employees like animals. This group of unskilled people lack soft employment skills and therefore, has difficulty in maintaining employment. These unskilled people too frequently resort to crime to obtain money. Young people leaving high school do not see any alternative and become involved in gangs, drugs, prostitution, and end up in jail. These people are desperate for money in general and some need to fund drugs or alcohol and too frequently become involved in domestic violence and rape. The issue for mayors, therefore, is to find a way to systemically address the economic root cause of crime.

Since the real cause of most crime is economic, the solution to this root cause of crime is good jobs. Since the reality is so many people are unskilled, mayors must become involved in preparing this population for employment. Certainly, pushing adults into adult education and community colleges can be a good solution for unemployed adults. However, the long-term answer is to work with young people to make them employable and get them a job to prevent them from committing crime. Prevention must be the operative concept that mayors must thoroughly understand. This sounds simple, but it is not. It is imperative for mayors to go to school boards to advocate for career academies. Mayors must work with school boards that do not work for them. This crossing over of silos takes assertive leadership. Mayors must develop a plan. For the schools, mayors must provide incentives for school boards to change their behavior. Mayors can go public and use the bully pulpit, but the better approach is money. Mayors can find city money and can go to wealthy foundations to get them to commit funds to support a 10-year plan that will incentivize school boards to initiate new high school career academies. Mayors must understand that school boards will require a long-term financial commitment in order to create new career academies.

Simultaneously to getting the school board moving, mayors must go to the business community to obtain their support for high school career academies. This means mayors must go to Chambers of Commerce and other business organizations to obtain their support. Again, this means mayors must use assertive leadership to win the support of the business community. This means mayors must explain that the high schools do not exist apart from the rest of the community. Mayors can call this new plan a city compact to support high school career academies. Mayors must ask businesses to support career academies by providing speakers, advisers, donations of supplies and equipment, and ask businesses to hire interns and hire graduates. Ideally, the business community will guarantee to employ every career academy graduate.

In addition, mayors must get out and speak to the community to obtain their support for high school career academies. Mayors must point out to the community that 70 percent of the kids in the community will not graduate from college and that these kids require job skills in order to obtain a good job and stay out of trouble. Mayors must find community organizations that support high school career technical education. There are a number of organizations in every community that would love to have their mayor work with them to help children in their community. Mayors need to explain that high school career academies and college are not mutually exclusive. Career academies send just as many students to college as do traditional high schools. However, for the supermajority of high school students, career academies can be their conduit to employment. Mayors must do everything they can to make it popular in the community to support high school career academies.

In order to create this new city compact, mayors must put their money where their mouths are. Mayors can provide free transit passes for career academy interns. They can support multiple high school police career academies. They can run a speakers bureau for career academies in conjunction with the chamber of commerce. Mayors can be the spokesperson for the career academies encouraging community and business support. This leadership is beyond the normal job of mayor, but they are the only ones who can do it.

Developing high school career academies will require mayors to have patience. Career academies take time to demonstrate their benefits. When you start a career academy in the ninth grade, it takes four years to get graduates. However, the highest high school dropout rate is in the ninth grade. This means there will be an immediate benefit by reducing the high school dropout rate. The ultimate benefit though, will occur when career academy graduates obtain jobs. This is when you really begin to see the reduction in crime. Mayoral leadership in America is typically unappreciated. If we can get mayoral support of career academies, then the benefits will be seen by the graduates, their parents, businesses, and in the reduction in crime. It just takes mayoral leadership.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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