White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently mocked the idea that soft-on-crime policies have negative consequences, saying, “What does that even mean?” In short, soft-on-crime means a return to lawlessness, à la the Wild West, and all the costs that come with it.
True to form, California has been leading the charge in ignoring or excusing crime, while doling out light or unenforceable penalties, emboldening criminals in that state. But the ramifications are rippling out beyond California’s borders so that the rest of the nation is suffering the consequences.
Among those repercussions are the return of train robberies outside of Los Angeles. The idea of train robberies out west evokes a backdrop of wooden saloon façades with tumbleweeds rolling by. That now has been replaced by chain link fences with holes cut in them, and 4,000 horsepower diesel-electric locomotives rolling along instead of tumbleweeds. But lawlessness is back.
All around the tracks in a Union Pacific Railroad yard can be found the detritus of California’s criminal policy mistakes. Train containers are broken open and torn packaging is scattered and piled so densely that it is difficult to see the ballast (crushed, tamped rock) beneath the rails. Just days after this story made national news, a train derailed as it traversed the area, probably because the debris fouled the switch rails over which the train had been traveling.
The perennial reality is that crime flourishes when the law is absent. That was true in the days of western expansion, and it is still true today in a time of defunding police departments. Equally timeless is the cost imposed on society by that same lawlessness. The cost of the stolen goods, the insurance claims, and the additional logistical expenses of the railroad are all passed on to consumers.
With an average of 90 containers being breached per day, the cost of these ubiquitous train robberies is funneling down to law-abiding consumers who actually pay for the things they want. That means higher prices on top of inflation.
Jen Psaki’s dismissive attitude to a serious issue is reminiscent of President Joe Biden’s previous posture on inflation. But simply denying the problem or feigning ignorance does not reduce the real costs to Americans.
Denial seems emblematic of the White House’s problem-solving skills. When a record number of cargo ships was backlogged at Californian ports, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg supposedly fixed the bottleneck. But that was an illusion—the secretary simply mandated that the ships wait on the other side of the horizon so that they could not be seen from shore. Out of sight, out of mind.
But Americans can see that the supply chain is breaking every time they find bare store shelves. California’s soft-on-crime policies are making things worse, causing problems for everyone else in the country.
When a business loses products in a train robbery, that cost must be recouped from legitimate consumers who must pay higher prices. Even if the losses are covered by insurance, those numerous claims will lead to higher insurance premiums. Yet again, this leads to higher prices for paying customers.
The tree of California’s soft-on-crime agenda is bearing its rotten fruit. Purposely ignoring retail theft, decriminalizing numerous offenses, and eliminating cash bail for almost all criminals has recreated a Wild West of smash-and-grab looting sprees and train robberies.
The human costs of these feckless criminal justice policies are quite real, resulting in additional cases of assault, battery, and even death. Citizens increasingly live in terror as criminals take advantage of the lawlessness.
The financial costs are also very real, though perhaps not as apparent. Still, every consumer must wonder, as he or she stares at a bare store shelf: was my item stolen off a train in California? When a replacement finally arrives, will it cost more than before?
Few would have thought that in 2022 there would be train robberies and roving bandits in the American West. It is ironic that one of the key elements to taming the Wild West—the railroads—are now prey to the very lawlessness they once helped extinguish.