About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

February 6, 2016

Swamie Pete says...

Swamie Pete, the gypsy scryer, looks into his crystal ball.

With eerie music in the background and an echoey voice, Swamie Pete makes a bold prediction:
In the future, in fact tomorrow at exactly 19:00 hours eastern time, crime will not happen. The crystal ball says that for maybe three hours, omehow people will manage to have fewer problems. The root causes will remain constant, and yet fewer people will dial 911. Yes, I can see it now... for a few hours Sunday night, triggers on guns will be harder to pull and knives will be so dull they will not cut human skin....

But... at around 10:30pm everything will be back to normal.
I never liked that Swamie Pete and his voodoo nonsense, even if back in October he was right about the homicide increase of 2015. How did he know that? Witchcraft, I say!

But by the way, if we accept that blizzards reduce homicide. And the Super Bowl reduces homicide. Why is it so controversial that aggressive police presence focusing on maintaining order in high-crime communities can reduce homicide? I don't know. I'll ask Swamie Pete if I ever see him again.

Defining the Ferguson Effect

Denying the Ferguson Effect and any link between policing and crime has become almost a cottage industry in some circles. It's sort of the liberal equivalent of conservatives denying climate change and, er, on the small chance it is changing, any link between global warming and human activity. Sure, the world may be warmer. But God works in mysterious ways. Same with crime, if you listen to many of the Left.

Here's a new study :
There is no evidence to support a systematic Ferguson Effect on overall, violent, and property crime trends in large U.S. cities.
OK. But the author do admit:
The disaggregated analyses revealed that robbery rates, declining before Ferguson, increased in the months after Ferguson. Also, there was much greater variation in crime trends in the post-Ferguson era, and select cities did experience increases in homicide.
OK.... So doesn't that mean there is a Ferguson Effect? Apparently not:
Overall, any Ferguson Effect is constrained largely to cities with historically high levels of violence, a large composition of black residents, and socioeconomic disadvantages.
"Constrained to"? Isn't "constrained to" synonymous with "present in"? Aren't cities with "historically high levels of violence, a large composition of black residents, and socioeconomic disadvantage" exactly where you'd expect to find a Ferguson Effect!? I mean, I wouldn't expect to find a Ferguson Effect in Winnetka, for crying out loud! (Winnetka, Illinois: median income $211,000; 0.3 percent black.)

Liberals, myself not included, have long tried to discount the efficacy of policing vis-à-vis crime prevention. And now academics seem to want to deny any "Ferguson Effect" because... I don't know. Just guessing, but maybe it goes against a Progressive narrative that police are racist enforcers of bourgeois heteronormative values?

There's no reason the Ferguson Effect needs to be universal or even linked specifically to one event in August, 2014. The question shouldn't be if all cities haven't seen an increase in all crime but rather why why some cities -- most cities, in fact -- have.

What if, hypothetically to be sure, a laser-like focus on police-violence reduced police-involved killings but simultaneously allowed hundreds and even thousands of more murders to happen? If that were true, then what?

What if "hands up don't shoot" were built on a false narrative? What then? What if, just for the sake of debate, we assumed that most police-involved killings were actually justified (since most are) and even life saving? What if the goal of eliminating police-involved killings was, in part, counterproductive? Then what?

Different cities have had different "Ferguson Moments." It wasn't like something magically changed everywhere when Michael Brown was (justifiable) killed. All policing is local.

In New York City the Ferguson moment may have been protests after the death of Eric Garner. Cops were verbally attacked, physically attacked, and two were killed and another bludgeoned with a hatchet. If you think none of that matters... well then you haven't talked to any New York City cop.

In Baltimore, just thinking out loud here, perhaps it was the protests and riots after the death of Freddie Gray. And the misguided criminal prosecution of innocent cops. In Cleveland, not that I know much about Cleveland, I would assume policing changed related to the killing of Tamir Rice. In Nashville? Beats me. But maybe it was giving hot chocolate and coffee to protesters. I applauded that move. Liberals like me love that shit. But I bet it pissed off a lot of the rank and file.

So no, it's not Ferguson per se. Call it whatever you effing want. (I've never been a fan of the actual term "Ferguson Effect.) I'm talking about the real-world effect of an anti-police narrative, the fear cops have of getting in trouble for doing their job, and perhaps the first-hand experience of policing anti-police protests.

Meanwhile, in Chicago:
Cops say they have avoided making many of the stops they would have routinely done last year. They fear getting in trouble for stops later deemed to be illegal and say the new cards take too much time to complete.

Their reluctance to make stops was borne out by a police statistic released Sunday: Officers completed 79 percent fewer contact cards in January 2016 than over the same period last year.

January 2016 was the deadliest first month of the year since 2001
Just coincidence, of course. There's no way to prove any of this. But I sure haven't heard any good alternative explanation. (At some point, I am partial to Occam's Razor.)
The ACLU rejects any correlation between declining street stops and rising violence.... Other cities have scaled back their street stops without an explosion of shootings. The reduction of "invasive" street stops is actually a good thing.
Really? Well, yes, the NYPD scaled back its stops and crime did not increase. (Not only did crime not increase, between 2011 and 2013 homicides in New York City plummeted 35 percent!)But that doesn't mean that all police stops are bad and to be prevented.
The ACLU released a report in March that found blacks accounted for 72 percent of [Chicago] stops between May and August of 2014, but just 32 percent of the city's population.
Again?! Once again we have a denominator problem. Eighty percent of Chicago homicide victims are black. And presumably murderers, too, since most homicides are intra-racial. Should only 32 percent of those arrested for homicide be black? I don't think so. Are only 32 percent of public drug dealers black? No. So why would one expect only 32 percent of those stopped by police to be black?

Look, cops aren't always right. And cops will always complain. But if homicide is going up and cops are saying, "Uh, here's the problem: I can't do my job. And this is why...." Perhaps we should listen. What worries me is the goal to eliminate virtually all discretionary police activity couched int he language of social and racial justice. But if you want police to do less, there's no better way than mandating a two-page form for every stop.

We will see what happens. But crime already is up in many cities. And that -- not reducing the number of police stops -- should be our first concern.

[see also this]

February 3, 2016

The 1 percent

Out of 12,000 Chicago Cops, 124 are responsible for a third of misconduct lawsuits settled by the city since 2009, costing $34 million. The Tribune (behind a paywall unless you good for the article) reports that 82 percent of the department's officers were not named in any settlements. (Keep in mind that a good chunk of that 82 percent haven't interacted on-duty with a member of the public since Richard J. Daley. The proper denominator here would be the number of cops on the street.):
Of the more than 1,100 cases the city settled since 2009, just 5 percent were for more than $1 million.... [The rest still] cost the city millions of dollars.... A vast majority, 85 percent, were settled for $100,000 or less, which meant the deals did not require City Council approval. And Chicago officers accused of misconduct are rarely disciplined.
Of course there are many unfounded complaints. Just as there are many BS lawsuits filed for a quick monetary settlement. I know that. But just like a criminal arrest 20 times -- God only knows how many crimes he committed without getting caught -- a cop with 57 complaints? God only knows how much shit you really did. Not every mope complains.
While many officers as well as police union officials attribute claims of misconduct to the rough and tumble of working in crime-ridden neighborhoods, complaints against Campbell, Sautkus and their colleagues have often occurred while the group patrolled relatively low-crime areas, focused on quality-of-life issues.
The three officers have earned hundreds of awards and commendations from the department for their work. They've also racked up 16 lawsuit settlements since 2009 among them and two other officers who also live in the neighborhood... The city paid $1.5 million to settle those cases.
How the hell does one officer get sued (with payout) seven times in seven years and average about 6 complaints a year? Good God. Hundreds of awards. As long as he kept finding the drugs, he gets awards. Doesn't anybody look for red flags?

I can't help but think of my friend and squadmate who retired as a noble patrol officer after 33(!) years on the mean streets of Baltimore. He once confided in me, half gleefully and half sheepishly, that he hadn't received a single serious complaint in his entire career. Now mind you, in his 30th year, he wasn't exactly setting the curve in number of arrests. But he did his job and did it well. His secret? He was a good cop. He didn't take shit, but he also treated everybody with respect, even those who didn't deserve it.

Throwing stones from glass houses

There's something bordering on the absurd when newspapers write stories about police racism based on claims like, "90 percent of those arrested are African-American while African Americans make up only 65 percent of the population." The assertion, sometimes explicit and sometimes implied, is that racist cops are hunting black men. Or papers that assume that any arrest not prosecuted is a bad arrests. [That link is particularly great because it features a video from 3 days after the riot explaining, in a progressive wet dream, how "Gangs work together to restore peace in Baltimore." Aw, how sweet. How did that work out?]

The absurdity comes from the lack of consideration for the denominator. If you want to talk about race and arrest or use of force or anything, you need a relevant denominator. What percent of those with whom cops interact are black? What percent of those who commit violent crimes are black? Answering any one of these won't answer the question, but it does help fill out the picture.

I mean, what if I told you that 40 percent of the people arrested for murder were black in a country that is 13 percent black. Knowing nothing else, it's a meaningless statement. Does that imply cops are disproportionately arresting black men for murder? Well, actually... yes. But whether that disproportion is a problem is something else. The arrest and incarceration rates need to reflect the crime rate more than the population demographics, I would think. Without looking at the racial disparity in homicide, the racial disparity in the arrest rate for homicide (or incarceration rate or those killed by police) means almost nothing.

I honestly don't know if reporters make these errors out of statistical ignorance or ideological conviction. But either way, college educated journalists should know better. In a similar manner, let me call out some of the same papers that make these claims. The American Society of News Editors calculates minority representation at newspapers. The Washington Post is 31 percent "minority" (and 14 percent black) in a city that is 60 percent minority! (And 51 percent black.) The New York Times is 19 percent "minority" (and 8 percent black) in a city that is 65 percent minority! (And 25 percent black.)

[I put minority in "quotes" because minority percentage is often used as a cover for just how few actual blacks are involved. As if, given America's legacy of slavery and racism, hiring a "person of color" from China is the same as hiring a born in Baltimore black. (Fun fact: did you know that Italian-Americans, like blacks and women, are an officially recognized minority group at my school when it comes to hiring and promotion?)]

So should the workforce at a newspaper represent the demographics or the city? I don't know. Maybe. Or should it reflect the demographics of the region? Or maybe the demographics of America (36 percent minority). Or maybe just the demographics of those who graduate from journalism school? I don't know. Sure, it's a good debate to have. Just like the debate about minority representation in police departments is good to have. But it seems odd for a newspaper that is 46 "percent points more white than the residents" to fault police departments that better represent their community.

February 2, 2016

How much I make (III)

I received a courtesy call from John Jay's legal department about a FOIL (freedom of information law) request made for my records. One person, whom I won't name but I presume reads this, wanted A) my letter of appointment and B) to know how much I make. You'll have to trust me that I did get my job, but my salary is public record! Here, as they say, let me google that for you.

Of course it always is a bit creepy to know somebody cares enough about you to file a FOIL request. But dude, why waste your time? Just ask.

I've always been open about how much I make. People, workers in particular, should talk more about how much or little they make. Knowledge is power. Only your boss and rich people want everything hush-hush.

Here, this is better than what you got from John Jay. It's my W-2:

My base salary is $88,418 (I had to look that up). My pay check? My monthly take-home pay? About $4,000. My income was lower last year because I was on sabbatical for the academic year 2014-2015, which meant I was earning 80 percent.

Add to that a couple thousand dollars from Princeton Press royalties for Cop in the Hood, a few hundred for Greek Americans, $1,200 for my published op-eds, and $2,300 income from airbnb rentals. There were a couple "modest honoraria" in there as well, probably less than $1,000 total. With no kids, no car, an affordable mortgage, and a working wife, we are, as they say, comfortable.

If there's anything else I can help you with, just let me know.

January 28, 2016

The Baltimore 6 Effect

To paraphrase Tip O'Neill, "All policing is local." But that doesn't mean that something in one town can't have an effect on policing nationwide. And a trend can be large and worrisome -- and national -- without being universal. That's why they call it a trend.

I don't know what's going on everywhere (or even most-where), but I can tell you a bit about Baltimore. And I suspect it holds true in many cities.

I looked calls for service, arrest numbers, and crimes. Most dramatic is the drop of arrests in Western District. I looked at arrests with a post number assigned to it. The majority of arrests by patrol officers are discretionary. These are the ones I presume were not being made. Arrests listed without a post (a geographic beat) would be a specialized unit that didn't know or care about the post, a court arrest, or a probation violation. Arrests with no post listed also declined, but not nearly as much.

Arrests in the Western District, from May to December, were down a whopping 47 percent comparing 2014 and 2015 (39 percent overall in the city).

Look, the link between police and crime prevention will always be shrouded in some mystery. Causation in the real world can never be "proved" with certainty. But at some point, if you get enough correlation and no alternative causation, correlation might actually be indicative of causation! [queue stats-class thunder bolts.]

Now there are good and not so good reasons for this drop in arrests. But leaving that why: it happened. Police were less involved, by choice and necessity, and violence skyrocketed. Just because correlation does prove causing, correlation certainly doesn't mean causation is impossible or even unlikely. I mean, what else changed in the Western except police and crime?

Arrests and crime vary a lot during the year. Winter is slow. Late spring and late summer hot. But the drop in Baltimore arrests began before the riots of April 2015. They started going down in July and August of 2014, after the deaths of Eric Garner (Staten Island) and Michael Brown (Ferguson). That's when attention turned to police. That's when officers started feeling they were being targeted, not for malicious actions but for trying to do good. And there's a huge drop is arrests in December of 2014 (when protests really got going). Just 2,126 citywide (probably the lowest monthly figure in 50 years). December 2014 was 28 percent off 2013.

And then May 2015, when normally you'd see more arrests as the weather warms and kids get out of school, arrests were down 50 percent from the previous year. (I looked at arrests that have a post number listed in Open Baltimore data. I can't be 100 percent certain, but I think these are more likely to be on-view arrests from patrol officers and in response to calls for service. Arrests without post number are more likely to be specialized units and administrative arrests.)

Cops stopped making discretionary arrests and being proactive in clearing corners and frisking subjects. Look, it's no surprise where shootings happens and who gets shot. There is a criminal class in Baltimore. You can police aggressively or wait for somebody to call police. Even then, when responding, you can get out of your car or not risk "harassing" the "innocent" youth.

Arrests, especially non-domestic misdemeanor arrests, are a good proxy for discretionary officer interaction with the public. Arrests can also tip the crime stats up because many crimes aren't recorded unless an arrest is made (which is why, as an indicator of crime overall, I trust shootings and homicides more than anything else). In 2015, arrests in the Western District went down from 215 April to 114 in June (and an outlyingly low 79 in May, when cops were busy with post-riot curfew). The previous year, 2014, saw 259, 292, and 265 arrests in April, May, and June, respectively. To put this in perceptive, my squad (one of three working midnight and one of nine total in the Eastern District) used to make 60 arrests a month on average.

Meanwhile, after the riots, with police demoralized and understaffed and politicians wasting resources prosecuting innocent cops, criminals in the Western were shooting or killing another black man every other day. These deaths are real. They are evidence. And they matter.

Ferguson and Death in Baltimore's Western District

Usually I focus on the Eastern District, because that is where I policed. But I was looking at stats for the Western District, where Freddie Gray died. Homicides in the Western went from a long-time record low (but still shamefully high) 21 in 2014 to a record high 66 in 2015. Holy mackerel, that's a huge increase! (The Eastern went up from 34 to 55. Baltimore as a whole from 211 to 355 homicides.)

People, crime is up.

If memory serves me correct, the entire Western District is like 2.7 square miles and has a population of 40-some thousand. (Without going to block-level census data, population for Baltimore's police districts is not easy to determine. And even with the census, could any area be as hard to count accurately?)

66 homicides is about 25 murders per square mile. In one year. Extrapolated over a lifetime, you're more likely to be murdered in Baltimore's Eastern or Western District than die in the D-Day Assault on Normandy.

I just spent a day in Malta, perched over the Grand Harbour, looking at Open Baltimore data. This is my view:

(Which goes along great with this book.)

Here's what bothers me about all these killings: the concerted effort to shift focus elsewhere, specifically to police. And one result of this police-are-the-problem narrative is more dead people. I'm all for fixing society and even fixing police. In the meantime, can we let police do their job? In the Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith writes:
The fight to end police violence is not separate from that to end intra-racial violence, because they are direct results of the same system, and must be addressed through the same measures.
Actually, no. They're not the result of the same system. Police violence does, some of the time, represent America's history of racial oppression. But other times it represents nothing more than a good cop having a bad day or a bad cop simply being bad.

Intra-racial violence may be a legacy of slavery (though I find it interesting that the Left doesn't like subscribing to this belief) or it may be because of more recent discrimination. It also may be because people choose a culture and lifestyle that thinks it's OK to pick up a gun and shoot somebody. It may -- get this -- be all of the above.

But at some point, from a police perspective, I don't care what caused it; I care what causes it. A homicide happens when somebody has a beef, gets a gun, loads it, finds the sucka, goes up to him, pulls out the gun, pulls the trigger, and aims well enough to hit the person. And then the person has to die.There are a lot of steps. So much can go wrong! If any one of those steps breaks down, the person lives! A homicide postponed is often a homicide prevented. This is where police can be effective.

Except for the death of Freddie Gray, things had been looking up in Baltimore. People were moving into the city for the first time in decades. Homicides were near a multi-decade low. Police were arresting a small fraction of what they had been just a few years earlier. And then Freddie Gray done dies and some knuckleheads decide police are the biggest problem facing Baltimore City. Next there were protests, and then riots, and then six cops were criminally charged, at least most of them, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Nothing else changed in Baltimore. Not in the macro sense. The "system" didn't change when some Baltimoreans decided to riot.

Smith links to some post, Stop Pretending the “Ferguson Effect” is Real:
In fact, 2015 has been one of the safest years in the past two decades. … As such, fears of a national “crime spike” are not based in reality.

2015 saw a huge increase in murder, perhaps the largest increase in the homicide rate in US history. Just because we don't yet know the accurate numbers doesn't mean those bodies aren't dead. Those dead bodies are a reality some people prefer not to see.

The "system" didn't get more racist and unjust on or after April 27th. There is "evidence" -- no matter how much it is denied -- that A) violence is up, B) policing matters, and C) Ferguson, broadly defined, changed things.

But Smith says:
This position rests on a few different fallacies: first, that police are being less aggressive out of fear of being the next cop to have their tactics publicly scrutinized, and secondly, that aggressive policing leads to a reduction in violent crime. There is no evidence to support this.
Except it is true. I've been noticing this "there is no evidence to support this" a lot recently. And it's always from those who deny the efficacy of police. It's a smug assertion from people ideologically biased or simply too lazy to open their eyes to reality. Usually it's from those who simply wish they could wish the existing evidence away, be it the effective Broken Windows policing in 1990s or the dramatic rise in violence last year.

Smith turns to incidents of cops being violent to prove his point. But dammit, a schoolgirl brought to the ground in a classroom really does not prove anything about policing a drug corning in Baltimore. If you want to say the whole damn system is guilty, great; y ou might even be right. You still haven't told a single police officer how to confront a violent criminal. And God only knows you've never done it yourself.

So after Freddie Gray's death and the riots of April 27, calls for service in the Western went down some 20 percent, compared to the previous year (this is a bit of an educated guess as Open Baltimore data goes back only to Jan 2015). Maybe people bought the narrative that police were no good. Maybe people thought police were too busy with real problem to bother with their petty bullshit. For whatever reason, calls for service went down and crime went up. (Even at a reduced load, there were still 280 calls dispatched a day, just in the Western District. As one friend put it, "If they hate us so much, why do they keep calling for us to be with them?")

Those racist cops, most of them black and other minorities, were worried about their safety and worried about being arrested for making on honest mistake or no mistake at all. Moreso, police were disgusted at a political system that made them the scapegoat and a liberal narrative that made police out to be the bad guys while simultaneously making a hero out of some two-bit junkie criminal who never held a real job and cycled in and out of the criminal justice system. Of everybody who's died in Baltimore. Hell even if you think Freddie Gray was killed, of everybody who's been killed in Baltimor -- hell, of everybody who's been killed by police in Baltimore, you go make make a hero out of this guy?! It just don't make sense. Of course that affected how police do their job.

January 12, 2016

"Pander to audience expectations"

There's a nice article about Alice Goffman in the Times magazine. Overall it's a great piece about Alice Goffman, who has written one of the best sociology books ever, and the state of sociology in general. One line I find funny is the assertion that she "panders to audience expectations" by this description of a house: "[it] smelled of piss and vomit and stale cigarettes, and cockroaches roamed freely across the countertops and soiled living-room furniture."

In Cop in the Hood, here's my description:
Police are called into people’s homes because the residents have, at some level, lost control: intensely overcrowded apartments next to abandoned housing and empty lots, families without heat or electricity, rooms lacking furniture filled with filth and dirty clothes, roaches and mice running rampant, jars and buckets of urine stacked in corners, and multiple children sleeping on bare and dirty mattresses. Simply entering a “normal” home, well furnished and clean, perhaps to take a stolen car report, is so rare that it would be mentioned to fellow officers.
The criticism against Goffman is just petty semantic BS and academic jealousy.

Part of the problem is that if even a well intentioned person goes so far as to describe such conditions, much less befriend the people who live there, as Goffman did, they're accused of pandering or "orientalism." And what kind of country do we live in where a white girl can't choose to live anywhere and befriend anybody she damn well pleases. This isn't apartheid. It's not taboo.

And if we don't accurately describe reality, how will people ever know? And though I'm probably wrong, I'd like to think that if people really did know about this reality, they might care. Instead, when we close our eyes to such conditions and then, when confronted with it, blame teachers or cops. Cops, for their part, blame liberals and Hillary Clinton.

January 11, 2016

You cheap lazy bastards!

So I go to my school office today (the first time since before X-mas), and what's there for me? A nice letter from somebody thanking for my blog. That's very sweet. You're very welcome.

But you know what made it even better? No, you don't, because it wasn't from you, you cheap lazy bastard! (Except for you who sent it to me, of course.)

I'll tell you what's better than a nice thank-you letter: the $20 bill that fluttered like manna from the note.

Hell, yeah!

So what do I do? I followed the instructions and had a few drinks.

I may not be posting till February. But please do keep the cash coming.

January 9, 2016

We Got Another Kingpin! (16)

It's been awhile since we've gotten a Kingpin. Almost a year. El Chapo. We've gotten this guy before. Like non-sequel movies, are we running out of Kingpins?

Sergeant in Eric Garner death charged departmentally

I don't know if this is good or bad, but why does it take years? That's what's so f*cked up about police discipline. And these charges were placed only, 18 months later, to beat the statute of limitations. The story in the Times.

Ambush in Philly

Officer Jesse Hartnett is lucky to be alive. And bad-ass for returning fire and hitting the wanna-be killer. From ABC:
"I just have to tell you, when you look at the video - we have video that captured all of this - it's one of the scariest things I've ever seen," said Ross. "This guy tried to execute the police officer. It's amazing he's alive."

The moments immediately following the shooting were also captured in a dramatic recording of police radio calls obtained by Action News overnight.

"I'm shot! I'm bleeding heavily!" Hartnett was heard saying.
The bad guy said he was doing it in the name of Islam. His mother said:
He had been hearing voices recently and that family asked him to get help. She also said her son felt targeted by police and described him as a devout Muslim.
"Last March, Archer pleaded guilty to firearms and assault charges stemming from a 2012 case, but was released and placed on probation, court records show. His criminal record includes domestic violence and a traffic and forgery case.

January 7, 2016

2015 homicide increase

I'd like to double down on the 2015 homicide increase. I've made a habit of offering a $100 bet to anybody says "we don't know if homicides are up." What's odd is that nobody has taken my bet. Some insist that crime can't really be up till the data is formally compiled and tell us it is. That's an odd form of statistical oblivion. Others say that though homicide may be up, crime isn't. That's hard to believe. Still others think it's not a big deal, any one-year increase. I beg to differ.

I cannot be sure of the motives of the crime-increase deniers, but I suspect it gets to the ideology of "root causes" and the anti-police narrative built with great sweat, care, and tears over the past two years (a narrative built partly on lies). (Yesterday, Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell rather boldly wrote: "Until young activists put the same level of energy into fighting street violence as they put into fighting police violence, little will change."

The reason I'm doubling down is that a reporter showed me some data he compiled. I'm not going to get into the details and steal his thunder. Yeah murders are up in cities. But we knew that. We just don't know how much and what it means. Can we assume a nationwide trend based on just the biggest cities. Well, statistically and historically, yes, we can. (Looking at homicides in these cities versus the rest of the nation over many years, I get an r of .935 with sig < .001.)

As to absolute numbers, that's still anybody's guess. In 2014 there were 13,472 murders. In 2015 I think we'll see around 15,000 homicides. And that's if we're lucky.

How many strikes do you get?

I'm not for "three strikes and you're out." I am, however, supportive of 32 strikes and you're out (I'd even go down to 20). Kari Bazemore, who has a history of random violence, slashed a woman walking down 23rd St at 6AM. There's something particularly chilling about the pointless randomness of it. No argument. No robbery. No conflict. Just cut and run. This one was caught on video.

Here's an interview with the latest victim. Good for her for facing the camera, scar and all.

Thirty-two priors and that doesn't begin to could all the sh*t he's done without being arrested? He's a one-man crime wave. His last arrest was on December 30 (yes, one week prior), when he randomly punched a woman on East 8th Street. He was also arrest in February 2015 for grand larceny and in 2013 for "forcible touching."

Does the guy need help? Obviously. But what kind and how do we give it to him? If he hasn't been able to get needed help by now, what makes anybody think the 33rd arrest is going to be charm? He simply needs to be kept off the streets.

I didn't see this coming

As usual, they don't get you for what you did. They get you for what you write.

While morally suspect, Officer Encinia didn't do anything legally wrong legally when he stopped and arrested Sandra Bland in Texas. But what he wrote seemed a bit different from what he was seen doing on video. And now, as is too often the case in our prosecutorial system, because they want to get him, they can.

Encinia is being charged with misdemeanor perjury. (Which I didn't think was possible; perjury is a felony where I come from. Also, it's unusual, to say the least, to use a grand jury to bring misdemeanor charges.) The New York Times reports:
The trooper wrote that he removed Ms. Bland from her car to more safely conduct a traffic investigation, but “the grand jury found that statement to be false,” a special prosecutor, Shawn McDonald, said.
Here's what I previously wrote about this traffic stop.

January 5, 2016

You gotta break some eggs... to make a mess

According to Maryland Governor Hogan, C.O.R.E. stands for Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise.

"We should be able to make tremendous progress over the next for year," said the mayor.

What's the cause for celebration? Demolition.

Forgive me if I hold my applause till something is built. Now don't get me wrong, tearing these buildings down is necessary.

These buildings are beyond saving not just because they're abandoned but because everything of value has been stripped. There is no metal left in them. No pipes. No wires. Nothing left but rotted wood and brick walls. And even Baltimore's bricks are kind of crappy. Or they get squatted by drug addicts, and then they end up looking like this.
Earlier this year, the mayor said his goal to eliminate vacant dwellings in Sandtown-Winchester will help complete a nationally recognized renaissance in the neighborhood.
"We've got a tremendous commitment to Sandtown.... We need to show that we can make a difference."

Besides new housing, the area has got a prenatal outreach program and drug treatment services.

These and other community projects are supported by neighborhood residents, who, for the first time in their lives, are becoming involved in their community, the mayor said.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the push to eliminate vacant houses in Sandtown-Winchester may start a larger push to diminish the tally of 6,000 vacant dwellings scattered throughout Baltimore.
Yeah, if only 6,000 vacants doesn't give it away, that was from 1993.

How'd that work out? Not so good. A few years later in 1996, when there were 9,000 vacant buildings in the city:
Baltimore is preparing to tear down more than 800 vacant rowhouses as part of a vast, multimillion-dollar undertaking to revitalize impoverished sections of the inner city.
The first will be torn down in the West Baltimore community of Sandtown-Winchester....

Most of the land would be transformed into parks, yards and vegetable and flower gardens. Only a quarter of the properties would be redeveloped for housing, and a few others would become neighborhood shopping centers.

How'd that work out? Not so good.

This 1996 plan was to be "the largest rowhouse clearing in Baltimore since the early 1970s, when homes were razed along Franklin Street for an expressway that was never completed."

Oh, that.

Yes, it is America's goofiest 15-block highway. Does this happen in other cities?!

Maybe one day -- not for decades, I hope -- we can name it the John Waters Memorial Highway.

And before that in the 1950s:
the city cleared several slums and replaced them with huge public housing projects. The four high-rise complexes that were built after World War II have since deteriorated, beset by crime, drugs and poor conditions, and are being torn down.
Today, a few decades later, there are 17,000 vacant houses that used to be homes. Plus seventeen-more-thousand vacant lots.

There's a long strain in Progressive thinking that blames bricks and mortar for the problems of the people who live there. It's most exemplified by the building and then razing of high-rise public housing. But high-rise housing not inherently worse (or better) than the "slum" tenements they replaced. I hate to say it, but a slum is less defined by a bunch of buildings than the people who live live there. Not all the people, mind you. Not at all. But some of the people -- the murders, the junkies, the people who never wanted a regular job, the kids who grow up without loving parents -- they exist. And they don't make good neighbors.

The problem is, demolition is a necessary first step to improvement. Vacant buildings are bad for crime and good for nobody. But building is the hard part. And getting people to want to live there. That's hard, too. And even if it is necessary, it's still kind of sad to see these handsome Formstone buildings come down.

Maybe this time it will somehow work. It can't get better if we don't try. But forgive me for not being optimistic.

January 4, 2016

Black lives matter to homicide detectives

The homicide board downtown. I have to admit, when I first walked by it, I had to do a double take, thinking, "it really does exist!"

That's a lot of red.

From Justin Fenton's five part series on a homicide investigation.

January 3, 2016

Me talking about Tasers

On NPR Weekend Edition. From my basement. I was wearing a three-piece suit, in case you were wondering. It's radio, right?

January 1, 2016

God save the Queen

It's like a classic Jan Steen.

Happy New Year

December 31, 2015

"Stop question and frisk" is dead

Welcome the NYPD's "PD 382-152" (06-15), née UF-250, AKA Stop Report, just FYI:
This new "UF-250" replaces the old "UF-250" from 2002 that made an unconstitutional mockery of reasonable suspicion as laid out in Terry v. Ohio. (Also FYI, the original form actually called a UF-250 is long dead; long live the UF-250!)

If the goal is fewer stops, add paperwork to each and every stop. Two things will be accomplished:

A) There will be fewer stops.

B) More stops will go unrecorded. (Who the hell has time or desire to fill out a form every time and tell a sergeant every time you stop somebody?)

And what's clever, is that in the supervisory action (must comment), you can't just swipe down the "yes" column. It throws a "no" in there just to slow you down.

More importantly, and correctly, there's an actual "narrative" section. Yes, police officers will actually have to "articulate" their "reasonable suspicion" rather than checking a box saying "furtive movement."

And the back:

And then you're supposed to give the person this card (fat chance):

Years or weeks from now, when past years' "stop question and frisk" controversy is but a footnote to NYPD history, this form will still exist. And then, every time an officer doesn't fill one out -- because, for instance, there's work to be done or there won't be any forms available -- he or she will be in violation of the patrol guide.

Business as usual will adopt to get things done in a organization designed to be dysfunctional. Because we don't really want an officer spending 5-15 minutes filling out a form and debriefing a sergeant every time they briefly stop somebody or pat a criminal down to make sure they're not armed. (Can you "frisk" a person without "stopping" them? I don't think so.) And then one day further in the future an officer will get in trouble for not following the absurd rules.

Footnote from 2000: "Completion of the UF-250 form has been required since 1986. In 1997, however, Commissioner Safir declared filing the UF-250's “a priority” that should be “rigorously enforced.” As a result, filings by the SCU, to cite one example, rose from 140 in 1996 to 18,000 in 1997.

December 30, 2015

There is absolutely NO NEED TO PANIC!

The latest Brennan Center report projects the 30 largest cities will see a 14.6 percent increase in homicide this year.

You know the last time the nation saw a 15 percent annual increase in the homicide rate?


But don't worry, they say in their best "you are getting sleepy" voice. There's no reason to concerned:
However, in absolute terms, murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase leads to a large percentage change. Even with the 2015 increase, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012 — in fact, they are slightly lower. Since murder rates vary widely from year to year, one year’s increase is not evidence of a coming wave of violent crime.

A handful of cities have seen sharp rises in murder rates. Just two cities, Baltimore and
Washington, D.C., account for almost 50 percent of the national increase in murders.

These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting
community conditions are a major factor. The preliminary report examined five cities with
particularly high murder rates... and found these cities also had significantly lower incomes, higher poverty rates, higher unemployment, and falling populations than the national average.
Hmmmm, Statistical aberration are always a possibility and poverty and falling population makes me drowzzzzzzzzzzzy.

But when I snap out of it, I'm still concerned. Why do so many seem to be in denial about such a large increase in murder.

Can't we be politically correct and also ask what the heck is going on? When FBI director Comey said he was concerned, he received loud chiding from the political left and even a presidential rebuke.

If you think it doesn't matter, please let me know exactly what conditions need to be met, specifically how many more people have to die, before we are allowed to be concerned and move on from silly semantic debates. Shouldn't we better focus our efforts and, if you're so inclined, even your outrage?

No, don't panic. But frankly, I think it's OK to be a little concerned.

I have an idea! Instead of denying a dangerous increase in lethal crime, why don't we put on our thinking caps and ask what has changed this year with regards to policing and violent crime. But before you answer take a deep breath and then come back after a good night's sleep!

sources include:

(Correction: Originally I missed the the fact the Brennan Report was only talking about the rate in the 30 largest cities. This post has been changed to include that rather important detail.)

Bratton calls out Kelly for calling out Bratton! It's an NYPD smackdown!

This Kelly vs Bratton feud has been simmering in the background for a little while.

But then when Kelly accused Bratton of cooking the books (something Kelly should be familiar with, since book-cooking constantly flared up during his reign)? Well, I'll just sit back and enjoy the fight.

And here's an insiders' tip: the good money is on Bratton.

The NYPD took Kelly seriously enough to release an official rebuttal. And hell, Kelly is the former NYPD commissioner. He should be taken seriously.

Now I will admit my initial thought on Kelly's accusations: it sure is odd this year that shootings are down and homicides are up. How does that happen? What are the odds? So could Kelly be on to something?!

Turns out: No.

In the far corner, the former champion, the man who must be in charge, Raymond Kelly. He's the consummate micro manager, the marine, and the man would wouldn't let cops administer a heroin antidote (not on his watch). Kelly completely closed the department to outside researchers, transparency be damned! But he kept crime down and avoided a big scandal. (Stop, question, and frisk was not a scandal so much as a strategy.)

I don't think Kelly did a bad job. Not at all. But I was happy to see him go. At some level I just don't like him. Substantively his conservative micromanaging was insane. Everything transfer and shift of manpower had to go through him. His emphasis on stats led to a lot of problems.

The fact that below I use week-old data copied from a PDF file is entirely Kelly's fault. And the fact that he could be so closed, on idiotic principle, even with Mike "open data" Bloomberg as mayor? It was all amazing. Kelly ran the department like nobody has ever been allowed to run that department. For 12 years, he was the boss.

Murders did drop from a low 587 to an amazingly low 334. The last two years of his reign saw a 35 percent reduction in killings(!). And nobody took credit for it. Kelly didn't want to take credit for a crime drop at the exact moment it was coinciding with a massive drop in stops, since each and every one of those stops, so he said, was absolutely necessary to prevent a rise in homicides. And Kelly's opponents sure didn't want to give the big bad NYPD credit for anything at all. So we had the largest drop in homicides since the mid 1990s... and nobody noticed.

Kelly ran the NYPD, something Bloomberg didn't want to do. But Bratton is doing what De Blasio can't do. De Blasio needs Bratton a lot more than Bloomberg needed Kelly, and also much more than Bratton needs de Blasio.

So in this corner, the current champion, William Bratton. He's a bit more polished, a bit more educated, some might even say... smarter. Bratton is also conservative, mind you, but in a more intellectual way. Bratton understands the politics of policing. Bratton is also more open to transparency and sharing data. The fact that the same limited NYPD Compstat data is available in 2015 in spreadsheet form? Well, that's progress, I guess. (But there's no reason he couldn't have (Now can we please get open crime data like this.)

I like Bratton because of his track record, his intelligence, and his support and understanding of Broken Windows policing. Also Bratton, unlike Kelly, understands why, other things being equal, it's better if people don't hate the police. Kelly really didn't give a shit what people thought. He knew he was doing a good job. That was enough.

I'll give Kelly the benefit of the doubt and not doubt his motives. Kelly probably really believes what he's saying. Unlike some former commissioners, at least Kelly is not a crook. Now that he's not in charge, he knows things must be going to hell. Besides, people are constantly telling him things are going to hell.

Kelly always surrounded himself with yes-men. He wasn't a micromanager because he trusted others. And now you've got a bunch of old friends who remain loyal to him. Cops hate de Blasio and everything happening right now (the latter is a constant, by the way, no matter what is happening). And maybe there was actually a case of a shooting that was downgraded. It happens. So these old buddies get together with Kelly and, over a soda water, tell him all the bad that is happening. Kelly believes it to be God's truth, since it's coming from his people. His loyal people.

So why did Kelly do this? Probably not just to sell books. Though maybe Kelly found out he enjoys talking to the press. Those with big egos tend to like seeing themselves on the tee-vee.

But back to the issue at hand. How do you tell if shooting victims aren't been counted?

I thought I would look for smoke in the ratio of homicide to shooting victims. But to find out which of the NYC homicide victims were shot, you have to go the UCR data (the FBI's Uniform Crime Report). So I did that. After a fun couple of hours on SPSS, I got the answer. For the past 15 years, about 60 percent of homicide victims are shot. It hasn't changed much. No smoking gun.

Between 1999 and 2013 (but excluding 2006 and 2008, for UCR data quality reasons. And keep in mind, if you run the numbers, the UCR undercounts homicides by about 5 percent because it looks at incidents. Like everybody else, I ignored this and assumed a constant error rate) approximately 60 percent of homicide victims were shot. But I already told you that. But it's worth pointing out that this number remains pretty consistent over these years, which I was not expecting. And over these years, it turns out the odds of dying if you're shot in NYC is about 15 percent (which is substantially lower than I thought it was. Much lower).

In other words, in 2013 there were 334 people killed in NYC, about 195 of those were shot (188 incidents recorded by the UCR plus a few multiple homicides). There were 1,300 shooting victims, according to the NYPD, people with gunshot wounds.

Now we, the UCR, doesn't yet have gunshot deaths from 2014, much less 2015. (Though I'm sure the NYPD does, now about that openness...)

We do have shooting victims and total homicides recording by the NYPD (the former is surprisingly difficult to tease from the UCR, which is yet another UCR problem).

If the number of shooting victims were being artificially reduced, one would expect the ratio of shooting victims to total homicides to be way down this year. And it is. But just a bit: to 3.9:1 from 4.2:1 in 2014. But it turns out that 2014 is the odd year, not this year. 4.2 is the highest that ratio has ever been. It was 3.9 also in 2012 and 2013. The average over the past 15 years in 3.4. The ratio is steadily increasing, probably due to better medical care. Maybe hospital closings affect this rate. Or maybe it's just statistical variance (AKA: bad luck). But no, the numbers don't look funny this year.

Anybody still with me? One quick double-check: last year (2014) compared to the previous year (2013) the number of shootings should be down and homicides up (the opposite of this year). And yes, indeed, that is the case.

Look at the "year to date" columns for the two years and the rows "homicide" and "shooting vic."

I'm betting on Bratton.

Update: Gothamist jumps into the ring with a folding chair! And Bratton hits again in the Daily News. And the Inspector General, that's the new oversight department under the Department of Investigations that is still in search of institutional meaning, stays mum.)