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by Peter Moskos

October 25, 2014

October 23, 2014

Those pesky facts

What if everything you thought about Michael Brown was wrong? Do you believe in evidence? Science? Evolution? Global warming? Can new evidence change your opinion? Is your conviction that a police officer killed an innocent surrendering black youth in Ferguson, Missouri, so strong that facts and evidence simply do not matter?

Might you accept that there are racial injustices in the world in general -- and perhaps in Ferguson in particular -- while also understanding that perhaps the police officer in this case actually acted properly? Just maybe? The Atlantic says:
A new report on Michael Brown's official autopsy results appears to support Officer Darren Wilson's version of the events on August 9, according to two medical experts.
St. Louis medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham told the paper that the autopsy "does support that there was a significant altercation at the car.” The other expert, forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, went even further, saying that the wound on Brown's hand "supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun" and adding that another shot, which went through Brown's forearm, means Brown could not have facing Wilson with his hands up when he was shot, an apparent contradiction of the now iconic "hands up, don't shoot" posture adopted by protesters in Ferguson.
These recent leaks are meant to prime the public for an inevitable result: a grand jury investigation that ends with no charges being filed against Wilson.
This is no way changes my belief that the police response to the protests was both tactically horrible and way over-the-top.

October 21, 2014

Score one for cop's camera

KOB Albuquerque reports how a lapel camera protected an officer against a woman's false accusations that he sexually assaulting her.

Brrrr... it's cold outside

I can't help but notice -- now that another long hot summer is done and a commie mayor and Al Sharpton are running the show and the police have been thrown under the bus and Obama is president and the ACLU stopped letting police stop criminals and there's no more stop question and frisk and there's independent oversight and body cameras are coming and it's open season on cops and people don't show any respect and society going to hell -- but crime *still* isn't up (-4% by stats I don't trust. But what I *do* trust is 249 homicides to date compared to 262 in last year's record low. Shootings are up 6%). I know it's in good part because of the hard work of the men and women of the NYPD, but I'd still like just one Republican, one conservative cop (or maybe somebody like Heather MacDonald) to admit he (or she) was wrong. It's all very strange to me.

Or maybe the only thing keeping New York City from become The Warriors are all the marijuana arrests or the bike ticketing blitz in Crown Heights? Nobody really believes that, right?

October 18, 2014

If crime doesn't pay, why is it so expensive?

And in case you were wondering, the cost of housing a prisoner in jail on NYC's Rikers Island is now officially $100,000 per year! You get what you pay for, they say. $1.1 billion dollars. 42 percent higher than seven years ago. "During the same period, there was a 124 percent increase in assaults on the staff by inmates at city jails, and triple the number of allegations of use of physical force by guards." Mazel Tov.

October 17, 2014

Bootlegging: for cigarettes, alive and well in New York City

Story in the New York Times:
The toothpick pressed a hidden button that released a large magnet that kept a secret compartment locked. Deputy Davis lifted the front of the row of shelves like you would the trunk of a small car, and inside were rows and rows, all different brands, of contraband. Not narcotics or pills, but unopened packs of cigarettes, perfectly legal in the state in which they were bought, but not here. Hence the secret compartment.
The moral here is simple. You need some enforcers, but we shouldn't waste too many resources in regulating a legal product. When there's a huge market bootlegging, then you need to lower taxes.
Also, I suspect that smoking isn't down as much as people think as a result of raising taxes. Because if The Man can't find the cigarettes, than the public health expert things they aren't being smoked.

According to a great study by Klaus von Lampe (et al), my brilliant colleague:
It was found that 76% of cigarette packs collected [by looking at litter... how cool is that?] avoided the combined New York City and State tax. More specifically, 57.9% were untaxed (counterfeit or bearing no tax stamp), for 15.8% taxes were paid outside of New York City (including other states and New York State only). Only 19.4% of tax stamps collected indicated that New York City and New York State taxes were paid.... The finding that the majority of cigarettes did not have a tax stamp or bore a counterfeit tax stamp suggests that these cigarettes were being bootlegged, most likely from Native American Reservations. It was found that 76.2% of cigarette packs collected avoided the combined New York City and State tax.
And two words: Eric Garner.

October 16, 2014

"Why we need to fix St. Louis County"

Well said by Radley Balko in the Washington Post:
When a local government’s very existence depends on its citizens breaking the law — when fines from ordinance violations are written into city budgets for the upcoming year as a primary or even the main expected source of revenue — the relationship between the government and the governed is not one of public officials serving their constituents, but of preying off of them.

When the primary mission of a police department isn’t to protect citizens but to extract money from them, and when the cops themselves don’t look like, live near or have much in common with the people from whom they’re extracting that money, you get cops who start to see the people they’re supposed to be serving not as citizens with rights, but as potential sources of revenue, as lawbreakers to be caught. The residents of these towns then see cops not as public servants drawn from their own community to enforce the laws and keep the peace, but as outsiders brought in to harass them, whose salaries are drawn from that harassment. The same goes for the judges and prosecutors, who also rarely live in the towns that employ them.
This isn’t as much about a police shooting as it is about the release of residual anger over an antagonistic system of governing that virtually requires its poorest citizens to live in misery and despair.
If Bel-Ridge wasn’t collecting the equivalent of $450 in fines each year for each of the town’s residents, the town of Bel-Ridge probably wouldn’t exist.
This is what St. Louis County government is built upon. And this is what needs to be changed.
When I was a cop, I knew my ticket money went to the city. Hell, I was happy to help Baltimore. But I never felt that my job depended on me fining residents.

New York City gets about $500 million annually from parking tickets, which is the biggest chunk of about $820 million overall in fines. New York's overall budget is about $70 billion. So we're talking one to two percent of the city's budget coming from fines. I don't know about court fees, but I doubt they're a money maker for the city.

I don't think a big-city perspective really gets at what is going on in these small towns where government seems to exist for the sole purpose of taking money from residents: "Pine Lawn, with an embattled mayor facing federal charges of steering towing jobs to a particular company, brought in close to 70 percent through its courts last year. At least four other St. Louis County municipalities — Beverly Hills, Bella Villa, Calverton Park and Cool Valley — all took in more than half their general revenue that way, according to reports submitted to the state." And "It's illegal: "The city of Bourbon was breaking state law. Under Missouri law, a city is only supposed to make 30 percent of its revenue off tickets."

Thirty, 40, 70 percent of budgets comes from fines and court fees? Mandatory private garbage collection? Per person occupancy permits? It sounds like a straight-up criminal racket, and one enforced by police and the courts.

October 15, 2014

"Can't tase me, bro!"

There's an excellent article by the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf about the use of a taser for non-compliance. I've long argued that, without an actual threat, tasers should not be used for compliance. The taser is too easy, usually not necessary, and sometimes kills people.

Now I'm all for people complying with lawful orders; you do not have the right to refuse a lawful police order. But this case gets at the heart of non-compliance. What do you do when somebody does not comply?

Cops will be quick to justify use of force for non-compliance. I don't have a quibble with that. But what kind of force is reasonable? Lethal force is not OK. Hands-on is OK. But what about the taser? Sometimes you need to take a step back and ask what kind of society we want to live in.

Personally, I don't want to live in a society where non-threatening people -- whether they are criminally stupid or not is beside the point -- routinely get zapped by government agents.

(Just think, this is why our Founding Fathers were wise enough to include the right against self-incrimination in the 5th Amendment. Were it not for the right to remain silent, police could and would use tasers in routine interrogations.)

Tasers have been used -- shamefully, I might add -- against naked people, the homeless, a legless man in a wheelchair (you can't make this shit up), a 76-year-old man driving a tractor, a 10-year-old girl, a guy running on a baseball field (I thought that one was OK), the "Don't tase me, bro" dude, a guy who didn't understand English, and the misuse of a taser led to a good police offier's suicide. If you scroll down to the bottom of the Atlantic piece, you can see lots of bad taser-use videos.

Now there are good uses for the Taser, and tasers have been shown to reduce injuries. (Serious question: how many injuries prevented per taser-related death is acceptable?) But none of this, not even National Institute of Justice recommendations, justify the massive overuse of tasers in law enforcement. Police are trained to use tasers for non-compliance. In many of those above instances, officers were acting in accordance with their training and regulation. And then the same officers were punished when the craziness of such training and policy becomes apparent.

What I like about this recent case is that I can see the complete absolutely correct unassailable logic... for both sides of the case.

Here's what happened: a jogger, Gary Hesterberg, is stopped by a law-enforcement officer for an infraction. Hesterberg doesn't have ID and says his last name is Jones. He then fails to comply with a lawful order and resists arrest. Finally, when attempting to flee, Hesterberg gets tased and arrested. So clear cut. So logical. But the problem with such a description is that no matter how logical each step is, at some point it is absurd -- to use phrasing of the court it is not "objectively reasonable" -- to use a Taser against a jogger violating a leash law!

In court, the government conceded the violation was minor. Lying to police officer and failure to comply are less minor, but, said the court, "not inherently dangerous or violent." Still, all this and the jogger's resistance to arrest "weighs in the government's favor." The arrest was valid. The court accepted the government's claim that "using communication skills was not a viable alternative to effect Hesterberg's arrest." Nor was arresting the jogger at his house -- he gave his real address but said his last name was Jones -- given the jogger's willingness to lie. The jogger said he wasn't even certain that green-uniformed Federal Park Ranger was law enforcement. The court said, tough titty, kid. And the court also understood that the jogger could have avoided this whole mess had he simply A) given his real name or B) complied with lawful orders.

And court understands that the decision made by the officer needs only be reasonable "from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." This makes allowance for the fact that "police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments."

Now given all this, I would think the court is about to offer unqualified support for the government's position and taser use. From Tennessee v. Garner (cops can't shoot a fleeing felon), when know the government interest in stopping a fleeing suspect is not absolute:
The Court finds that the intrusion on Hesterberg’s Fourth Amendment interest to be free from being tased greatly outweighs the minimal governmental interest in apprehending him for his violations of the law. Cavallaro’s use of her taser on Hesterberg was therefore unconstitutional.
Did you get that? Here it is again: "The government’s interest in apprehending Hesterberg is simply too low to justify his tasing even if he willfully disregarded such a warning." Daaaaamn.

Weren't listening? One last time: "The Court is not persuaded that the need to identify Hesterberg for his low-level violations of law justify Cavallaro’s use of the taser, even if the taser was the only tool remaining to collect Hesterberg’s identifying information." Boo-ya.

So what are you supposed to do? Let him jog away? Uh, yes. This is news to me and to most cops,

Let him flee. Even if you have less-lethal weaponry at your disposal.

This requires a seismic shift in the minds of law enforcement. Under certain circumstances sometimes it is OK, permissible -- even required -- to simply allow a person under arrest to flee. Cops will hate this, but it is a common sense, pro-police discretion, and pro-4th Amendment decision. It is worth remembering that though Garner was not "pro-police," it turned out great for cops: scores fewer officers shot and killed!

The judge, and this is important, even recognized that her decision goes against the regulations of the law enforcement agency that would permit tasing a 9-year-old girl or an 8-month pregnant woman: "The Court cannot imagine a rational fact-finder that would find it reasonable to tase a nonviolent and nonthreatening nine-year-old or eight-month-pregnant woman fleeing from non-serious misdemeanors." Good.

The jogger got $50,000.

This certainly puts the rank-and-file in an awkward position. Their departmentally justified use-of-force policy is deemed, after the fact, to be unconstitutional and negligent. Once again somebody is telling police what not to do without any clear guidance as to what to do.

Since you know it will take ages for police departments to catch up. I wouldn't mind seeing a few police officers sue their own police department for policies that encourage or require officers to violate their oath to the constitution. "Failure to obey" doesn't mean you get to use every toy on your belt. Police need to use their intelligence and common sense to understand the totality of the circumstance. I've got no problem with that. Because police generally have, despite what some may think, plenty of intelligence and common sense. Officers just need support from above and permission to use that discretion.

I'm curious what cops out there might think. If you think this decision is absurd -- if you think it should be OK for a cop to tase a minor offender fleeing arrest -- at what kind of weaponry would you draw the line? Would rubber bullets be OK? Dog? Tear gas? Flash grenade? Sound cannon? Anything short of the lethal force prohibited by Garner? Or was Garner wrongfully decided?

In an age where more and more less-lethal weaponry is in the hands of police, I think it's important to clarify what kind of force is reasonable. For a leash-violation, a taser crosses the line.

[Here's a pdf of the court decision by the Federal Northern District of California case 13-cv-01265-JSC.]

[Also, with regards to previous posts on race and police, it seems relevant to point out that the jogger was white. Had the jogger been black, I'm sure this would be seen as a racial incident and some people would claim, "Police never would have stopped a white jogger, much less tased him!" And this despite seeing again and again that police sometimes overreact to people of all races.]

October 14, 2014

Racial disparity in police-involved homicides: 4:1

Trying to set the record straight is a bit like pissing into the wind. The substantively wrong pro-publica story has now been repeated by every news source I can find.

I suspect that over time the idea that from 2010-2012, blacks males 15-19 years-old were 21 times more likely than non-hispanic-whites males to be killed by police will simply become remembered as: police are 21 times more likely to shoot black people. But it's not true! (There I am again, getting spattered by my own pee.)

The real figure they're talking about -- not just the numbers from 2010 to 2012 -- the real figure is not 21 to 1 but 9 to 1. And when one includes hispanics in the count, the black-to-white ratio goes down to 5.5 to 1. If one looks at black and white men of all ages killed by police, the ratio is (just?) 4 to 1. (Ed note: based on later better data, the ratio is actually closer to 3 to 1.)

Now you may wonder why I'm quibbling. What's my point? Well, it's important to base opinions and public policy on fact. And for starters, 4 to 1 versus 21 to 1 is a huge difference.

One could also argue that even a disparity of 4:1 is unacceptable. And it is, on some level. But in the population examined by ProPublica -- the same subset in which blacks are 9 times (not 21 times) as likely as whites to be killed by police -- the black-to-white homicide ratio is 15:1. We know police-involved homicides correlate with homicide and violence in the community they police. So what rate of disparity would one expect in police-involved homicides? Certainly not 1 to 1.

If you're going to honestly talk about racial disparities in police-involved shootings, you need to discuss levels of violence among those with whom police interact. If one thinks police shootings are primarily an issue of racist police -- if one thinks police only shoot black people, if one thinks white people are never stopped by police for minor offenses -- one is not only wrong, but one won't come up with any effective solutions. The vast majority of police-involved shootings are justified. That said, there are bad shootings. But this is more a police problem more than a race problem.

If one wishes -- as one should -- to reduce the racial disparity of police-involved shootings, one needs to focus on racial disparities in crime and violence in general. If one wishes -- as one should -- to reduce the incidences of unjustified police shootings and improper police use-of-force, one needs to improve police training and reduce police militarization.

To replicate the pro-publica study, here are the numbers for the past 15 years (15-19 year-old black and non-hispanic-white men, shot and killed by police and reported to the Uniform Crime Reports). This is the black-to-white ratio for police-involved homicides. All are based on population rates per 100,000 (using constant 2010 census figures, not adjusted for year):

Past 1 year (2012, n = 24): 13 to 1
Past 2 years (2011-2012, n = 45): 16 to 1
Past 3 years (2010-2012, n = 62): 21 to 1
Past 4 years (2009-2012, n = 92): 17 to 1
Past 5 years (2008-2012, n = 110): 17 to 1
Past 6 years (2007-2012, n = 140): 15 to 1
Past 7 years (2006-2012, n = 162): 12 to 1
Past 8 years (2005-2012, n = 183): 10 to 1
Past 9 years (2004-2012, n = 209): 9 to 1
Past 10 years (2003-2012, n = 226): 10 to 1
Past 11 years (2002-2012, n = 249): 9 to 1
Past 12 years (2001-2012, n = 262): 9 to 1
Past 13 years (2000-2012, n = 286): 9 to 1
Past 14 years (1999-2012, n = 312): 9 to 1
Past 15 years (1998-2012, n = 339): 9 to 1

With the above data, you can't say anything conclusive from just the first few years of data. Certainly the group that I would least want to pick and highlight is the three-year (2010-2012) statistical outlier. Cherry-picking the highest number would be dishonest, but even assuming it's just accidental is still shoddy research. One would expect the results to bounce around for the first few years and then settle down. Only then can one find validity -- the idea that the number has any meaning.

Why pick the past three years instead of the past 2, 4, or 15 years? One key to analyzing statistics is skepticism of "amazing" anomalies, especially from a small group. Something can be (in fact, will be 1 in 20 times) statistically significant but substantively irrelevant.

But why is the 3-year cumulative number so high? Because only one non-hispanic white teen got shot and killed by police in 2010. Since the sample is so small, one strange year can screw up the data. But over more years the numbers settle down. Here one needs to go back maybe 8 to 10 years to find any substantive meaning. (And even then all this UCR data on police-involved homicides should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt.)

[Also, there's a bit more rambling detail, in less coherent form, in one and two previous posts. Here's a follow-up post.]

October 13, 2014

Won't be national news

I'm going to wait till more is known before saying more. But here is yet another -- I won't say "common" but I will say "too common" -- shootings that perhaps should but won't become big national news. There probably won't be protests. There won't be unrest.

But did police really break into the house of Jack Jacquez and shoot him? I don't know what happened, but I do know there's a lot here that doesn't sound good.

October 12, 2014

Black are 4 times more likely than whites to be killed by police

[Update: Cut to the chase. You might just want to read my summary post.]

Related to the "not 21 times" previous post, I received a tweet from one of the authors: "Differences in our methodologies: you count Hispanic homicides as white... deflate the results."

So back to running stats for me. But there's a problem in that the UCR homicide data does a particularly poor job in counting hispanics. Most cities simply do not record hispanic data.

As a result, 56% of homicide data has nothing for "hispanic or not." I would guess that most of this 56% is non-hispanic, since cities without many hispanics are less likely to care about counting hispanics, but we do not know. In general, you really shouldn't use data when half is missing.

[The UCR would like police departments to do like the census: record race and then overlay hispanic-or-not on top of that. (If you're a cop, this is probably how you record domestics.) But I don't think any police department does this. So what the UCR seems to do, for the departments that list hispanic at all, is just call them all white hispanics.]

But if one does exclude hispanic whites from the count of whites over the past three years, one finds all of 9 young white males shot by police over the past three years. If one then uses non-hispanic white for the population denominator, I get a black-to-white ratio of 21:1 [replicated! And updated from the original post].

But what I will quibble about is the validity of that number. It means very little because there's just not enough data.

I mean, one could look at just one year. The last available year, 2012, has a black-to-white ratio for teen males killed by police a less headline worthy 7:1 [13:1 if you exclude hispanic whites]. But you can't just look at one year -- or three. Put bluntly, police don't kill enough teens each year to be statistically useful (which is good news, I suppose).

And since we can look at more years, we should. So if one wants to only look at 15-19 year-olds males shot by police, let's look at the past 15 years. The most shocking result I discover is that a majority of "whites" killed by police are listed as hispanic. (109 versus 95. And overall there are 6.3 million non-hispanic whites and 2.1 million hispanic white males 15-19.)

The overall black-to-white ratio (15-19 year-old males) is 5.5:1. If one removes white hispanics from the sample (I'm not sure you should), the black-to-white killed-by-police ratio goes up 9:1. Though if one removes white hispanics for the overall homicide rate, the overall black-to-white homicide ratio in society goes from 9:1 to 15:1. All this gets a bit silly.

So let's include everybody.

The overall racial disparity in homicides -- and presumably other violent crimes as well (but they're not counted as reliably) -- is 6:1. The racial disparity among police-involved killings is about 4:1 (3.8:1, to be exact). Given the former, I don't find the latter disturbing high (though I suppose reasonable people could disagree).

Here's the thing. We should focus on bad police-involved shootings. And also we should focus on overly aggressive use of less-lethal force. These are issues of training, issues of a relaxing a paranoid "warrior" mindset. Sure, race matters, but if you want to improve policing, you need to move past the idea that police only do bad things to black people. This isn't a black and white issue. It's a police issue.

[It's always good to put a disclaimer in any post related to police-involved shooting. The data, in general, is very limited. That said, some of the UCR data on police-involved homicides is good. While one cannot infer absolute numbers, looking at ratio of included data, such as race, presents much less of a problem, since one is looking a ratio within the data.

[Update: Also, some of the numbers have changed as I've updated and corrected and double-checked figures. Nothing substantively major. But you're not going crazy if you think the actual headline used to 3 times and now it says 4 times (the actual number is 3.8. Using different population figures and/or just making a mistake, I first came up with 3.3).]

October 11, 2014

Black teens are not 21 times more likely than whites to be shot and killed by police

[Update: Cut to the chase. You might just want to read my summary post.]

One of my liberal de Blasio-loving not-so-fond-of-cops friend send me an email with the subject "you gotta check yo facts" and a link to ProPublica: "Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater."

"Well, that's interesting," I thought, "It also can't be true." Since I kind of know these numbers (and had discussed them with my friend). So I guess I do have to check my facts. I then wasted a half day running the numbers myself (when I could have been giving my undivided attention to the Orioles' loss).

Now it's always dangerous to say my numbers are right and theirs are wrong. But I trust my numbers, because I just ran them. And I'm good at this. And then I ran them again. I'd like to see their numbers because, well, I think they're wrong. But clearly one of us is wrong. I hope it's not me.

In the past three years (2010-2012) among those 15-19 year old, 54 blacks and 36 have been shot and killed by police. This is according to the UCR stats that are not perfect. But while the data here are not complete, they're OK in many ways. And the black-white ratio should hold-up just fine.

If my data are wrong, please do correct me.

In the 15-19 population population, there are 8,728,271 white males. (Click through to: "Annual Estimates ... by Sex, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin") There are 1,978,081 black males, 15-19 years-old (2010 census).

Per year, for the past 3 years, this is a police-involved homicide rate of 0.14 per 100,000 for whites and 0.99 for blacks. 0.91 divided by 0.14 is 6.5, not 21. For the past three years black males 15-19 are 6 or 7 times more likely than white males to be shot and killed by police, not 21 times.

From ProPublica:
The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.
Now even if one takes a 3-year rate per million (which is statistically odd for two italicized reasons), the rate for blacks is 30 (close to 31 but not replicated). Where I think the error lies is that the rate for whites is not 1.47 but rather 4.3. That's a big difference.

My numbers are based on the years 2010-2012: 36 whites shot and killed. 8.7 million white males 15-19.
[Their 95% confidence interval is vast: "between 10 and 40 times greater risk." This, leaving aside the wrong number, seems to me to be a gross misuderstanding of confidence interval. The overall number (the "n," in stat terminology) of young people killed by police over the past three years is not large. But there's a difference between a small "population" and a small "sample" size.

A confidence interval tells you the odds your sample reflects the total population. Say you ask 100 potential voters if they would vote for Obama. Four or 40% say yes. So what are the odds that Obama would win 40% of the vote? Well you don't know for sure because you didn't ask everybody. But based on those 100 you did ask, you can come up with a range, say 35-45 percent, at which you can say there is 19 in 20 chance that if we did ask everybody, it would be in this range. That's a confidence interval.

Again, if I'm wrong here, correct me! It's been 18 years since I took a statistics class in graduate school. And I wasn't even good at it.

If you poll everybody -- if you have an election -- you don't have a confidence interval. You have a result! Even with its flaws, the UCR is pretty complete. If blacks are X-times more likely to be killed, that's that! There is not a sample but a population. You don't have a confidence interval if you sample everybody in a population. You have a number. But it is a small population.

I also wonder why they only picked people shot and killed, rather than all persons killed. It's a minor difference, but why make more work when you don't have to? 99.2 percent of people killed by cops are killed with a gun.)]
Well conveniently you can just add more years to get a larger population. I don't know why they didn't. (Well, I suspect because it's work. It's a bit of a pain to download and select from each year's UCR sample. But that is what researchers do. I mean, I just happen to have the last 15 years compiled and ready to use because, well, that's what researchers do. On a Saturday night. While watching baseball.)

So instead of looking at the past three years, let's increase the population by looking at the past 15 years. From 1998-2012, 210 white and 242 black male 15-19 year-olds have been shot and killed by police. This comes out to an annual rate of 0.16 (per 100,000) for white males and 0.82 for black males.

So over the past 15 years black male teens are 5.1 times more likely -- five times more likely -- than whites to be shot and killed by police. Five times; not 21.

Now maybe 21 and 7 and 5 are close enough for you. Or maybe you think 5 times more is 5 times too many. But what number would be OK? Given ration disparities in violent crime, one shouldn't expect 1:1. One might expect police to be more likely to shoot and kill people who shoot and kill other people. (Remember that we're using rates here, which take into account the population difference, that there are 7 whites for every black in America.)

The homicide rate for black men 15-19 is 9 times the rate for white men. (From 2010 to 2012, looking at men 15-19, 2,382 blacks and 1,209 whites have been murdered by criminals. The homicide rate for these young white men is 4.6 per 100,000. For these young black men, the homicide rate is 40.7.)

So given the 9:1 racial disparity in the homicide rate among young men, what racial disparity would one expect in police-involved shootings? There's no right answer to this question. But I don't think it's unreasonable for the racial disparity of those young men shot and killed by police to be reflective of the racial disparity in violence and homicides among young men. And in fact, the police-involved ratio, at 5:1 (not 21:1 or even 9:1), is much less.

[Updated to reflect population data from 2010 census rather than ACS estimate. It doesn't change much. Also, see next post and my summary.]

October 10, 2014

Police-involved shootings and hispanics

I asked Jim, my Dominican-born Austin-raised San Francisco-living white friend, why he thought so many Californian cities were high on my PIHN list. He thought for a very few short seconds and answered, "because hispanics aren't violent but police think they are."

I love over-generalizations and stereotypes that could very well be true.

So I got black and hispanic percentages for my 40 cities and ran correlations to see if there was anything related with race, hispanic, the city's homicide rate, the police-involved homicide rate, and PIHN.

More blacks in a city correlates with a higher homicide rate but not significantly with the rate of police-involved homicides. That last part is surprising.

A higher hispanic percentage in a city correlates with a lower homicide rate (which shouldn't be surprisingly, unless you only listen to Fox News) and is also not related to the rate of police-involved shootings. OK.

Of course a high homicide rate correlates very much more police-involved shootings (that I knew, and is the whole reason behind this PIHN idea).

And black and hispanic percentages in cities both correlate with PIHN, and in opposite directions. More hispanics mean a higher PIHN. More blacks a lower PIHN. Another way to look at this is to say that hispanics live in less violent cities, but those cities do not see the expected correlated decrease in police-involved shootings.

Now this might be counterintuitive to some, but it makes sense if once thinks of all the flack police can get when they shoot a black person (even an armed person who shot at police). For better and for worse, perhaps cities with more blacks are better organized to complain about police-involved shootings. Sure, these protests piss off police, but they could also lead to better training, fewer police-involved shootings, and police less likely to pull the trigger.

How often do whites or hispanics complain after a questionable shooting? Not so much.

So could police be disproportionately killing hispanics? Seems possible... but turns out not really.

In trigger-happy Riverside, which is 52 percent hispanic and 6 percent black -- if the data is accurate -- hispanics are not overrepresented in police-involved shootings (68 over 15 years). Other than the massive number of police-involved homicides, nothing jumps out at me. When hispanic-or-not is listed (80 percent of the time), 36 percent of those killed by police are listed as hispanic. 13 of the 68 were black (disproportionately but not unexpectedly high).

In Mesa, which is 28 percent hispanic and has only 3 blacks (just kidding, Mesa is 3 percent black), police killed 40 people over 15 years. Only one of the 40 was black. When ethnicity was listed, about one-third of those killed were hispanic.

I also looked at San Diego and Dallas, and could find nothing that stood out. So this seems to be a bit of a dead end. It's also entirely possible that hispanics are listed as non-hispanic for whatever reason. I don't know.

Basically, if there's any conclusion to be reached, it seems that in cities with a lot of Mexicans, whites are more likely to get shot and killed by police. This isn't what I really expected. Though it's not hard to imagine a lot of poor messed-up whites living in trailer parks in the desert, maybe I watched too much Breaking Bad.

Any ideas? (Especially ones that aren't particularly statistically advanced.)

The PIHN Winners

The winner, still by far, is Riverside, CA. But sneaking into second place is Mesa, Arizona, the only non-Californian city in the top 6.

Here's the top 20 with the PIHN. All 20 are west of the Mississippi:
Riverside: 31
Mesa: 14
San Diego: 12
Sacramento: 9
Bakersfield: 8
Seattle: 8
Portland: 8
Albuquerque: 7
Fresno: 7
Tucson: 7
San Jose: 7
Long Beach: 6
Colorado Springs: 6
Oklahoma City: 6
Denver: 6
Phoenix: 5
Tulsa: 5
Austin: 5
San Antonio: 5
The first city east of the Mississippi is Philadelphia, which has a PIHN of 2.9. This mean that police in San Diego are 4 times more likely to kill somebody, taking the overall homicide rate into account.

I compiled and ran the numbers for 40 cities for which I believe the UCR data on justified police-involved homicides seems valid for the past 15 years. By "seems" I mean me looking over the numbers to make sure there's an entry for every year and that the overall number in close to what one might expect, based on population and crime. Once I supplemented missing data with other data (New York City), and once I just averaged from fewer years (San Antonio).

Cities which I think lack valid data include Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, El Paso, Fort Worth, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Louisville, Virginia Beach, Omaha, Arlington, Raleigh, Miami, Washington DC, and Wichita. But except for those, I compiled numbers for every city larger than 350,000 (and a few smaller ones, too).

But when the PIHN gets below two, I start to suspect some of the data is missing. But who knows? Maybe I'm not giving credit where credit is due.

There's also the possibility that the PIHN adjusts too much for violence. It does, in effect, punish cities for being safe. But police officers in "safe" cities might be quicker to shoot, since they're less used to danger. Certainly cities with low homicide rates rank high on the PIHN scale. But not always. Sacramento has a high homicide rate and a high PIHN. New York has a low homicide rate and a low PIHN. But it might be more interesting to make a scale which eliminates any correlation between PIHN and a city's homicide rate. But I also suspect, based on experience, that police in high-crime areas deserve more credit than they get for not shooting. Some of the bad shootings I've seen recently... I can't imagine a cop in Baltimore being so damn scared for no good reason.

There are fewer than 15 homicides a year in Riverside. Given that, it seems hard to believe that police kill almost five a year.

October 9, 2014

What's up, Riverside?

The city of Riverside, California appears to be, by far, the city in which police are most likely to commit justifiable homicide. I listed a rough rank order of cities in my previous post. Riverside is almost 50 percent higher than the next highest cities, St. Louis and Baltimore. (Even more so if one takes into account Riverside's population gains over the past decade.)

Riverside police kill an average of 4.5 people a year. This is very high for a city with about 300,000 people. New York police kill about 13 people per year. But NYC has 8 million friggin' people!

Other cities with a lot of police-involved homicides, like St. Louis and Baltimore, have a lot of crime. Not Riverside. Over the past decade (2003-2012) there have been 14.6 homicides per year in Riverside. This is on par with about the national average of 5 per 100,000. St. Louis, by comparison, about the same size as Riverside, sees about 126 murders annually. Baltimore, twice as large, has averaged 248 murders. Baltimore and St. Louis have a lot of murders. Since there are more murderers, one would expect police to shoot more of them.

But Riverside?

I've invented an acronym called PIHN. It stands for "Police-Involved Homicide Number." I've also decided it's pronounced "pin."

PIHN takes a city's violence into account and assumes a direct relationship between homicides in a city and police-involved shootings in that city. A higher PIHN means that there are more police-involved homicides for a given level of violence (presumably a poorly trained more trigger-happy police department). A low PIHN means fewer police-involved homicides (a better trained and less trigger-happy police department).

I applied PIHN to the 10 cities with the highest rate of justifiable police-involved homicides in America and also to the 10 largest American cities. First the cities in which police kill a lot of people, per capita.

Notice the cities ranked 2, 3, 4 (St. Louis, Baltimore, and Newark) in police-involved homicides drop way down if one takes the homicide rate into consideration.

Here are the 10 biggest cities. New York, even with a low crime rate, has a low PIHN. Not surprising to me, because the NYPD is very restrained in shooting (despite what you may read). And there's a general clustering between 2 and 4 for the top five.

(Note the scale on this figure is half of the other one)

San Diego is interesting because it doesn't even rank in the top 25 for the overall rate of police-involved homicides. But San Diego is a safe city, overall. Given the low number of homicides in San Diego, the high number of police-involved homicides -- a PIHN close to 12 -- is unexpected and striking.

Among the 20 cities I looked at, there's a cluster of PIHNs between 2 and 3: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Newark, New York, Baltimore, Dallas, and New Orleans. There's variance, to be sure, but they're all kind of in the same ballpark.

And then you go west of the Mississippi and the PIHNs skyrocket, particularly in California. Tulsa's PIHN is 5.4. Sacramento is 8.9. And Riverside, California? Riverside's PIHN is 31.1! That's crazy high. Here are the highest PIHNs:

(Keep in mind this top-ten list comes only from the 20 cities I calculated, which are the 10 largest cities and the 10 cities with the highest police-involved homicide rate, based on URC data.)

Riverside, California. What is up with Riverside?

[You too can calculate PIHN! Divide the police-involved homicide rate or number by the average overall homicide rate or number. I used 2003-2012 homicide data from city-data). And then multiply by 100 to get a PIHN greater than 1. Or I'll do it for you if you do some of the grunt work. Go to city-data, enter the city of your choice, scroll down to crime, add up the homicides numbers from 2003 to 2012.]

[Data for San Antonio police-involved homicides are averaged from just the past six year, since they didn't report to the UCR before then.]

PIHN (police-involved homicide number)

I've invented a statistic (and acronym) called PIHN (pronounced "pin"). It stands for "Police-Involved Homicide Number."

PIHN looks at police-involved homicides but takes a city's violence into account. PIHN assumes a (very questionable) direct relationship between homicides in a city and the number police-involved homicides one might expect.

A high PIHN means that there are more police-involved homicides for a given level of violence (and perhaps a poorly trained and/or more trigger-happy police department). A low PIHN means fewer police-involved homicides (perhaps a better trained and less trigger-happy police department).

You too can calculate PIHN! Divide the police-involved homicide rate or number by the average overall homicide rate or number. I used 2003-2012 homicide data from city-data. And then multiply by 100 to get a PIHN greater than 1.

Bang bang, they shoot you down

The data on police-involved shootings are notoriously bad (that's a link to Jon Stewart worth clicking on!). And yet, at least we kind of know which data are missing. That makes the data not as bad as you might think. At least when it comes to police-involved justifiable homicides (for shootings, we don't know. But if you multiply homicides by two or three, you'll probably be close enough).

Now I've compiled the UCR data on justifiable police homicides from 1998 to 2012. And the data are not complete. Some cities send data. Some don't. Others send a few years... and then decide they have better things to do.

But of the 70 biggest cities in the US, only about 15 jumped out to me as horribly lacking in data. And if you take the 45 cities for which the data is probably good enough, which cities have the highest rate of police-involved homicides?

New York isn't close to the top. (The UCR data from New York actually are not good -- but the NYPD actually provides excellent data on shootings, but for some reason they just don't bother reporting to the UCR.) But if one were to compile the data from the UCR and the NYPD (as I did) one would find an average of 12.2 annual police-involved shooting deaths. Let's round up to 13, for the few cases of non-shooting police-involved homicides. That's an annual rate of about 0.16, which is low. Very low. It puts New York 50th on the list of the 55 largest cites in the US (for which there is probably good data). New York's rate is one-sixth the rate in Baltimore City, for instance.

My lovely Baltimore is number three on the list, in case you were wondering (I was). Baltimore City has seen 88 police-involved homicides over 15 years. Baltimore's annual rate of police-involved homicide is under 1 per 100,000. These killings are justified, I should point out. I can vouch for a few of them 2nd-hand. At least one reader of this blog can vouch 1st-hand.

Number two in the USA is St. Louis (city, not county). 52 justifiable homicides over 15 years. The rate is just over 1 per 100,000.

Number one in the US -- the city with the highest rate of police-involved homicides -- is Riverside! Riverside? Where the hell is Riverside? Is that even a city? I had to look it up. Yes, it is a city. Also a county. In California. But since other cities in Riverside County report their own data, I have to assume that "Riverside" is just the city of Riverside.

According the UCR, there have been 68 justifiable police-involved homicides in Riverside over 15 years. With a (growing) population of 316,000, this is a crazy high police-involved homicide rate of 1.43. This rate of police-involved homicides in Riverside is higher than the overall homicide rate in 43 countries! Anyway...

The top 25 cities for justifiable police-involved homicides from 1998-2012 -- and this is only based on data police provide to the UCR -- but if you do rank high on this list, you probably do provide accurate numbers. It's also only for the most populous 70 cities in America. Homicide numbers are total for 15 years. The rate is annual, per 100,000 residents. And there may be errors.

Also keep in mind this doesn't take the city's crime rate into account. Sure, Baltimore cops shoot a lot of people. But a lot of criminals in Baltimore need to be shot! Baltimorians shoot each other even more. So while the BPD does indeed kill citizens twice as often as say, police in Chicago, there are more situations, per capita, in Baltimore (and Newark and St. Louis) where police need to shoot. So more noteworthy are lower-crime cities that have a lot of police-involved shootings. I don't know what to say about Riverside or Sacramento or Las Vegas, Nevada. And why are six of the cities in California?

Justifiable Police-Involved Homicides, UCR data, 1998-2012

October 7, 2014

The Felony Rush

The tenth and perhaps last in a series from Sgt. Adam Plantinga's excellent 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman:
Once the fleeing vehicle has finally come to a halt, your training dictates that you then conduct a high risk stop. You park your squad car in a position of tactical advantage and order the occupants out in a systematic, cautious fashion. But cops being cops, that’s not often how it goes. Instead of the high risk stop, you get the felony rush. Or the blue swarm, or the polyester pile, all different terms to describe cops, guns drawn, who run directly at the target car, sometimes in each other’s crossfire, sometimes jumping up on the hood of the fleeing vehicle, in order to yank the occupants out through any available open window, their adrenaline so high they can’t wait, like a kid tearing open her Christmas presents on December 24th. These same cops have the tendency to fade away once the excitement is over, and only the lengthy police reports loom. Everyone likes to go to the party but no one wants to clean up.
I might to do a few more of these. But then that's it. There are still 390 left in the book, and I'm not going to go through all of them. So buy the damn book!

Rates help us compare

This is the second of two posts on basic math.

Use rates when you want compare something in groups of different sizes.

Say New York City has 400 homicides a year. Say Baltimore City has 300 homicides. Is New York more dangerous than Baltimore because New York has more homicides. No. Because New York is much larger. But the homicide numbers don't tell us that. Rates take different population sizes into account.

A rate in criminal justice is how often something happens per 100,000 people. (Rates don't have to be per 100,000, but in criminal justice statistics, they almost always are.)

If Baltimore had 300 homicides and a population of 1,000,000 people (in reality both numbers are smaller, but I want to keep the math easy), the rate tells us how many homicides there are per 100,000 people. 100,000 is one-tenth of one million. So the homicide rate will be one-tenth the homicide number. You should be able to do that in your head, but on a calculator, divide 100,000 by 1,000,000. You get 0.1. So to convert Baltimore's homicide numbers to a homicide rate, you multiply the homicide numbers by 0.1 (the same as dividing by 10). Baltimore's homicide rate (per 100,000) would be 30.

New York City is larger. Much larger. About eight million people. In figuring out the homicide rate, we're asking a hypothetical question about how many homicides New York would have if it had a population of 100,000. Then we can compare it Baltimore's rate.

To do this in your head, if the numbers are nice are round, figure how many times 100,000 goes into the population 8,000,000. The answer is 80. And since we're saying New York has 400 homicides a year, we would divide the number of homicides 400 by 80, which gives us a homicide rate of 5.

Same thing a different way, on your calculator. Take 100,000 and divide by 8,000,000. This gives you 0.0125. Multiply 0.0125 by the number of homicides, 400. This gives you a homicide rate or 5.

New York City has a homicide rate of 5; Baltimore's homicide rate is 30, or 6 times higher than New York's, even though New York has more murders.

And here's one way to check your work. The rate is per 100,000. So if the population is less than 100,000, the rate will be greater than the number (a town with 50,000 people and 2 homicides has a homicide rate of 4 per 100,000). If the population is greater than 100,000, the rate will be less than the number (a town of 200,000 people has 8 homicides, the homicide rate is 4 per 100,000).

After a 200-percent decrease in basic math skills...

As promised, here is how to determine basic percentages. Too many of my college students don't understand basic percentages. Clearly GTF has the same problem. So here is how it works -- in words -- with no math symbols. I'm totally serious. It's never too late to learn. And not knowing how to relate "doubled" and "100% increase" is the mathematically equivalent of being functionally illiterate.

To say how many times something increased, simply divide the second number by the first: There were 10 arrests; now there are 30. 30 divided by 10 is 3. Arrests tripled.

To figure out a percent increase or decrease, subtract the first (earlier) number from the second (later) number and then divide the result by the first number (multiply by 100 -- move the decimal place over two to the right -- to get a percentage).

30 minus 10 is 20; 20 divided by 10 is 2; 2 times 100 is 200. So 30 arrests is a 200 percent increase compared to 10. A 100 percent increase would be the same as saying something doubled.

Going the other way, from 30 to 10 arrests would be one-third as many arrests or a two-thirds decrease or a decrease of 67 percent.

And nothing, not even math skills, can decrease more than 100 percent.

Next I'm going to talk about rates.

This is the DEA's Brain on Okra

I wonder if an end-the-drug war voter is just an law-and-order conservative whose backyard okra garden was raided by local cops after being spotted from a helicopter funded by the Drug Enforcement Agency Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program?

Barstow County, Georgia, resident Dwayne Perry may be a recent convert: "I do the right thing and they come to my house, strapped with weapons. It ain't right.... The more I thought it. What could have happened? Anything could have happened." Indeed.

Now I don't know Mr Perry's politics, but seeing how he is a white man in a conservative Georgia county (Republicans out number Democrats 8:1) I'm assuming he didn't cast his ballot for any progressive candidate wanting to end the drug war. I wonder if Mr. Perry will see a connection between the so-called "law-and-order" politicians he votes for and the police who mistook him for the enemy? [More likely, as my wife pointed out, he will just blame Obama.]

But my point does not actually concern Mr. Perry, okra aficionado. It's almost pointless to keep highlighting absurdities in the war on drugs because if you're not convinced by now, it's doubtful one more anecdote will persuade you. Even if this anecdote, you do understand, concerns a helicopter being used to spy on an innocent American which was then followed by a police raid on the backyard garden of an innocent American because the drug warriors incorrectly though okra was marijuana (a relatively benign drug that is partially legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia).

Regardless, it is worth reading Christopher Ingraham's informative Washington Post post about this raid. Did you know that close to 98 percent of all the domestically eradicated marijuana is "ditchweed"? I didn't! And "ditchweed" -- I'm not making this up -- is a technical Department of Justice term for wild non-tended marijuana that contains little if any THC. They'd be more productive pulling up kudzu!

Anyway, I clicked through to the Georgia Department of Public Safety Governor's Task Force/Drug Suppression (GTF) webpage, because that's the type of thorough bathrobe-wearing research you can expect of me. I always like to know what our hard-working taxpayer-sucking drug warriors are up to:
2012 Operational goals were exceeded with an increase over 2011 in plants eradicated, arrests, weapons seized and asset seizures.... GTF initiated and developed intelligence for grow operations throughout the state. The intelligence was then forwarded to local agencies. Subsequent investigations resulted in numerous arrests and seizures. The 2012 statistics indicate the degree of success in achieving primary operational goals.

Those numbers aren't easy to read, but let me highlight a few lines:

2011 Outdoor Grow Plants Seized: 18,710 Plants
My actual calculator! You probably use a phone.
2012 Outdoor Grow Plants: 67,634 Plants
72% increase

2011 Indoor Grows Located: 20
2012 Indoor Grows Located: 24
16% increase

2011 Asset Seizures: $812,248
2012 Asset Seizures: $3,952,307
79% increase

Notice anything? The math doesn't make sense. And it's not that they're trying the old DEA trick of making shit up to make them look good. I think they're just dumb. While a couple of computations are actually correct, the grade overall, based on 2.5 correct out of 8, would still be an F.

Now look, we all make mistakes. I make typos all the time, and it's easy to punch a wrong number into a calculator. But thinking a 387 percent increase is less than 100 percent is absurd. You can pretty much mentally check "more or less than double" in your head. And a more astute practitioner of basic math skills might just know that 20 to 24 is a nice round 20% increase (and not 16%). After that even I need to break out my calculator. So I did:

Now I don't know if bad math is a direct cause and effect related to the Georgia legislature cutting $8.4 billion from public schools, but the math skills of Georgia's drug warriors are just as bad as their botany identification.

Regardless, asset forfeiture increased nearly four-fold from 2011 to 2012, presumably because the warriors have a helicopter. They can look in your backyard and, if they find drugs, take your property. These cops weren't hoping to dig up Mr. Perry's weeds. They wanted to seize his whole damn house!

(In my next post I'll tell you how to figure out percentages. For real.)

October 5, 2014


The ninth in a series from Sgt. Adam Plantinga's excellent 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman:
Most critical incidents you’re involved in take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to resolve themselves. The paperwork that follows takes hours. You’ve got the incident report, the clearance report, the inventory forms, the DA sheets, the arrest report, the prisoner statement, and supplemental reports for all witness interviews. Then the reports are signed by the lieutenant, copied, stapled and routed. But not all reports are copied in the same quantities or colors. The liaison office receives an extra clearance report. The incident report requires a pink copy that stays at the district and the clearance report, which was originally green, needs white copies that are sent to the DA with the green original routed to Central Records. The arrest report needs six copies, one for the booker, one for the captain, three for the county jail, and two for the DA. Some copies are one-sided. Some are two. Some are collated. Some are stamped. You stare at the Xerox machine dully and try to remember these clerical vagaries while at the same time thinking about how Baretta never had to do any of this crap.

October 4, 2014

Why Hassaum McFarlan Matters (or what liberals don't understand)

Imagine you're a New York City Police Officer. You take pride in your job and serving the city. You work hard. You play by the rules. You also feel you don't get enough respect for what you do. And that disrespect comes right from the top.

De Blasio gets elected mayor. You believe, perhaps correctly, that the mayor neither understands nor appreciates what you do. Suddenly police bugaboo Al Sharpton becomes a trusted aide. Whatever you think of the reality of Sharpton, the symbolism of giving him a major say in police policy is painful to most police officers. The New York Times says: "Mr. Sharpton... is now a highly influential figure at City Hall."

Anyway, you do like your job. You love the people you work with. But anti-police liberals -- those who have no understanding of your job and seem to criticize everything you do or don't do -- piss you off.

If you're a cop, you're not getting rich. You get by on $45,000 to $70,000 (perhaps $10,000 more with overtime). NYPD Captains (a rank above sergeant and lieutenant) make less than Noerdlinger. Captains can have hundreds of disgruntled officers and 100,000 concerned citizens to manage and keep satisfied. And these are people you can neither fire nor deport. On top of that, you've also got the top brass breathing down your neck, busting your chops at compstat. The chief of patrol makes about $200,000, I think (correct me if I'm wrong). For what it's worth, my salary as an associate professor (10 years on the job) is about $85,000.

And do keep in mind this is a city where apartments rent for $2,000 to $3,000 and the average (median) home sells for over $1,000,000. It's not a cheap place to live. But this really isn't mostly about money. It's about job professionalism and integrity. It's about messages from the top.

The mayor hires Rachel Noerdlinger to serve as chief of staff to his wife, Chirlane McCray. You even noticed that one because Noerdlinger was formerly Sharpton’s spokesperson. But it became news recently when Noerdlinger became the story became of her boyfriend .

Noerdlinger lives in Jersey (she got a waiver for that). Noerdlinger also gets paid $170,000. That would pay for two college professor, two police officers, or 1.5 sanitation workers (you can pick whichever you think is most needed).

Here's the first part of the problem. Noerdlinger's live-in boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, was convicted of manslaughter as a teenager and does not like cops, to put it mildly. He also doesn't seem to speak well of women, either. From the Times: "The mayor has defended Ms. Noerdlinger, saying she should not be judged by the behavior of a companion." OK. Fair enough. Maybe we shouldn't judge. But sometimes you need to: "two of McFarlan’s five arrests on charges ranging from driving on a suspended license to drug trafficking took place while he was dating Rachel Noerdlinger."

Let's get real. This isn't a civil service or union job. This isn't a question of free speech. This is a question of bad judgement by a woman in a powerful discretionary patronage job. Standards should be higher, not lower. Messages from the top do matter. What if McFarlan wrote about Jews like he wrote about cops? What if McFarlan stereotyped women like he actually did stereotype, er, women? (Actually, that he's getting a pass on that is kind of surprising). If it were almost anybody but cops complaining, Noerdlinger would be out. There were be platitudes about the tapestry of New York City. You'd hear about there being no place for hate in this beautiful diverse city. Now you may have no problem with all this being considered no big deal by the administration, but please understand why cops do.

I would argue that a trusted aide should be trusted to have, if nothing else, good judgement, it's not just a question of what her boyfriend said or said. It's also that Noerdlinger herself didn't mention her living arrangement, as required in the hiring process:
She had failed to disclose on a background questionnaire that she lived with a boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, who had an extensive criminal record. False or misleading statements on such a form can result in termination or prosecution.

...Still, it remained unclear why Ms. Noerdlinger had chosen to inform the mayor’s aides of her living arrangement, but not officials at the city’s Department of Investigation, which conducts formal reviews of high-ranking City Hall appointees.
But apparently the administration sees no problem here Nordlinger didn't "intend to deceive" the mayor about her domestic status. Or do honesty and ethical inquiries not apply at the top (is that a silly question to even ask)? You can be damned sure a cop in controversy would be thrown under a bus for such a violation. And perhaps rightfully so.

Patrick Lynch, PBA president, quite rightly said:
The standards that apply to hiring police officers should apply equally to hiring high ranking, influential staff members. If it is found that she committed a lie of omission during the investigation, then she should be fired.

If you want to read more, you could read this and this.

"Those drug-dealing kids need to get off my lawn!"

So many controversial police incidents, where police are accused of being prejudiced or racist -- and here I'm thinking of the grandfather "kidnapping" his black granddaughter in the previous post, or police shooting the guy in Walmart, or the black guy in Minneapolis being hassled while waiting for his daughter, or just "swatting" in general. These incidents often happen because citizens are stupid or racist or prejudiced. And then the call police. And then the police officers get put in this horrible situation where they have to investigate the sometimes irrational suspicions of an idiot citizen. Usually it's not a matter of life or death. But there are lot of calls for youths selling drugs when they're just loitering. There are a lot of calls for an armed person, when the person is not armed.

I don't know how to avoid these problems, but they are related to the whole problem of the 911 system and reactive policing in general. Police can and do make mistakes, but based on police officer training and experience, police are much better judges of crime and danger than the average schmuck with a cell phone. And yet the information from the average schmuck with a cell phone -- then filtered through an underpaid 911 operator and then passed on to an under-appreciated police dispatcher -- is how most police-public interactions start. For the average citizen, it's too easy, too anonymous, and too without consequence to dial 911. One would think there has to be a better way. Any ideas?

October 3, 2014

Stop making sh*t up!

Here are a few cases were cameras have backed up the police version.

One case I'd like to highlight is the Reverend Bill Godair who claimed a North Carolina officer was aggressive in a traffic stop. The good reverend said, "I refuse to sit back and not do anything, not say anything until Ferguson, Missouri becomes a reality here in Salisbury." And: "My wife was in my vehicle when this incident occurred and was scared by his actions. We honestly thought that I would be arrested." There was even a little press conference and everything! From PoliceOne: "The head of the NAACP chapter has called for Chief Collins to step down or face protests over the excessive force claims."

But my point isn't that the police version is always the truth (though it usually is). I'd prefer, if you don't like cops, to imagine what you would think if you heard this accusation against police and there were no camera present. And if you are a cop, why would you not want a camera to document what happened? As my colleague John DeCarlo likes to point out, "the police are the only ones out there without a camera!"

The reason I like this little example much is because of just how unremarkable the traffic stop was. It most cases something actually does happen, and you have to sort out what happened. But this was a traffic stop. No voices were raised. A ticket was issued.

But while we're at it, this incident in Celina, Texas is interesting because you see two very different perspectives from two very different cameras. In one shot, the cop looks bad, tackling a compliant suspect for no apparent reason. In the other (which starts at 1:40), you see the guy bolting before the cop tackles him. Job well done, officer!

And there's also a guy in Austin who blogged about "babysitting while white" (he was with his black granddaughter):
The officers got out with Tasers drawn demanding I raise my hands and step away from the child. [...] I complied, and they roughly cuffed me, jerking my arms up behind me needlessly. Nine police cars plus the deputy constable all showing up to investigate the heinous crime of baby-sitting while white."
Except that is not happened. There were no Tasers. There was frantic call about the girl being kidnapped. The guy was detained for 13 minutes before being let go.

Said Police Chief Acevedo (quite boldly and accurately, along with pointing out that most kidnappers are not strangers but relatives): "Had that been a real legitimate kidnapping. And we would have responded with one or two officers in a nonchalant manner. The same exact critics that are criticizing us now would be saying that the Austin Police Department does not care about an African America little girl being kidnapped from the Millennium Center."

[thanks to Sgt B for the initial link]

October 2, 2014

Everywhere signs

The eighth in a series from Sgt. Adam Plantinga's excellent 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman:
Police stations are papered in signs. Some offer guidance, like the one that says: In the absence of detailed instruction, please do the right thing. Others suggest a certain approach to life like the large No Sniveling placard. There are signs for district BBQs. Someone always seems to be selling a gun or a boat. Cops advertise their side jobs out to other cops—services in home remodeling, mortgage services, and party planning. The police assembly bears a large communicable disease chart to remind you what’s out there, a chart which includes tuberculosis and antibiotic-resistant staph infections as well as more exotic maladies, like Lyme Disease, pinworms, and whooping cough. The chart kindly reminds you that Hepatitis can last up to seven days outside the body. There are so many contagious diseases that can be passed from prisoner to officer that it makes you wonder why anyone in law enforcement bothers to come into work at all.
My favorite sign, as I've said before, was the one that said: "Unlike the citizens of the Eastern District, you are required to work for your government check."

October 1, 2014

Utah shooting of unarmed man justified

Dillon Taylor was another unarmed white boy shot and killed by police. In (mostly) conservative circles, Dillon Taylor was compared to Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri. In some liberal circles, people believe police only shoot and kill black people. But Taylor, who is white, got almost no press (and I think the officer who shot him was hispanic). Michael Brown was black (and shot by a white officer). There were protests about both shootings (no looting in Utah), but unless you make an effort to follow these things, you've probably never heard of Taylor.

Comparing Taylor and Brown, one person wrote:
But they are alike in this important way: Neither young man deserved to die that day. Neither Michael Brown nor Dillon Taylor was convicted of a crime related to their activities on their last days, and even if they were, it wouldn't be a capital crime. And this doesn't appear to be an uncommon mistake.
Well leaving aside what "common" means, a police officer does not shoot you because of the crime you did or did not commit. You are justifiably shot because a reasonable police officer believes you to be an imminent and potentially lethal threat

To be clear, Taylor was not armed (nor was Brown). But Taylor sure doesn't act like like he's no threat. Taylor was -- and acted like -- an armed criminal. Still, knowing only that Taylor did not have a gun when he was shot, anti-police folk went out and filled in their ignorance with their ideology. The inevitable conclusion: police are to blame.

But comparing the homicide of Taylor and Brown, there is one important difference: the officer who shot Taylor was wearing a body camera! As is usually the case, the video shows exactly what police claimed to have happened. We'll never for sure what happened in the moments before Brown was shot: Here's the Taylor shooting:

The shooting was declared justified. This is maybe not the best shooting, as Taylor was eventually raising his shirt, presumably to show he wasn't armed. I also can't see Taylor's right hand, which could change things. But at some point it seems to me that Taylor is doing the old "life your shirt to show you're not armed" thing. So it does seem unfortunate to shoot a guy when he finally does comply with "getting his hands out." But there was a period of non-compliance. And then there sure was a quick move from a concealing waistband. And had Taylor been armed, and I think a reasonable officer had good reason to believe Taylor was armed, then yes, this is a justified shooting.

There are certain things you have to take on the job: dumb people; dirty people; violent people. But a depressed criminal idiot (perhaps with a death wish), playing "I might have a gun on me" is not one of them. Still, though I'm willing to give the officer on scene the benefit of the doubt, well, like I said, it's not the best shooting. But yes, I think it is justified.

Many people don't realize how many idiots police deal with. As a police officer, more than once I was approached by a kid (always on a bike) who would quickly reach into his waistband and act like he was pulling a gun to shoot me. Honestly, driving toward them, I never had time to react. Also, they were young teenagers. And unarmed. Still, it's the kind of dumb move that can get you killed.

And yet when I've told seemingly smart people (who are far removed from ghetto policing) that this happened a few times, they stare at me in disbelief. They simply can't believe that anybody, much less a unarmed young black male, would do something so potentially lethally stupid as pretend to pull a gun out and shoot a cop. And yet that attitude was routine enough that I didn't even deem it worth mentioning it in my book. It was just some real life FATS training, I suppose.

It was more common, it might be worth pointing out in this post, for young men to routinely (and without any prompting from me) raise their t-shirts to show they were not armed. That move would baffle ride-alongs.

[For what it's worth, I strongly suspect that police who work in violent areas -- and though those officers will be involved in more shootings overall -- those same officers will shoot fewer unarmed people because those officers are acculturated to a certain level of danger. Those cops who work the tough beat have more experience and less fear. I have no idea how to test this killer hypothesis.]