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by Peter Moskos

December 23, 2016

"How much do they care?"

My previous post was supposed to be about this article by Frank Zimring from 42 years ago. But then I got caught up in the false data put out by the Brennan Center.

A friend sent me this fascinating article ("A Tale of Two Cities," Franklin Zimring, December 20, 1974, Wall Street Journal, p.14) because some of it regarding "the troubles" in Northern Ireland is blessedly dated. But much of what he wrote could be published tomorrow and considered current. (Also, I was a little shocked to learn Zimring was a professor and writing in 1974. I was three. And he's still doing well.) His point was that more people, by far, are killed in Detroit. But everybody is much concerned about violence in Northern Ireland. (By American standards, Northern Ireland was never that lethal with (3,600 killed over 32 years.) Why?:
When do people perceive violence as a major social problem, and why? What kinds of antiviolence programs will they tolerate? How much do they care?

Detroit is used to high homicide rates; most of those killed in Detroit are ghetto dwellers; and killings in Detroit are not a direct threat to public political order as it is in Ulster,
The first reason why Detroit (and her sister cities) can absorb so much violence without alarm is that Americans have had ample time to get used to high homicide.
But how is it possible to adjust to such rates of violence? In an important sense, it’s easy.
Because most of the urban body count in the United States involves the faceless young black male “non-citizens” who live and die without conspicuous outpourings of social concern. It is, in fact, misleading to talk of a single homicide rate in American cities, because ghetto-dwelling blacks kill and are killed at rates 10 times as high as big-city whites. Urban violence does, of course, affect a broader spectrum of society--small shopkeepers, street robbery victims, and men, women and children who just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But the great majority of victims are the black poor.
And most of us are pretty safe, after all....Perhaps we can protect ourselves and accept violence as an occupational hazard of urban life for the poor?
Yet there are moral and practical problems with learning to live with violence... The moral problems lie at the heart of the American dream our national greatness is defined in large measure by what we can provide for the least-advantaged among us
Yet the prospects for constructive action are dim.... The political cant that passes for dialog on violence in this country is simply another symptom of failure to face up to our profoundly serious problems.

Even with the best of intentions, our urban body count will be hard to diminish. If we continue to adjust to bloodletting, and to view violence as a nonproblem, there is every chilling prospect we will get what we deserve.
In another 42 years, in 2058, I'd like to think this piece will no longer be timely. But I doubt it. What's happened in the past 42 years? Half of Detroit left, literally. The population of Motor City dropped from 1,513,000 to 689,000. And the homicide rate? It's right where it was, 42 year ago, just under 50 per 100,000.

No, it's not just Chicago

Homicide is up at a record setting two-year pace. But you wouldn't know it from yet another press release by the Brennan Center. I think they time these to provide a "crime is not a problem" narrative to journalists, quite a few of whom are about to write year-end stories with the headline: "Oh shit, homicide is way up!" While I can't really question the motives of crime increase deniers, I can debunk the worst of their claims:

False claim #1) "Nationally," says the Brennan Center, "The murder rate is projected to increase 31.5 percent from 2014 to 2016 — with half of additional murders attributable to Baltimore, Chicago, and Houston."

This is so not true, I don't know where to start.

It's the "half" part I'm talking about. (In a previous post I mentioned that 31.5 percent should be 23.2 percent.)

Collectively, Baltimore, Chicago and Houston will see about 540 more murders in 2016 than in 2014 (my numbers are 1,406 vs. 866). Meanwhile, nationally, there will be roughly 3,600 more murders (17,768 vs. 14,164). Ergo, QED, and I told you so: Baltimore, Chicago and Houston account for 8 percent of all murders and fifteen percent of the additional murders in the US from 2014 to 2016.

8% = 1,406/17,768
15% = (1,406-866)/(17,768-14,164)

A few days ago, they doubled down, "The 2016 murder rate is projected to be 14 percent higher than last year in the 30 largest cities. Chicago is projected to account for 43.7 percent of the total increase in murders." I guess this depends on what "total" means. Because Chicago will be 14 percent of the "total" national increase.

14% = 300 / (17,778 - 15,696)

Now I think Chicago might be 43.7 percent of the increase in the top 30 cities. But that is some meaningless made-up playoff stat. I mean, if you look at the top three cities, it turns out Chicago makes up 102(?) percent of the "total increase." When your formulas can get you absurd results, it means you're doing it wrong!

Are they lying or just in error? Are they making honest mistakes or intentionally misleading? I don't know. But these "fact" are up there, cited by many, corrected by none.

False claim #2) It's all Chicago's fault

Stop blaming Chicago just because it's leading the pack.

Imagine I said, "the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s were really good!" And you replied, "No, not really, because Michael Jordan was playing for them."

Or if I said, "the Alps are a really tall mountain range!" And you replied, "Well, they wouldn't be so tall without Mt. Blanc."

It's difficult to respond to the reply because though substantively irrelevant, it is technically and semantically correct. (Is there some rhetorical term for this kind of distraction argument? Something in Ancient Greek for "hey look, a squirrel!") Indeed, Michael Jordan led the Bulls and the Alps would not be as tall without its tallest mountain. But so f*cking what? The rest of the Bulls were good basketball players. And the Alps would still be tall without its tallest mountain!

The national increase in homicide is a problem with or without Chicago. As I've written before, you can remove Chicago and other cities (not that you should) and the increase in homicide is still very large (albeit, yeah, smaller). There will be about 17,800 murders in 2016. About 4 percent of these [800 / 17,800] happen in Chicago. The two-year increase in Chicago homicide is about 10 percent of the national total  [(777-407) / (17,800-14,164)]. Conversely, 90 percent of the national increase in homicide is not in Chicago.

Chicago, of course, is special. But let's not get distracted. The rise in homicide is not just a problem in "a few, select cities." It's a problem except in few select cities.

False claim #3) Some years murder goes up and some it goes down.

Well, yes, that's true. But not right now. The increase in murder is not, despite what they say, some story of random statistical year-to-year fluctuation:
A similar phenomenon occurred in 2015, when a group of three cities — Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — accounted for more than half of the increase in murders. This year Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are projected to see their murder rates decline, by 6 percent and 18.6 percent, respectively.
Well, you know, up one year and down the next.... Except murder is up. Not up-and-down. And when a few cities go up one year, and other go up next, and all of them go up overall, it's we who took advanced statistics call "a trend."

And dammit, cause Baltimore is personal, Baltimore is not a city running contrary to this upward trend. 2015 was off-the-charts bad for crime Baltimore, after the riots. 2016 was horrible, as in the worst year ever... except compared to 2015. I mean, it's good 2016 is not worse than 2015, but it's not good. To say crime is down in Baltimore is disingenuous at best. The highest murder rate ever -- 2015 -- should not be the new normal by which we judge success.

False claim #4) "Concerns about a national crime wave are still premature."

OK, but if not now, when? 27(?) of the 30 biggest cities have seen an increase in murder over the past two years. We need to do more than simply, "suggest a need to understand how and why murder is increasing in some cities." Are we not supposed to care as long as violence remains segregated in poor segregated black neighborhoods? And we know why murder is increasing in some cities. It's not rocket science. "Lack of socioeconomic opportunity has long been credited with high levels of crime." Yes, no shit. Of course violence happens more in shitty neighborhoods without "socioeconomic opportunity." But that's neither here nor there because "socioeconomic opportunity" hasn't gone down the shitter in the past two years. "Socioeconomic opportunity" might explain (part of) the problem. But it doesn't explain the increase in homicide in the past two years. (Last year, in fact, saw a record decrease in poverty).

False claim #5) Sure homicide is up, but not crime overall.

First of all, if you think rising homicide doesn't matter because other crime is steady, for shame. Second, homicide matters more than other crime. Period. If homicide is up, stop right there. But the statistical problem is that data on crime overall is not that good. A lot of crime isn't reported. We know that. (There's the NCVS, but they have their own problems.)

And I'm not even talking about intentional data manipulation here. An unreported mugging is still a mugging. And the reality gap between crime and reported crime is worse than you think. And it's even worse from a statistical perspective, because there's no reason to think that errors and missing data are consistent year-to-year. (I'm a big stickler about non-random missing data, if that means anything to you.)

When police get out of their car less, they make fewer arrests. And when cops make fewer arrests, *poof* reported crime goes down in sync. It's like a crime never happened. (Except, of course, it did.) If cops get out of their cars more, if cops confront more criminals, there will be more crime recorded. (Which can be falsely interpreted as an increase in crime.)

So when it comes to crime, I trust murder. And very little else. Conveniently, homicides are correlated with all kinds of crime. So if homicides are up (and I'm using "homicide" as synonymous with "murder"), and somebody tries to tell you crime is steady... you shouldn't believe them (even if they believe what they're saying). Question crime data. Hell, question all data. How else will we know if data is valid or from some fakenews meme. And when bad data gets out there, it's a problem for all data.

False claim #6) Crime is still at a historical low

Kind of, sort of. But who's to say what "normal" is? Why should the high crime decades be the standard bearer? Why not the lower crime decades? Crime is kind of where it's always been, if one excludes the high crime 1970s and 1980s. And certainly by civilized world standards we're still crazy murderous.

The point shouldn't be some arbitrary historical date but current trends. And we don't apply that "historically low" BS to other issues. You know what other things, big picture, are at historical lows despite recent uptick? Racism, hate crimes, authoritarian rulers, scurvey, and the bubonic plague. I can't put this strongly enough, but f*ck historic lows (and keep in mind when it comes to crime our "lows" are pretty high). When bad things rear their ugly head, of course we worry and try to nip the problems in the bud before they become an epidemic.

November 18, 2016

The best of times, the worst of times

Ah, the ol' Tale of Two Cities trope. But the diverging homicidal paths of Chicago and New York City are striking. The New York Post has a surprisingly good (especially for the NY Post) article on homicide in Chicago and NYC.

These are raw numbers and not a rate. Chicago is roughly one-third the size of New York City. [Notwithstanding rumors to the contrary, the national increase in murder would still be large, even without Chicago.]

First observe NYC's unheralded murder drop from 2011 to 2013. Police weren't even willing to take credit! Why? Because it corresponded with the demise of stop and frisk. And then liberal Mayor de Blasio came on the scene in 2013. If you listened to cops, the city was going to immediately descend to some pre-Giuliani Orwellian hell. That did not happen.

It turns out that quota-inspired stops and misdemeanor marijuana arrests are not good policing. Now we knew that (though even I'll admit I was surprised that literally hundreds of thousands of stops didn't have some measurable deterrent effect on gun violence.)

In Chicago, stops also stopped, but unlike New York, it was not because cops stopped stopping people they didn't want to stop. Cops in Chicago got the message to stop being proactive lest controversy ensues. Bowing to political and legal pressure, police in Chicago (and also Baltimore) became less proactive in response to the bad shooting of Laquan McDonald, excessive stop-related paperwork, the threat of personal lawsuits based on these same forms, and a mayor in crisis mode.

Less proactive policing and less racially disparate policing is a stated goal of the ACLU and DOJ. See, if police legally stop and then frisk six guys loitering on a drug corner and (lucky day!) find a gun on one and drugs on another, the remaining four guys, at least according to some, are "innocent." I beg to differ. (Though I should point out that in the real world, the "hit rate" never comes close to 20 percent.)

And then there's my beloved foot patrol. Policing is the interaction of police with the public. But there are no stats I know of to determine how many cops, at any given moment, are out and about and not sitting inside a car waiting for a call. From the Post:
A high-ranking NYPD official credited the city’s increasing safety to the widespread, targeted deployment of cops on foot patrol.

“Most cities only place foot posts in business districts. We put our foot posts in the most violent areas of the city, as well as our business district,” the source said.

“It’s not a fun assignment, but it’s critical to keeping people safe.”
Meanwhile in Chicago:
Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy — who was fired last year amid controversy over the police shooting of an unarmed teen — said criticism of policing methods by local officials there had left cops “hamstrung.”

“They’re not getting out of their cars and stopping people. That’s because of all the politics here,” said McCarthy, a former NYPD cop.

“In Chicago, performance is less important than politics. It’s called ‘The Chicago Way,’ and the results are horrific.”
My buddy Gene O'Donnell says:
“The harsh reality in Chicago is that you have the collapse of the criminal justice system,” O’Donnell said.

“The police aren’t even on the playing field anymore, and the police department is in a state of collapse.”

O’Donnell, who was an NYPD cop during the 1980s, said that although “New York had a similar dynamic” during the height of the crack epidemic, “we had a transformation, because people realized you don’t have to tolerate that.”
Guns are part of the mix:
Veteran Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf noted that Chicago “is much more porous to guns” than New York, with a “direct pipeline” leading there in “a straight line from Mississippi.”
But that is more of an excuse than an explanation. Newark, New Jersey, just a PATH-train subway ride away from Manhattan, has more of a gun problem than New York City. Hard to imagine a subway and a few bridges plugs the gun pipeline.

There are other differences between Chicago and New York in terms of poverty and segregation (greater in Chicago), commitment to public housing that actually works (greater in New York), and maybe even lower-crime foreign immigrants (greater in New York... but I say "maybe" because it's still substantial in Chicago, with 22% foreign born).

And then there's this:
Psychology professor Arthur Lurigio of Chicago’s Loyola University cited an “intergenerational” component to the mayhem, with sons following their fathers — and even grandfathers — into the city’s extensive and ingrained gang culture.

“Chicago’s problem wasn’t a day in the making — it’s 60 years in the making,” he said.

“Working at the jail as a staff psychologist, I’ve seen two, maybe three generations pass through.”
I don't mean to criticize an academic willing to highlight culture and the inter-generational transmission of violence, but I quibble with the line that Chicago's problems are 60 years in the making. I mean, yes, it's true.... But the explosion of homicide in the past two years is, well, a problem exactly two years in the making.

Chicago may always have a higher homicide rate than New York because of history and structural issues. But the short-term solution is getting more cops out of their cars, back on beats, and supported when they legally confront violent people we pay police to confront.

Violence-prevention depends, in part, on such confrontation. And since violence is racially disparate, this will mean racially disparate policing. Innocent people -- disproportionately innocent black people -- will get stopped. There's no way to square this circle (though we can help sand down the rougher corners).

The alternative to proactive policing is what is happening in Chicago. Police have responded to public and political (and legal) pressure: stops are down, arrests are down, and so are police-involved shootings and complaints against police. Police are staying out of trouble and letting society sort out the violence problem. How's that working out?

November 17, 2016

"Biggest Spike in 50 Years"

If only we cared about homicide victims as much as we did about traffic fatalities, we might see an article in the paper about the biggest homicide spike in 50 years. Instead, there is a Times article about distracted driving: "Biggest Spike in Traffic Deaths in 50 Years? Blame Apps."

The rise in traffic deaths -- the total number of highway deaths in America (35,000) is roughly twice the number homicide victims (16,000) -- has been reported by the Wall Street Journal, NBC, Newsweek, and Reuters. None of these stories talk about a "statistical blip," or "traffic deaths are still at historic lows," or "no need to worry, because certain high-speed roads account for most deaths." No. Nor should they. Because the rise in deaths is real and real people are dying. When it comes to traffic deaths, we take the data and try and figure what is happening and how to prevent it. Why aren't we doing that with homicide?

Violence begets violence. And the longer we stick our head in the sand, the worse this will be. I know the phrase "law and order" is right-wing, but the concept that people have a basic right to live is not. The left shouldn't cede law-and-order issues to the right. Ideological prisms need to be set aside for basic human decency. It's better to address the violence problem before thousands more are killed.

I understand, or at least I think I do, the motivations of those on the left who minimize the significance of the homicide increase. There's a very real concern that those on the right will use crime to push ineffective and even racist policies that hurt the very people most at risk. Or maybe it's difficult for some to objectively examine the homicide increase in light of everything that has happened, post-Ferguson, with demands that police be less racially disparate and proactive.

Murder victims are disproportionately poor young black male high-school drop-outs. This is politically awkward at best, certainly when it comes to the matter of black lives. But some on the left have gone so far to say that since "most Americans" aren't at greater risk of being killed, "warnings" are politically "provocative." Good God! I mean I know that you , dear reader, are much more likely to be killed in a car crash than be the victim of a homicide. But for many other people, the opposite is true. Because it affects others more than you is reason to care even more.

So I read this Times article about traffic deaths and notice how much it, word for word, could be applied to the nation's spike in murder, the one nobody is talking about. Even the graphic could basically be copied (though I made one for murder). I did change a few things in [brackets] -- eg: "transportation" to "justice" and "highway fatalities" to "homicides" -- to create the article I wish were getting as much press:
After steady declines over the last four decades, [homicides] last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of 2016, [homicide] deaths jumped [13.1] percent, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the [Brennan Center].

"This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” the head of the agency, said in an interview.

Alarmed by the statistics, the Department of [Justice] in October outlined a plan to work with the [police] and advocacy groups to devise a “Road to Zero” strategy, with the ambitious goal of eliminating [murder] within 30 years.

The Obama administration’s [Attorney General, Loretta Lynch,] said that the near-term effort would involve identifying changes in regulations, laws and standards that could help reduce fatalities.

“This is a serious public safety concern for the nation,” [she] said at a recent conference in Washington held by the National [Violence Prevention] Board. “We are all trying to figure out to what extent this is the new normal.”

Deadly [Murder] Rise
After decades of steady declines, the number of deaths stemming from [homicide] has risen in the last two years to its highest level since 2009.

November 15, 2016

Criminal Justice Reform in the Age of Trump

Over at the Cato Institute, Steven Teles wrote a piece about conservatives and how we can de-incarcerate. A group of people, myself included, are writing response pieces. Here is mine:
A few years back, for a brief while, it really did seem as if conservative Republicans were interested in reducing the number of prisoners in America. Teles argues that once conservatives get in a position of political omnipotence, they don’t have liberals to kick around anymore. Political control brings policy ownership. Without fear of political defeat or being labeled “soft on crime,” conservatives are free to judge prisons on cost, effectiveness, and even morality.
There are indeed some extremely low-hanging fruits of de-incarceration, some truly nonviolent offenders and others who may have been ignorant of the crime they committed. [But] to return to pre-1980 levels of incarceration in America, 80 percent of prisoners would have to be released. This will not happen.
On crime and police, the first steps in incarceration, Democrats in the past two years were eager to abandon 20 years of generally pro-police policy dating back to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Trump’s victory could allow the left (at least the moderate left) to shift from the #BlackLivesMatter police-are-the-problem mentality to one more focused on actually preventing crime.... Had Hillary Clinton won the election, an unprecedented two-year 25 percent increase in nationwide homicide since 2014 would certainly have revived crime as a wedge issue and placed Democrats on the defensive. It still may. The coming days could be dark indeed.

November 12, 2016

"I took an oath to protect all"

Once again an excellent Facebook post from my friend. The words are his. The idea he got from a San Fransico Police Officer:
Safety pins have become a symbol of solidarity with minority groups who feel threatened by events in this country. People are posting selfies with their pins, letting those minority groups know they have a friendly and safe face to look out for them.

Below is my pin. It's on the back of my badge. I started wearing it in 2003 after I took an oath to protect all - regardless of race, religion, creed or sexual orientation. Regardless of current popular belief, I promise to continue to protect and watch out for all and be there for anyone who needs my help, along with my 800,000 safety pin wearing brothers and sisters in blue.

Homicide is up, and it's not Trump's fault yet

Somehow, between the Cubs winning the World Series, the presidential election, friends and family visiting, and, you know, my job, I missed this.

The Brennan Center, which has been repeatedly telling us not to worry about rising homicide, predicts that this year's homicide increase will be even bigger than last year's increase (last year's was 10.4%, this year's is predicted by the Brennen Center to be 13.1%). The Brennan center says "Nationally, the murder rate is projected to increase 31.5 percent from 2014 to 2016."

[Update/correction: Their math, as has been pointed out to me, does not add up. By my math, a 13.1 percent increase after a 10.4 percent increase is a 24.9 percent 2-year increase. I've changed a few things in this post to reflect the correct number.]

Homicides up by 25 percent in just two years? This is the biggest two-year increase ever.

Their conclusion:
There is no evidence of a national murder wave.
What the f*ck? I'm getting these numbers from their report! It's like Bagdad Bob all over again. I wonder how long they can keep this up.

Oh, but they do go on:
Increases in these select cities [Baltimore, Chicago, and Houston] are indeed a serious problem.
You think? But...
most Americans will continue to experience low rates of crime. A few cities are seeing murders increase, causing the national murder rate to rise.
Apparently, goes their logic, as long as homicide goes up more in some cities than others, it's not really going up elsewhere, even though it is. To say the increase in homicide is due to a few "select cities" is simply not true.

Chicago, Baltimore, and Houston are not at all creating the national trend. They're just the leaders of the pack. One could remove "these select cities" -- not that you should, mind you, but I have -- and we're still left with a huge increase in homicide, nationwide.

[And the "most Americans" part really gets my goat. Like we didn't to worry abut minorities at risk? I'd like to hear the Brennan Center tell that to everybody afraid after Trump's victory.]

And mark my words: when the official UCR data on this year comes out next year, those on the Left will be quick to blame Trump and everybody and everything except what has happened since 2014, post-Ferguson, locally with policing and nationally with the DOJ. These past two years have been an unprecedented and unmitigated disaster in terms of rising murder, particularly among poor young under-educated African-American men with guns. And the only person who even pretended to care (and based on his record, I seriously doubt his sincerity) just won the presidential election.

Speaking of my words, a short while back I wrote this:
Here’s what scares me right now more than guns: the potential right-wing law-and-order backlash. ... It will be the largest [homicide] increase in decades. And yet the Left has been in denial about this (and/or discounts its significance). ... we’re virtually conceding law-and-order issues to Trump and the fascist Right. Politically and morally, this is bonkers.
And this:
Politically, I don't want to the only people responsive to rising crime to be Trump and the "law-and-order." They scare me.
And that's the world we live in. The Left wouldn't address this issue. Well, let's see what happens now.

November 10, 2016

"Because we are sworn to protect those that can't protect themselves"

The funeral for Sergeant Tuozzolo just happened. My friend Ari Maas posted this on facebook after his death:
For the second time this week, the law enforcement community suffered a great loss. NYPD Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo was shot in the head while attempting to arrest a very bad man. That bad man had 17 prior arrests and had just committed a home invasion in the Bronx at the home of his estranged wife.

That bad man had a gun, a gun he used to take Paul's life and attempted to take many others. Luckily a rookie officer, who was still in police academy field training, was able to put an end to that bad man's rampage. But not before that bad man destroyed Paul's family, leaving his wife a widow and his two children fatherless.

I didn't know Paul. We were both veterans of the 26th Precinct, but Paul was promoted just a few months before I was transferred from East Harlem to West Harlem. However, I see on my Facebook feed from my 26 family who worked with and were friends with Paul, that he was a great man, father, husband, and police officer. He had 19 years of service. 19 years of putting on that uniform every day to make New York City a better place. 19 years of working midnights, holidays, weekends and being away from his family. 19 years of selfless service.

And even if I didn't know Paul, I knew Paul. Paul was just like every one of us who puts on the uniform every day not knowing what to expect, but knowing we do what we do because we make a difference. Because we are sworn to protect those that can't protect themselves. Because we have given so much and far too many of us, have given our all, in order to make the world even a little better place.

Every time a cop gets killed, I change my profile picture to a badge with a mourning band on it, and I write a post. I do this not so much for myself or the other cops on my friends list, but rather, so that my friends from my other diverse groups can understand that we are human, we feel pain, and all we want is to do our job, make a difference, and go home to our families. And all of us are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to make this world better.

But, I have come to realize that the Michael Marks, a Marine Corps veteran quote, "And maybe just remind the few, if ill of us they speak,that we are all that stands between The Monsters And The Weak" isn't something we have to do. Because for anyone that has ever worn a uniform to work, not knowing what that day of work will bring (our Armed Forces, police, fire and EMS and others), it doesn't really matter if people understand the evil we protect them from. What matters is that we can look at ourselves in the mirror every day, honor our lost brothers and sisters, and continue on, in their memory, in making this world a better place.

Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo, Blessed is the True Judge. May your family, friends, the NYPD and the entire City of New York find comfort during these trying times. We will carry on your watch from here.

Fidelis ad mortem. Faithful unto death.
Rest in peace, Sgt. Tuozzolo. Rest in peace.

November 5, 2016

RIP NYPD Sgt Paul Tuozzolo

NYPD Sergeant Tuozzolo was killed in the Bronx after confronting a domestic break-in suspect with a long history of criminal trouble:
Rosales' 50-year-old mother-in-law had called 911 when the man, who had 17 prior arrests in Suffolk County, forced his way into the apartment she shared with his estranged 29-year old wife and their 3-year-old son, minutes before the police chase ensued, O'Neill and sources said.
Sgt Kwo and a rookie, three days out of the academy, returned fire. Kwo was shot and wounded. The cop killer was killed.

Rest in Peace.

November 3, 2016

Press release for journalists

From John Jay's Crime Report:
ATTENTION JOURNALISTS: The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice, publisher of The Crime Report, is offering special reporting fellowships to attend the 12th annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America in New York City on February 16-17, 2017. All U.S.-based media working on print, online and broadcast platforms are eligible to apply. Please circulate among your colleagues! For details and application forms, please visit the Center on Media, Crime and Justice.

October 21, 2016

Don't sh*t where you live

The Villiage Voice reports on how, after much effort, a guy got data on where NYPD officers live (the zip codes). There's nothing too surprising here, but it is worth noting 1) the NYPD was reluctant to give it up, and 2) NYPD officers are forbidden to work in the precinct in which they live. This goes back to anti-corruption efforts, and it is at odds with community policing. (Not that many cops want to live where they work, but that's another matter.)

58 percent of cops live in the city, but just 45 percent of white compared with three-quarters of black and hispanic cops.

Just under 30 cops live in my zip code in Queens. 114 cops live in 10940, Middletown, NY. That's 70 miles to the city limits and a 2-hour drive to 1PP, police headquarters. Suffolk County to Western Queens can take just as long. A few cops live even further away. I don't think that's a healthy commute, especially for a job that requires flexibility and going to court. But what do I know?

"Number Two" at the range

Two days ago in the Bronx, an NYPD sergeant shot and killed Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old with schizophrenia armed with a baseball bat. Deborah Danner's death is a tragedy. It is a failure of the system. But almost immediately, the officer who shot was stripped of his badge and gun and denounced by the mayor and police commissioner. DeBlasio -- who according to the Times, "struggled to answer basic questions about the shooting" -- felt he knew enough to throw the cop under the bus:
The shooting of Deborah Danner was tragic, and it is unacceptable. It should never have happened. It is quite clear our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation. And it's very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here.
Really? At NYPD target practice, there's a simple shoot/don't-shoot scenario. (This is something we did not have in Baltimore, which might help explain the NYPD's overall extremely low rate of using lethal force.)

The guy with a bat is known as "Number Two." When you hear, "Number Two," you're supposed to see the guy with a bat and shoot Mr. Number Two. (Also Three and Four, but not Numbers One or Five.)

I am not saying this was a good shooting. I am saying that if we don't want cops to shoot people with baseball bats, why do we train cops to do just that?

The mayor continued:
There was certainly a protocol that called for deferring to the Emergency Service Unit (ESU). That was not followed. There was obviously the option of using a taser. That was not employed. We will fully investigate this situation and we will cooperate fully with any prosecutorial agencies. We need to know why this officer did follow his training and did not follow those protocols.
[The New York State attorney general said he would not investigate the shooting.]

Protocol, so I hear, does say that officers confronted with an emotionally disturbed armed person (apparently initially naked and armed with scissors) should back off, close the door, and call for ESU and wait.

I'm not convinced the department really wants this to happen all the time. This protocol, let's call it Plan B, would tie up a few officers for a few hours in what would then be a barricade situation. It would also draw on the military-like resources of ESU.

Plan A is for two cops to simply handle the inncident quickly and professionally, and get back in service to handle the next call. When violating "protocol" is routine, even encouraged, it's not fair to only crack the whip when things go bad.

But one thing about these events is they can change police culture quite quickly. ESU is now going to have a lot more work, for better or for worse. But wouldn't be ironic if ESU responded to every call, especially in light of demands to de-militarize the police? And then what happens when ESU kills somebody? Then we blame ESU?

Then who do we call? The really issue is that police shouldn't be responding to this type of call at all.

Here's Alex Vitale (whom I'm actually agreeing with!) in the Gotham Gazette:
The fact that police had to even be dispatched in the first place is a sign that something went wrong.

Health officials knew about this woman's condition.... Why was she returned to her apartment without adequate ongoing supervision or care?
Yet thousands of profoundly disabled people continue to roam the streets and subways or idle away at home with little or no support, leaving police to deal with the crises that inevitably result.
The mayor was wrong when he said that current training is adequate and this was just the mistake of a single officer. Ultimately, police are the wrong people to be responding to a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

October 6, 2016

"Chicago cop murders unarmed man after fender bender"

That's the headline that wasn't.

Instead we have this headline: "Officer Didn't Shoot Attacker Because She Feared Backlash."

A 43-year-old female 17-year-veteran suffered this:
The man had punched her and "repeatedly smashed her face into the pavement" until she was knocked out, police said. She suffered head trauma and multiple cuts to her face and head.
When you're a cop losing a fight and a man is bashing your head on the ground trying to kill you, it's OK to shoot the guy. Can we agree on that?

Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times:
A “simple traffic accident” that turned ugly.

“A subject who was under the influence of PCP attacked a female officer. Viciously pounded her head into the street as her partner was trying to get him off of her. This attack went on for several minutes,” [Chicago Police Supt.] Johnson told the assembled dignitaries.

“As I was at the hospital last night visiting with her, she looked at me and said she thought she was gonna die. And she knew that she should shoot this guy. But, she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news.”
The superintendent said he plans to turn that around by “encouraging” his officers and assuring them he has their backs.

“But, at the same time, we know we have to change this national narrative that the cops are the bad guys. The cops are actually the good guys trying to do a difficult job,” Johnson said.
It took many cops to arrest this guy. And three of those cops were hurt. The female officer is still hospitalized.

Tribune Columnist (and fellow Greek American) John Kass:
She's alive, but what if she had pulled her gun and used it?

We'd be going through the old rituals we know by heart, angry activists, the dead re-created as the victim of state-sponsored racism, politicians cowering and turning their backs on her, the entire urban political liturgy we've seen so many times.
Cops are getting in trouble for shooting armed suspects. You think she's get a pass for killing an unarmed black man? (I'm not 100 percent certain the man is black, but the neighborhood is.)

"She murdered an innocent unarmed man!" "They should have helped him after his accident." "How could one man be a threat to multiple officers?" "They didn't have to kill him!" And indeed, they didn't. He was taken alive.

Of course the guy who beat the cop is a violent felon. But who would hold that against him after being victimized by police? I'm sure there's a nice picture of him and relatives willing to say how "he was turning his life around" and would "never hit a woman." Who would believe Chicago cops?

So this officer was willing to let herself be beat to unconsciousness in order to save her family and the department from the now inevitable "scrutiny" had she decided to use lethal force.

So what should have she done? Honestly, I don't know. I'm not convinced she made the wrong choice. The reality today is there would be hell to pay if she shot the guy. Her job and family might be ruined. There would be protests. Threats. She could lose her job or face criminal prosecution. She might have to move and take her family into hiding. She made her choice. But that is a choice no cop should ever have to make, especially at the moment when your face is smashed on concrete again and again and the world fades into darkness around you.

October 5, 2016

"Why'd you have to shoot that criminal with a gun?"

So much of the body-cam debate, releasing or not releasing videos, comes down not to police behavior but to this:
I know, as a lifelong police officer, that I see people on the worst day of their lives. People shouldn’t feel like when the police come to your house that what’s happened to you is going to be splashed all over the Internet.
But it will.

I've long advocated punting the releasing of video and privacy issue to the ACLU. If police take the lead on this, no matter what they choose, they will be faulted. There needs to be a policy based on something other than public outrage. And generally I'm all for erroring on the side of transparency. And that's probably the way it has to be as long as people are willing to say people are holding books when they're holding guns.

As my colleague says:
“What you’re seeing is basically a policy of appeasement,” said Jon Shane, a professor at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City and a former police captain in Newark, N.J.

Shane said state legislatures should decide the rules for making recordings public. In California, lawmakers have repeatedly failed to draw up statewide policies on the issue.
There's also this factor:
Beck acknowledged the anger surrounding the weekend’s shootings and said he believed some of the reaction has been compounded by other police killings around the country.

“We have all seen police-involved shootings that defy justification in other municipalities. I have seen them where I am at a loss to understand why,” he said. “I think that affects what happens on the streets of Los Angeles.”
This concerns the shooting of Carnell Snell Jr. in Los Angeles.

October 4, 2016

Dejuan Yourse Arrest

For the life of me, I can't figure what Yourse is going to be charged with. Even with the game rigged in cops' favor, I don't see a crime. Yourse is under arrest after 9:10 when the officer doesn't take kindly to Yourse invited his friends over. I can understand why the officer doesn't want a posse of friends showing up at the scene, but what's the crime? This was in Greensboro, NC.

I'd be curious to see how he'd be able to articulate reasonable suspicion at 8:13. I'm not saying he couldn't; it's a low standard. But I'd like to see how. That's when things go South. Before that moment, everybody is playing along and sticking to the script. Poking a guy rarely serves any tactical benefit. Alternative if you don't want him to leave? Hold your palm out. If you're going to make physical contact, let the suspect initiate it. Also then you're in a better position to push back or grab.

After that, it becomes your standard shit show of trying to get a guy's hands behind his back. First he is resisting arrest. But then even when he isn't, it would seem like that because he's so built that his arms don't physically move in a way that can be cuffed (without double cuffs). Anyway, resisting arrest is a charge, but first you actually to be arrested for a crime before you can be charged with resisting. The standard catch-alls -- loitering, failure to obey, disorderly -- none of those even seem to apply here.

Anyway, word on the street (ie: a journalist told me) is that the officers resigned. I'm not going to defend how the male officer handled this. He sure could have benefited from de-escalation or common sense. I mean, as long as he doesn't come back wanted, I'm pretty convinced he's not breaking into the house. Too bad she wasn't handling this with him running the warrant check. But why in the world would she resign? Unless the lied on her report or something.

Also, once again, you have cops serving as force multipliers, forced into a situation by a call from an ignorant and/or racist citizen. That happens a lot. But it may not be the case here.

My wife just told me that Yourse actually was wanted on some warrant, but the cops didn't know that yet when the arrested Yourse. According an attorney for the Greensboro Police Association:
Once Mr. Yourse was taken into custody, the officers were able to continue attempting to verify his identity. Upon doing so, it was learned that Mr. Yourse had two active warrants for his arrest, along with two additional orders for his arrest [?]. Additionally, they discovered that Mr. Yourse had been charged twice in the past for breaking into his mother's house, 2 Mistywood Ct.

October 2, 2016

When to call (and not call) 911

Interesting study by some prominent (and good) sociologists about the drop-off in 911 calls after there was publicity about a man severely beaten by off-duty Milwaukee cops in 2004. Calls dropped by about 17 percent for about a year.

But that's just a segue to this, which comes from a community listserve in Durham, NC. A friend of mine who lives there sent it to me. And I reprint it here with permission of the author, Durham Sergeant Dale Gunter. He's got a bit of whimsy about him (a good quality in a sane cop) and seems to be in the news a fair amount, in a good kind of way way. Also, this a question I still get asked a lot.
There seems to be some confusion and hesitation about when to call 911. Lots of people have emailed me recently to ask when or what constitutes a 911 call versus a non-emergency call. So in order to clear it all up and because I know you’re all wondering, I’m gonna give you the skinny on the whole deal. This is exciting stuff folks, so put a pillow on the floor just in case you fall off the edge of your seat.

Here we go: if you see something HAPPENING that you think needs Police attention NOW (or for that matter, anything that falls under "Emergency Services" such as Police, Fire or EMS) then 911 is appropriate. The basic idea is to ask yourself if what you're seeing is “In-Progress.” If it is in progress -- call 911.

Now -- if the situation is clearly NOT an emergency or the incident is not currently in progress, then dialing the Non-Emergency line is appropriate [The Durham number is given here, but yours might be 311]. That’s why it’s called the Non-Emergency line -- nifty huh?

Examples of 911 calls can include:
  • Car wrecks
  • Any medical emergency
  • A break-in to your home (and you don't know if anyone is inside)
  • A break-in to your home while YOU'RE inside!
  • Seeing someone stealing, about to steal, or break-in to something
  • Fights (doesn't apply to animals, does apply to Kung-Fu)
  • Bad guy with a gun
  • Any sighting of Chuck Norris (cause someone is about to get hurt)
  • Gunshots
  • Suspicious activity (make sure to tell 911 exactly what’s suspicious about what you see)
  • Your house is on fire
  • My house is on fire
  • Anybody’s house is on fire
  • Fire in general
  • If you've fallen and can't get up
  • If I've fallen and I can't get up!
  • On second thought, a Chuck Norris sighting? Nothing we can do. Best not to intervene. It is, after all, Chuck Norris.
Now this is not even a drop in the bucket. So don't limit yourself to any list out there, because there are so many situations that can and would apply. Use good judgment and if you still have doubt, call 911. You can’t go wrong -- we'll figure it out when we get there.

Now, for the non-emergency stuff. the Non-Emergency number for the Durham Police is [yours might be 311, if you live in a city].

Basically, anything that you might need the police for, but it's not a "ShaZaaam!" moment. It's NOT in progress, and it doesn’t endanger life or property. It's more of a “Well, the police should probably know what's going on here, but there's no rush.”
Some examples of non-emergencies are:
  • A dent to your car in the parking lot.
  • A stolen mower, weed wacker, whack-a-mole game, wilted weeping willow, or other property (something that might have gotten stolen out of your shed for example) and the bad guy is long gone
  • A minor crime that occurred days ago or even hours ago
  • A car break-in (not in progress)
  • Identity fraud (not in progress)
  • Police advice
When not to call us at all --
  • When your order at Mickey-D's is not really "Your way."
  • When you forget your anniversary -- again -- and you were married Christmas day, her birthday, or Halloween (You’re on your own fellas).
  • Cat in a tree (it will come down eventually. after all, who's ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree?)
  • Dog in a tree -- call me directly. Gotta see that.
  • Clowns -- your discretion -- they creep me out too.
  • Aliens -- when aliens from Mars, in possession of an Illudium PU 36 Explosive Space Modulator, lands in the city park and start vaporizing people into cosmic dust -- it may be an emergency, but trust me -- I ain't coming.
  • Just to say "Hi Police!"
  • When Victor finds out Adam is secretly conspiring against Ashley to make her think she’s losing her mind and to make her think she's pregnant, but we all know she's really not, except for Victor, who can't see the truth because he hates Jack, and Jack is worrying about Gloria scheming as usual and Jack and Victor are worrying about that crazy Mary Jane and kitty cat. Mary Jane wants to kill Jack and Victor and stuff the new cat, or marry Jack, depends on the moment. Now, Mary Jane ought to think about calling 911 for that spider bite, that might be appropriate, and she could if she hadn't have stomped on the cell phone. Not that I watch Y&R, it's just what I hear, honest, you know, word on the street and all.
  • To find out the weather or road conditions. Instead, just watch Don “Big Weather” Schwenneker on WTVD. If Big Weather says “TarNader is a comin,” grab Dorothy and the dog and get in the cellar, cause a TarNader is a comin!
  • You want directions
  • Lost cell phones (No need to report it to anyone but your insurance company. Also, how did you call?)
  • Lost wallet
  • Lost dogs
  • Lost cats
  • Lost love
  • Lost keys
  • Lost re-runs
  • Los Alamos
  • Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas -- stays in Vegas -- unless you put it on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.
Now, if you have something that comes up and are confused or wonder about or have ANY DOUBT at all, repeat after me: Call 911 -- you can't go wrong.

September 26, 2016

Spin This: The biggest murder increase in 45 years

Murder is up. Who knew? (I've been saying so since last October.) Eventually, we're all going to have to accept this (not in a moral sense but in a statistical sense). The accepted liberal reaction to this increase seems to be "it's not a big deal" and "Don't freak out." Let's not get "hysterical." Let's talk about "gun control." (In the early 1990s, by the way, it was all about "drug treatment." That didn't happen either. And crime went down.)

What I really do not understand is why the Left is willing to concede crime prevention to the Right. (I bet Trump won't be downplaying this in tonight's debate.)

False argument #1: The best violence-reduction strategy is a job-production strategy.

It sounds nice, but I say bullsh*t. As if unemployed people just can't help but shoot each other.

Do not get me wrong: Poverty is bad. But it just so happens that 2015, the year with the big murder increase, also saw the biggest decrease in poverty since 1991. 3.5 million people rose out of poverty last year. That's great news. It really is. (Full report & summary in the NYT.)

But we still hear this from people like this St. Louis alderman:
How do we use that [crime] data to elevate the consciousness of our community? How do we use that data to provide the opportunity for people to get meaningful jobs, with livable wages?
No. I mean, yes! Please, work on that, too. But the question from these data is how the hell we get police back into policing and crime prevention. Sure, it sucks when dad loses his job, but consider how much worse it is for dad to get killed coming home from work. (I would even say that you can't have a real job-production strategy until you achieve violence reduction. Who the hell is going to open a business where you will get robbed and workers get mugged walking to their car?)

The Guardian goes on to summarize the Brennan Center's position:
Last year’s national murder increase was not a uniform trend, but a sum of contradictory changes in cities across the country. Early analyses of the 2015 murder increase suggested much of it might be driven by murder spikes in just 10 large cities.
(Now I see how clever the Brennan Center was to put out their paper last week, so it becomes cited immediately to put things "in context.")

False argument #2: It's just happening a few cities.

No. It's not.

Homicide (and almost all violent crime) is up in every grouping of towns and cities (such as "under 10,000" and "over 1,000,000"). Period. Now that doesn't mean it's up in every city. But what a weird and nonsensical standard. Sure, if we remove all the places where crime is up, crime wouldn't be up. But that's we have fancy statistical concepts like "overall," "in general," and "trend."

Even if we were to remove the 6 cities with the largest increase -- and I don't know why we would -- but just to see if the problem is isolated in a few cities, let's take out Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington, Cleveland, and Houston (collectively those cities saw about 420 more murders in 2015) -- even without these cities the rest of America would still have 600 more murders and the biggest homicide increase in 25 years. That's how bad these just released numbers are.

Now we can say that violence in concentrated in certain neighborhoods. That's true. But we've long known this. Indeed, as you can tell from looking out your window, there aren't armed marauders outside your castle gates. What matters, or at least should matter, is that more American are being murdered. I find it distasteful (particularly when it comes from the Left) to say "most people" don't have to worry about crime because the "average person" is still safe. The fact that violence disproportionately affects a subset of Americans may indeed mean it's not a "national crime wave," but it is all the more reason to care.

False argument #3: It might just be a statistical blip.

But it's not. I mean, it could be a statistical blip.... If it were just one or two percent. But it's up 11 percent. The last time we saw an 11 percent one-year increase in murder was 1971. That's exactly my entire lifetime. And that was in the middle of eight-year run when homicides doubled from ten to twenty thousand. This "blip" was literally the deaths of 1,600 more Americans. The number of people killed went up from 14,164 in 2014 to 15,696 in 2015. That one-year increase negated 5 years of homicide decline.

If you think this increase in murder "no cause for alarm" and people who care are "overreacting," to you, I respectfully say "go to hell." We worked too hard to get to where we are (or were) with lower crime. And a "don't-overreact" reaction does not help. And it may lead exactly to the right-wing law-and-order backlash you so fear. (But on the flipside, to those who don't really care but will use these deaths to make some racist point about "black-on-black" crime and "those people," I say with all my heart, "no really, to hell with you, too!")

Why I care (and why you should, too):

Among academics, it's quite uncool to blame criminals for crime or give police credit for crime prevention. But then how many statisticians who use the UCR Homicide Supplement can point to a specific row and say, "Yeah, I handled that one."

Too many who say they're for "justice" never really have to think about the injustice of just even one real murder victim (one not shot by police). But then maybe I care because I was a Baltimore cop. Every single cop can tell you a story about a dead person. Why? Because they care. Granted, some cops do care more than others, but you can't police and not care.

I wasn't a cop for long (less than 2 years in total), and even I lost track of how many victims I dealt with. But a few do stand out. And this isn't even getting into my cop friends who were shot, killed, nearly killed, had to kill somebody, or carry physical and emotional wounds for life.

I remember the stare of a young black man at the same track we ran around while in the academy. His backpack made me think he was a good kid, on his way home from school. He was shot, perhaps after being robbed. We made long eye contact, even though he was dead.

I remember the guy with a gunshot to the head one 321 Post. He was still alive when I got to him. But he clearly a goner, with blood and brain dripping from the hole in his head. His sisters were wailing while he died.

How many Harvard PhD students have the intimate experience of sorted through a victims' clothes? Clothes that are literally dripping with blood and yet still reeking of body odor. You're trying to go through everything, looking for pockets, for any sign of identification of the life that used to be. And then there are the death notifications.

Think of all those deaths. Last year there were 133 more murders in Baltimore than there were in 2014. [This year the numbers are down slightly compared to 2015, and the chutzpah of some people to herald Baltimore's "crime drop" is shocking.] Take a moment and picture all those dead bodies, almost all shot young black men and teenagers. Visually stack them up like cordwood if you wish, or lay them all head-to-toe. It's real human carnage.

If you took all the Baltimore murder victims from just last year and laid them head-to-toe where the Ravens play football, that line of dead bloody bodies could score six endzone-to-endzone touchdowns. And the increase in violence last year happened all after April 27th. All it took was one man's in-custody death coupled with anti-police protests, bad leadership, a riot, and a politician's horrible choice to press criminal charges against six police officers in the matter of Freddie Gray's death. (All charges ended up being dropped after multiple trials without a single conviction on any charge.)

This is actually one time I don't care about the historical perspective. Less than the 1990's crack-crazy murder rate is not good enough. We got down to a homicide rate like Canada (about 1/4 of ours), and maybe I'll be satisfied. We can start caring now. Or we can start caring after a few more thousand people are needless killed. And if you think I'm over-reacting, consider that you might be under-reacting.

2015 UCR is out

The 2015 UCR is finally out. This means we have real numbers on last year. And the numbers are not good. Homicide is up 10.8 percent. That's biggest increase in 45 years. Don't downplay it.

I'll talk about that in my next post, but first the boring roundup:

Firearms were used in 71.5 percent, which is up from last year's 67.9 percent. That's 1,500 more murders by firearm.

52.3 percent of all victims are black. (Up ever-so-slightly from 51 percent in 2014.) 906 more black men were killed in 2015 compared to 2014 (6,115 vs. 5,209). That's a very big 17.4 percent increase (murder among white men when up 9.2 percent). To put those numbers in perspecdtive, police shot and killed 248 black men last year (and 10 black women). Most of those were justified.

21 percent of homicide victims are women, same as last year. And women are 7 percent of known offenders.

And though I don't like looking at other crime stats (because I don't trust their reliability) rape, robbery, and aggravated assult are all up as well. Reported property crimes are down a bit, but I suspect that's more due to people's decreasing desire to call the police or waiting for them to show up.

"Book Em Danno"

In minor but fun news, I got a call from the New Orleans Police Department regarding the burglary that happened to us in New Orleans in May. They IDd and arrested the guy who did it!

Turns out this very moment -- when crime lab took swabbed the energy drink the crook drunk half of and left on a counter -- was just the break needed to bust this case wide open.

Needless to say, the guy was in the system. The detective called me to make sure I hadn't invited said burglar over for an invigorating refreshment. Good work, ladies and gents of the New Orleans Police Department.

September 23, 2016

Brennan Center: No need for "most Americans" to worry about more murders

The good people at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law have assured us (pdf link to report):
Reports of a national crime wave were premature and unfounded, and that "the average person in a large urban area is safer walking on the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years."
The authors conclude there is no evidence of a national murder wave.... Most Americans will continue to experience low rates of crime.... There is not a nationwide crime wave, or rising violence across American cities.
Ah, yes.

Cause for a moment there, I was kinda worried that more people were getting killed. But it turns out, I guess, that it was illiberal of me to care about people who are particularly at risk of being killed. Also, did you know:
Homicides are concentrated in the most segregated and poorest areas of the city.
I hadn't thought of that. And since that's not where the "average person" lives, I guess we don't need to worry.

Maybe I should just jump on this illogic ideological bandwagon of denial to see where it goes:
By "historic standards," racism is pretty low in America. QED: Not a problem.

#BlackLivesMatter can close up shop because "most Americans" don't have to worry about being shot by police.

Enough with all those new letters, the "average American" doesn't face any LGBTQ discrimination.
Check, check, and check. Problems solved!

Oh, but while you're here. Not that it's any cause for concern. But there is this little issue...:
The murder rate is projected to rise 13.1 percent this year.... [and] 31.5 percent from 2014 to 2016.
Say what?!

[Update: 2015 stats are out. The rate, based on recorded homicide, increased from 4.26 to 4.75 per 100,000. The rate, based on estimated homicides, increased from 4.44 to 4.90. Recorded 13,594 homicides in 2014 (estimated 14,164). 15,192 in 2015 (estimated 15,696). 2014 estimated population 318,857,056. 2015: 320,090,857.]

If these numbers are correct -- and they may not be (there is some odd math in this report*; and keep in mind 2015's national UCR stats haven't yet come out) -- but if these Brennen Centers estimates are correct, that would mean 2015 saw a 16.3 percent increase in the homicide rate.

So all we've got is just your average 16.3 percent annual increase in murder. I mean, we had one of those, well, uh, actually, never. This would be the largest increase since the government has been keeping track. (An increase in 1921 might have been greater, but we don't really know.) The last time the UCR recorded a 31.5 percent increase in two years was, oh, never.

[In raw numbers the homicide increase is the greatest in 25 years. But it's standard industry practice to use rates and percentages.]

[Update: I've been informed over in the twitter world that when they say "nationwide" they don't mean "nationwide" but "in the top cities." I would expect the national increase to be less than what is found in the top cities. But I don't know. Anyway... the 2015 UCR data will be out this week. And then, at least when it comes to last year, we can all stop speculating and know how big the increase in homicide was.]

As to their overall point that homicide may be up but "crime" is little changed? I just call bullshit. Not on their analysis, per se. It's just that crime numbers are not as reliable as homicide numbers. Trust homicide. Crime numbers are heavily influenced A) by proactive police and arrests (which are both down) and B) non-reporting (probably up). I trust the strength of the correlation between homicide and other violent crimes more than I trust the data on other violent crimes. If homicide is up, violent crime is up. Trust me on that one.

*They've got some weird math here I can't figure out:
The national murder rate is projected to increase by 13.1 percent. Nearly half of the increase (234 out of 496 new homicides) will occur in Chicago. (page 1)
But if the national rate goes up 13 percent this year, we'd see something closer to 1,500 more homicides. (Based on 2014 rate of 4.5 and 13,472 homicides.) And Chicago's numbers will be up by about 200 this year. This is closer to 15 percent. What gives?
Baltimore, Chicago, and Houston are projected to account for 50 percent (517 of 1041) of new homicides between 2014 and 2016. (page 8)
But if the murder rate is up 30 percent, we'll have closer to 2,500 new murders. I do not understand.

Also, these semi-annual "crime isn't up" reports from the Brennan Center have this odd habit of saying, "if we remove the cities where the increase is the greatest, the increase really isn't so great. (An odd statistical proposition, to say the least.) But let's play along and "pull a Brennan." Let's remove Chicago, Houston, and Baltimore because (I think) in terms of raw numbers, those cities have the greatest increase in homicides, 2014 - 2016 (roughly 240, 165 and 115, respectively). After we "pull a Brennan" we lose about 520 murders. That's a lot, but we'd still have close to 17,000 homicides in 2016, which would be a 2-year increase of 20 percent. And even that should be cause for alarm.

September 22, 2016

State Variance in Police Use of Lethal Force

If we want to reduce police-involved shootings -- and we do -- why not focus on states where cops shoot the most and learn from states where cops shoot the least? These differences are huge. What is New Mexico doing wrong? What is New York doing right? The top twenty states (ignoring D.C.) are all west of the Mississippi. Arkansas is also noteworthy. I would expect it to be toward the top, but its rate of 2.2 is below the national average.

Take this chart with a grain of salt. The data are uncorrected and I can't promise it's error free. And the absolute number (n) for many states is low (18 have n < 20, for instance), so the data for a lot of these states are statistically dodgy. But the greater regional trends are pretty pronounced.

Here are the raw numbers, sorted small to large: RhodeIsland 3, NorthDakota 3, Vermont 4, NewHampshire 5, Delaware 8, Connecticut 9, Maine 9, Hawaii 10, SouthDakota 10, Wyoming 11, Alaska 12, DistrictofColumbia 12, Montana 14, Idaho 15, Iowa 18, Arkansas 18, Nebraska 19, Massachusetts 23, WestVirginia 24, Kansas 31, Minnesota 34, Mississippi 34, Utah 35, Indiana 38, Wisconsin 38, NewJersey 40, Oregon 41, Michigan 46, Maryland 46, Virginia 47, Pennsylvania 48, Kentucky 48, SouthCarolina 49, Nevada 52, Alabama 55, NewYork 59, NewMexico 59, Tennessee 62, Missouri 64, Louisiana 65, Washington 68, Colorado 75, Illinois 76, Ohio 76, NorthCarolina 76, Georgia 77, Oklahoma 77, Arizona 125, Florida 196, Texas 263, California 460, USA 2787

Trends in NYPD police-involved shootings

In relation to my previous post, it's not like the NYPD didn't used to shoot a lot of people.

There are two trends going on here. Police-involved shootings always reflect homicide numbers. (Cops are more likely to shoot a murder with a gun.) So there's a spike in 1990 the then a big drop after that, which reflects crime in NYC. But even taking that into account, there's a long-term downward trend. I have no idea what the long-terms trends in Oklahoma have been.

Source: NYPD

They're just Sooner to Shoot in Oklahoma

Update: November 15, 2017
Using data from 2014 through mid November 2017 (killedbypolice.net for 2014 and the Washington Post thereafter) Oklahoma City Police kill an average of 6.3 per year; NYPD 0.57 a year. The rate in Oklahoma City is 11 times as high. The rate per officer is 27 times higher in Oklahoma City. That means a person is Oklahoma City is 11 times more likely to be killed by police and a police officer is 27 times more likely to kill.

Original Post:
I've said for a while that when it comes to police use of lethal-force, an exclusive laser-like focus on race is misguided. It's is a red herring. If one actually wants to reduce police-involved shootings -- as opposed to simply being outraged at the latest incident -- there are easier ways to do this than eliminating racism and racial disparity in America. There are low-hanging fruits to reduce the overall level at which cops shoot people.

There will be the next police-incident worthy of outrage. We can go from incident to incident, outrage to outrage, and pretend it's just about race. But it's not.

I'm not saying race doesn't play a factor. This is American. And indeed, blacks make up a greater percent of unarmed people killed by police. The disparity could be racial bias; it could be related to violence in segregated America; it could be something else. Honestly, we're never going to settle the debate, and I don't know if we need to. Police misconduct doesn't only happen to blacks. And the numbers of innocent unarmed people killed by police is simply not that large. Nor is it increasing.

Police have shot and killed 706 people this year. Forty-one were unarmed. Fifteen of those were black. (Keep in mind "unarmed" does not mean no threat, and conversely somebody could be armed and not be an imminent threat.) I get the argument that murder is worse at the hands of the state. I even agree with it. I understand police need to be held accountable. But at some point the numbers matter, at least to put things in perspective.

This is a country of 320 million people. There are 765,000 sworn police officers. There are 15,000 murders (and murderers). What's an acceptable level of police-involved shooting? What's the goal? And if you're not happy addressing that question, or if you think the only acceptable answer is zero, than you're not a productive part of the solution.

Look, I know some cops do shitty things. And others make honest mistakes. But there are more cops in America than residents of Baltimore. We can and should criticize individual incidents. But we don't harp on every crime in Baltimore -- and there are a lot -- to show how the whole city is filled with evil. (And I do wish we cared a bit more about victims like Michael "Chef Mike" Bates who was just shot and killed even after he complied with the three men who robbed him.)

Does a bomb in Chelsea mean we should ban Muslims from America? (No, is the answer.) There will be the next horrific crime and the next terrorist attack just as sure as there will be the next bad police-involved shooting. Instead we're seeing something close to a moral panic, with police as the Folk Devils, we need to reduce how often they happen.

There are probably a few dozen bad (as in criminally bad) police-involved shootings a year. That's a couple a month, keep in mind. And if they're all recorded, that's one every other week. But far more numerous are shootings which may be legally justifiable but did not have to happen. They're justifiable but not necessary. We're talking perhaps something in the rage of a few hundred a year. And the bulk of these happens west of the Mississippi (see a future post). The best way to reduce bad shootings is to reduce the overall level of police lethal force.

Twenty-five percent of those who are shot and killed by police are black. Since blacks are only 13 percent of the general population, some claim this represents an "epidemic" of police violence against African Americans. But using the overall population as the denominator for interactions with police makes no sense.

America is filled with racial disparities in poverty, violent crime, calls for police service, and those who felonious kill police officers. I mean, 96 percent of those killed by police are men, and men make up less than half the population. Is there an epidemic of misandric cops gunning for other men? I don't think so. It's more likely that men are more likely to pose lethal threats to police officers.

And this brings me back to Oklahoma, where Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by a police officer even though he wasn't an imminent threat. A while back I red-flagged Tulsa and Oklahoma because I couldn't help but notice: they sure do seem to be a hell of a lot of police-involved shootings in Oklahoma. And now we have more data than we did a year ago.

We're not seeing an epidemic of police killing black people in particular in Oklahoma. The Sooner State is pretty white (72 percent, 8.6 percent Native American, and 7.4 percent black). The racial disparity in Oklahoma is pretty much in line with the rest of the nation. Since 2014, nationwide, the average annual rate of being shot and killed by police is 3.2 per million. It's higher for blacks (6.93) and lower for whites (2.37). That's a 3:1 ratio.

What we see is that more white people get killed by cops in Oklahoma than all people killed by cops in majority minority New York City. Simply put, police in Oklahoma are shooting a lot of people and the NYPD isn't. In Oklahoma, cops shoot and kill 28 people per year. In New York City, which has more than twice as many people as the entire state of Oklahoma, police kill about 5 people a year. What gives?

People in the state of Oklahoma are 12 times as likely as New Yorkers to be killed by police.

People in Oklahoma City are 20 times [11 times, see update, above] as likely as people in New York City to be shot and killed by police! New York City has about 2.5 times more police officers per capita. That means an officer in Oklahoma City is about 50 times more likely than an NYPD officer to shoot and kill somebody. [27 times, see update above]

These differences are huge! Shocking! Unbelievable!

And yet nobody seems to notice or care. [See all the states in this post.]

I assume most of the police-involved shooting even in Oklahoma are legally justifiable. I'm not saying these cops are committing crimes, but I am saying a large percentage of these shootings aren't necessary. They don't need to happen. I mean, it's likely cops in Oklahoma will always shoot more people than cops in New York City. Sometimes police have no choice but to shoot somebody. And Oklahoma isn't New York. But it doesn't have to be 12 or 20 times more. I can't conceive of how a per-capita disparity this large could be justified or explained away by any variables except police training.

So I look at the Terence Crutcher being shot, and I think: maybe that really is how police in Tulsa roll. I don't know. And I wonder what it is about NYPD training and policy that so reduces use of lethal force. Whatever it is, and I'm sure it's a combination of things, it shouldn't be that hard for somebody to copy best practices. Instead of asking what individual police officers are doing wrong (though we can ask that, too), why don't we figure out what the NYPD is doing right? We have models that work. The solution involves some combination of better hiring standards, better policy, better training, and more accountability.

Just reducing Oklahoma's use of lethal force to the national average would save 14 lives a year. That seems doable. And good. It's good for the people not to get shot. And it's good for social and racial justice. And it's also good for police officers who get to go home without killing somebody. Cops don't want to shoot people. You think Officer Betty Shelby wouldn't like to go back in time and not shoot?

And let me mention I'm only picking on Oklahoma because of the recent Tulsa shooting. Oklahoma isn't even the worst state when it comes to high levels of police-involved shootings. Currently, in 2016, it doesn't even crack the top five.

[I did some brief computations on crime (some 2015 UCR data is already out!) because police violence is best predicted by public violence. In 2014 and 2015, Oklahoma has an annual murder rate of 5.4 per 100,000. This is 30 percent higher than New York City's 4.1. Aggravated assaults and total violent crime, however, are 35 percent higher in New York City. So it seems that Oklahoma does have a violent murder problem separate from any crime problem. But nothing here would even get close to accounting for twelve- and twenty-fold differences in police use of lethal force.]

Notes: Annual rate is based on the sum total of Jan 1, 2014 to Sep 20, 2016, multiplied by 0.367.
2014 data: http://www.killedbypolice.net/
2015-present: https://github.com/washingtonpost/data-police-shootings
Oklahoma crime stats: https://www.ok.gov/osbi/documents/Crime%20in%20Oklahoma%2C%202015.pdf
Crime stats: http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/indexcrimes/Regions.pdf
Race data is from the Washington Post, so it starts in 2015. Annual rate is the sum from 2015 to Sep 20, 2016, multiplied by 0.58. National rates based on 318.9 million with a white population of 200 million and a black population 36 million. Feel free to double check my math. Corrections and comments always welcome.

September 21, 2016

Terence Crutcher shooting

I'll cut right to the chase, I think this is a bad shooting; but not as bad as many people seem to think. (In my very first sentence, I probably just pissed everybody off.)

Terence Crutcher wasn't armed. And I don't think he was an imminent threat when he was shot. Therefore it wasn't reasonable. And that's the legal standard for a justifiable shooting.

One very troubling thing here is why nobody renders aid. It probably wouldn't have helped (with a bullet going through a body from one side to the other). But you can't just shoot somebody and not render aid. You can't. And they did. What they hell were they doing backing up in formation? What weird part of training was that?

Nor do I like the helicopter guy saying, "he looks like a bad dude." Would the guy have said that about a white guy? I don't know. I first thought it was a contributing factor, but from what I've read their broadcast was not being transmitted to the officers.

But what was Crutcher doing? False narratives are unfair. And dangerous, as we just saw in Charlotte. (Keith Lamont Scott seems to have approached officers with a gun, not a book.)

Despite what I keep reading, Crutcher was not complying. Crutcher was going to his SUV against the orders of cops. This is odd, worrisome even. But it doesn't elevate somebody to a lethal threat. And Crutcher’s hands were not in the air when he was shot.

But I still don't understand why the cop shot at that moment. I like to think, had I been there, I would have taken Crutcher out with my straight baton and a blow to a leg. Tasing would be justified. I don't want him getting in that car when my partner is telling him not to. Perhaps, if you have the muscle, you just tackle the guy.

It seems to me Crutcher wanted to get back in his car. And cops are not going to let that happen, because we don't to be killed like Officer Dinkheller died. What I'm saying is this isn't Walter Scott bad. It wasn't Charles Kinsey bad. It wasn't Levan Jones bad. It wasn't James Boyd bad. It wasn't Bobby Canipe bad. It wasn't Jonathan Ayers bad.

Bad is bad, and there's no reason that every police-involved shooting has to be as bad as the worst shootings to warrant criticism. But I mention those names in part because many of these names are not African American. If people don't know that cops shoot white people, too, they should. And sometimes these shootings aren't justified. Too many police are too quick to pull the trigger. And this problem is not evenly spread throughout policing (more on that in my next post).

Back to Crutcher: As a cop you're also aware that gunfire deaths of cops are up 50 percent this year. But you can't just shoot people because they're non-compliant and drop their hands. You can't be a police officer and be that afraid. Damn that Dinkheller video from 18 years ago. Before you shot, you need to wait till you see an imminent threat, like a gun or movement towards what you know is a gun. Look, people should be compliant, but as a cop you know people aren't going to be compliant. It's why we have police. People do not act rationally and police officers have to deal with them.

That said, this wasn't just a motorist with a stalled car. From the 911 call:
Caller: There was a guy running from it. He, like 'somebody was going to blow up.' I think he's smoking something.

Dispatch: Ohh (laughing).

Caller: I was rude to him too because I got out and was like, 'do you need help'? And he was like, 'come here, come here.' I said 'well, what's going on' and he's like, 'come here come here. I think it's going to blow up.' I'm like, 'nah I'm out.'

Dispatch: OK.

Caller: He started freaking out and he took off running.
Crutcher was not acting reasonably. He's talking about something blowing up. He's roaming the street in what was probably a drug-induced high (we don't know for sure, but PCP was found in the car). None of this justifies the shooting. But it does all matter.

Let's imagine that Crutcher was going to blow up his SUV or had guns in there. It's possible (though it wasn't the case). Then would the shooting be justified? Still, no. (But it sure would be a better narrative.) Even then the shooting would not have been reasonable because at the moment the shot was fired, I don't think a reasonable police officer would see an imminent threat. At least I don't. As a cop, you don't have to wait till a gun is pointed at you before you shoot. You shouldn't wait till a gun is pointed at you before you shoot. But there's got to be a gun! I mean, people should be compliant, but as a cop you know people aren't going to be compliant. It's why we have cops.

So now we'll see how justice plays out. I suspect the officer will be criminally charged, as does happen in many bad shootings.

So here we have another "incident." One of many, certainly. And don't ignore the historical context. But there will be another bad policing shooting. I guarantee it. We can't base reform on anecdote. Cops kill roughly three people a day. They're not all good shootings, but most of them are.

What is the goal? The goal could be fewer bad shootings. The goal could be more accountability for tax-payer funded agents of state. Fine. But we're never going to have zero bad shootings. Not only is that impossible, it's not even a good goal. When cops save a life by killing a criminal, it is not an example of "global and national hatred." Policing is not a pacifist occupation. We give cops guns because sometimes, at certain moments, we want them to shoot somebody. That is the reality. The way forward cannot be continued outrage, incident by incident.

That said, we can reduce bad and unnecessary police-involve shootings. I'll get to that in my next post.