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by Peter Moskos

January 28, 2016

The Baltimore 6 Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferguson and Death in Baltimore's Western District

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

People, crime is up.

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

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

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

(Which goes along great with this book.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 12, 2016

"Pander to audience expectations"

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

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

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

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

January 11, 2016

You cheap lazy bastards!

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

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

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

Hell, yeah!

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

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

January 9, 2016

We Got Another Kingpin! (16)

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

Sergeant in Eric Garner death charged departmentally

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

Ambush in Philly

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

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

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

January 7, 2016

2015 homicide increase

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

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

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

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

How many strikes do you get?

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

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

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

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

I didn't see this coming

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

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

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

January 5, 2016

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

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

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

What's the cause for celebration? Demolition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How'd that work out? Not so good.

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

Oh, that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 4, 2016

Black lives matter to homicide detectives

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

That's a lot of red.

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

January 3, 2016

Me talking about Tasers

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

January 1, 2016

God save the Queen

It's like a classic Jan Steen.

Happy New Year