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by Peter Moskos

January 28, 2016

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.


Rich Giordano said...

When I'm asked for my political orientation and can't divert the question I wind up quoting a line form the song Politician by the band Cream. It's a blues riff with lots of double entendre but includes the line "I support the left but I'm leaning, leaning, leaning to the right". While my general understanding of the world indeed skews somewhat left as that's usually understood it is just the kind of abject nincompoopery you describe in this article which involves focusing many complex aspects of a problem through a narrow ideological prism that makes me back away in horror and disgust. Unfortunately, if you lean too far you wind up with what is probably an even larger lens creating an even narrower focal point. I don't always agree with you but I know I can come here and get a genuine attempt to look seriously at these issues.

campbell said...

Remember that San Francisco gang member who'd been out of prison for a whole four months before he got shot by the police after stabbing a stranger on a public street? (and only after four bean bag rounds and pepper spray failed) Time for an official citywide day of remembrance! RIP, morale of the SFPD.


Andy D said...

While I think it is easy to over-estimate the "Ferguson Effect" on a nation-wide level, I do NOT think it can be over-estimated in the effect it has had in (specifically) large urban police departments. Does the FE have a big influence on a sheriff's deputy in a rural west Texas county? Doubtful. At least not nearly the effect it has in Baltimore, or St. Louis or Chicago.

Even in the smaller or more rural places, I can say first-hand that it DOES have an effect. Just not to the same extent. And in those smaller places with less volume of calls and less volume of people-standing-around-recording-with-cell-phones it takes longer to manifest itself. If cops in North Dakota aren't policing proactively, how much new violent crime will there be? not a lot. If cops in Chicago or Baltimore are being less proactive you see huge jumps in crime right away because you have a bigger criminal class and more violence to begin with. Maybe this means proactive policing isn't very important in rural areas but is VERY important in large urban centers. Not sure. So far it sure looks like it has a huge impact in Baltimore.

Jessica H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica H said...

Everyone likes to armchair quarterback when it comes to how they think the police should or shouldn't do their job. The fact of the matter remains that as much as they point the finger at the police for being the problem most of those are unwilling to help provide a solution. Anyone could say "you should do this" or "you could have done that" and that is really easy to say from the comfort of your couch. Until you have personally confronted a violent criminal who may want to kill you today, you have no idea what your talking about. Those who condemn the police need to realize that it takes a community, who is sick of all the shootings, murders, and drug deals, to come along side of the police to help remedy the problem.

john mosby said...

Siege of Malta - you could at least have mentioned janissaries!


Peter Moskos said...

Their flowing white robes weren't a very good defense against Greek Fire and other incendiary devices.

john mosby said...

I know - that's great! I am reading Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley, son of a Royal Navy officer and former resident of the unsinkable aircraft carrier. I just finished his very graphic description of the seige, including the fire hoops, and I can't wait for him to get to Lepanto!