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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.


bacchys said...

Exactly why does "proactive policing" involve shitting on the Fourth Amendment?

fh said...

Where you see a legitimate reaction to unfair criticism, I see whiny, greedy, bad police who fear accountability and should be disciplined, if not fired, wholesale.

Peter Moskos said...

Proactive policing doesn't shit on the 4th Amendment. (The Supreme Court shits on the 4th Amendment.) Proactive policing involves stopping people with reasonable suspicion and simply interacting with people in a way that doesn't concern the 4th Amendment at all.

Peter Moskos said...

fh, even if you were right, which you're not. What then? You either abolish polish or hire them all back.

If all you do is spank cops and treat them like kids, they'll act like kids who are spanked too much. As cops know, if you treat people with respect, you'll usually get respect in return. Try treating cops with respect for a change.

fh said...

I won't address your comment. I will point out that you harp on and on about proactive policing, but ignore the fact that reactive policing is likely way off in Baltimore. My guess is that response to calls is slower. I'm also guessing that arrests as a result of calls are fewer. I suspect that this has an even bigger impact and is directly related to my belief that Baltimore cops just have decided to (corruptly) not do their job. 1. Crimes have longer to develop and criminals more time to escape. 2. Criminals have more opportunity knowing that response is slower. 3. The cost/benefit for residents is higher (more hassle, less result) from making a call and for criminals lower (less likelihood of arrest or interruption). I'd be interested to know what the statistics say about time to arrival after call is. I think you underestimate the value of reactive policing and don't appreciate the possibility that it has fallen off a cliff as well.

fh said...


Peter Moskos said...

Oh yes, reactive policing was also slower. Patrol was way understaffed. And the situation necessitated two-person response, which isn't the norm in Baltimore.

But it's not all bad. Slow response time sometimes benefits everybody. "Missing" people come home. People solve their problems without police. The baby's father who needed to leave leaves on his own. People don't talk themselves into handcuffs. It's defacto restorative justice and judicial diversion all in one!

And I don't think I *underestimate* the value the reactive policing; I like to think I estimate it at its true value of close to worthless. Certainly not worth the resources of half the police department. Certainly not more beneficial that actually walking the beat and having post integrity.

Along with my experience, on a more academic level there's well establish research showing that response time is largely irrelevant to chance of arrest at times greater than 2 minutes.

If you think a significant number of calls for service involve criminals having time to escape then you have no understanding of police patrol. That said, I'm still trying to get data on how many calls (not including drug dealing on the corner) involve crimes in progress (and domestic). I don't know why that's so hard to get.

And I'm still curious as to what you'd do after you fire all the cops.

Peter Moskos said...

That link (or what it refers to) is where I got the data I used in this post.

bacchys said...

Detaining someone "for being a fucking mutt" is kosher with the Fourth Amendment, Peter?

Peter Moskos said...

You don't have to tell people your legal justification. Often there's good reason *not* to tell somebody the reason you stopped them. I locked people up and told them it was "for not listening to me." That wasn't a crime. But the arrests were perfectly legal. And if they bothered to read the charging documents, they would have learned why.

And come on, bringing up one example to prove a point is like Trump saying we need to keep immigrants out because an illegal immigrant killed Kate Steinle. And while I won't defend the war on the drugs and what it's done to the 4th amendment (I assume you know that), it's silly to discuss anecdotes to prove grand statements. You know that too, I assume.

Andy D said...

I would think that if we fire all the cops we would get what people pushing a purely anti-cop agenda want--no cops. What I like about your positions on this, Peter is that you aren't afraid to call out cops when they do wrong, to call out society when it is the problem (seriously--cops don't just do things for the sheer hell of it; they do the things that society, through their elected representatives, expressed in a ball rolling downhill through the chain of command, demand that they do.)

Rather than being whiny and greedy, I would suppose that cops in Baltimore and all over the country to a large extent are doing what any group of people would do when they feel that the harder they work the more likely they are to face unfair consequences (consequences which in this case are likely to involve criminal prosecution and the end of their professional life) they just don't work as hard. They still go to the calls, they still do what they have to do. They just don't do the stuff that involves going out and finding trouble.

The reason FH said they wouldn't address your comment is that there is no answer to that. Hell, talk to LE recruiters, You can't find good people to fill cops jobs as it is now. Try finding them after you fire all the cops for being "greedy whiny, bad police." Cops are NOT soldiers, despite all the "militarization" rhetoric. Soldiers, while susceptible to bad morale issues, are totally dependent on the government that they serve. For housing, food, and mission. Cops live in and interact with the public every day in a way that soldiers do not. Shit on your army for a while and they will still do what you tell them, at least in a reasonably satisfactory way, for a while. Cops react much faster because they are PARAmilitary, not military. They have to go home and watch the news and see themselves vilified. I definitely feel that a lot of the anti-police crowd seem to think that cops should be a lot more willing to sacrifice themselves, their reputations, their families and their lives for the job than can reasonably be expected of them.

bacchys said...

I do know anecdotes aren't a great way to make an argument, but when 87% of the stops in New York's "Stop and Frisk" policy didn't result in an arrest or find any contraband, it's not looking so good for the NYPD being exactly respectful of the Fourth Amendment.

The kid in the "for being a fucking mutt" video/audio wasn't arrested. There's no charging documents to tell us why he was arrested, since he wasn't arrested. There's also no reason to think any negative consequence happened to the officers if their stop of him was unconstitutional. He wasn't notified at some later date why their stop of him was lawful. When it comes to explanations "for being a fucking mutt" is the only one out there.

That's the case with 87% of the stops made under New York's program, and they were hardly the only place in the country with that kind of policy. It was in D.C. and Baltimore even if they didn't call it that. But we don't have numbers, do we?

Andy D said...

The anecdote you cite (I can't say I have seen it) may serve well to prove the point that some cops make some stops without legal justification. "Reasonable Suspicion" as a standard (as is needed for a Terry Stop--or "Stop and Frisk" if you prefer) is a strange legal standard. Perhaps the SC needs to revisit it. However "Reasonable Suspicion" as defined by the courts, will almost automatically mean you will find contraband in less than 50% of stops. So I'm not sure the 87% you cite matters a lot.

Peter Moskos said...

There are so many reasons you might legally stop somebody and not issue a citation or make an arrest.

I too think 87% is actually kind of high. Didn't it used to be like 98 percent or something in NYC?

Here's the basic problem with using percentages like that. I pull up a drug corner. Where a murder *will* fucking happen. There are five guys working the shop. They didn't move when I asked them to, five minutes ago. (A gentle request, not a lawful order, by the way). Hey, it's free country.

But now I have to get out of my car. And yes, I frisk all of them! Why? Because they're literally killers. Yes, almost every time I speak to one of them, I will frisk him. It is legal and constitutional. But in this case I find nothing. No drugs. No weapons. The ACLU and you say I just frisked five innocent black men. Well, with all due respect, fuck you. But these guys move off the corner for the night. My job is done.

So there's something funny about you asserting that the 87% of stops are BS because I didn't find any contraband. Yeah, no shit. Because 5 minutes before I told them, "You better not be here in 5 minutes when I roll around again." It's how you police. You do this every goddamn day.

As a cop I made literally hundreds of stops. I'm thinking one a day plus. Probably, in all of 14 months on the street, maybe in the range of 300-500? (And I wrote about, I don't know, 20 stop forms? but that's another story.)

So I'm faced with this dilemma where I believe you, based on a third-hand anecdote you read about. Or me, based on what I actually did. I side with my lying eyes.

That said, what's interesting about Alvin's stop is that I assumed the cops were right and Alvin was a criminal douche. But then, not too long ago, I had a student who I very much respected *personally* vouch for Alvin. He convinced me the cops were wrong in that stop. I can't be certain. I wasn't there. But I'm going with my student. That's the kind of professor I am. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Dr-hMCy78

bacchys said...

You're not the only one with those experiences, Professor. And, as your "gentle request" wasn't a lawful order, what, exactly, was your basis for the stop? An erroneous understanding of the loitering ordinances, perhaps? The kind used in Baltimore after Sharp v. Baltimore forced the department to adopt a policy outlining the police couldn't order people to stop recording- let alone seize their cameras for doing so- so they started threatening people who were recording them with getting arrested for loitering?

Alvin might have been douche. So might your five guys on the corner. Doesn't really matter, though. They aren't less entitled to the protection of the law than you were when you were in uniform or you are now. They aren't less entitled to not be searched or seized without at least reasonable suspicion as defined in Terry v. Ohio. Being in general a douche doesn't really amount to that. Further, those tactics tend to spread to more than just the douches in the neighborhood, especially in an age where the cops patrolling are in their cars until they come out to stop and frisk and wouldn't be able to tell you who lives next to who if you held a gun to their heads.

Shit didn't blow up in Ferguson because one thug got killed. It didn't blow up in Baltimore because another did, either. So you're certainly entitled to think the problem is everything but, but until the police start really getting policed *and* there's transparency when it happens it's going to keep rolling back around.

There's a common meme that goes the rounds after another shooting by the police: don't break the law and you've got nothing to worry about. I don't know what that would have done for Jon Crawford, John Geer, or Andrew Scott, but I'm sure it's good advice in general. It's funny, however, how that doesn't seem to apply to those who enforce the law. Or is that the "higher standards" I hear about all the time?

Peter Moskos said...

You're missing my point. What you're not getting is the legality of the action combined with officers' discretion to initiate an interaction. Why am I "harassing" those men? Because they're drug dealers and some are literal murderers and they're aggressively dominating public space and didn't respect my authority by politely walking around the block when I told them to disperse.

True, I can't legally order them to leave (unless they really are loitering). But I can legally make their lives less pleasant and also their criminal enterprise less productive. And since I'm a cop and they are criminals, that actually is my job! It's not just about arrests.

I can ask people to do anything. They don't have to obey unless it's a lawful order. But if I can legally arrest you for something, I might decide to do so only when you don't obey my *unlawful* order. That's discretion. And used and not abused, it's the key to effective policing. See, I may not actually want to arrest you. I want you to do what I say. But the only real tool I have in my belt is the power of arrest.

I can't arrest drug dealers for not getting off the corner... but... based on A) my experience and training and B) the 12 calls for drug dealing at this location in the past week and C) the drug arrests I have made and D) the Court's recognition of the "inherent" link between drugs and violence and E) the shooting last week on this block and F) the drug arrests I have made on this corner of G) these very individuals and H) the hand-to-hand transaction I witnessed, I have every legal reason to stop them for further investigation. The fact that I often don't doesn't mean it's illegal when I do!

And more so, at least where I policed, I can legally frisk any of them any time I'm talking to them, given all of the above! Now I don't *have* to frisk. But I can.

Do you have any idea how easy it is to articulate reasonable suspicion? Or even probable cause for a bullshit (but legal) arrest? Disorderly conduct? A violation and failure to prove ID? No, of course you don't. You can say it's bad policing. But the only point I'm trying to make here is that it's legal policing.

Nor do you seem to understand the distinction between a stop and frisk and reasonable suspicion (Terry) and a search and arrest and probable cause (4th Amendment). Reasonable suspicion has nothing to do with a search. (Alas, too many cops forget this, too.) If this is news to you, then your strongly held opinions are based on ignorance and I'm wasting my time.

campbell said...

Do you have any idea how easy it is to articulate reasonable suspicion?

Exactly. And with that comes the frisk and often even better, running everyone for warrants. And if it's guys I know and keep tabs on I often will already know they have a warrant or three. Warrants tend to improve listening and comprehension.

bacchys said...

"Do you have any idea how easy it is to articulate reasonable suspicion? Or even probable cause for a bullshit (but legal) arrest? Disorderly conduct? A violation and failure to prove ID? No, of course you don't. You can say it's bad policing. But the only point I'm trying to make here is that it's legal policing. "

I do, actually. That's part of the problem. Cops lie. They lie why they stop someone. They lie to themselves that they are better at spotting criminals than they are. And that fucks up their effectiveness in a neighborhood because those who live there- and do know what's going on- don't trust the lying the cops who think that they have the right to frisk anyone, anytime even when they haven't made a legal stop.

Maybe when you were patrolling you were in the neighborhood enough to actually know who the people were. That's not so much the case today. It wasn't the case in the counties even when you were a cop.