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by Peter Moskos

March 15, 2016

The "Gray Effect"

Stephen Morgan, my grad-school colleague, released his Baltimore report (co-authored with Joel Pally) that looks at crime and arrests pre- and post-riot.

[The Harvard sociology cohort of 1995 always turned to Morgan as the quant guy when we needed help with stats class, which was often. So rather than blame my own limitations and laziness, I prefer to entirely and falsely blame Steve for the fact that I still can't really tell you what a poisson regression is and why you would want to use one.]

I had some input in the drafts. One of my points was that the take-away would be an idiotic headlines like this one: "Study: There Has Been No 'Ferguson Effect' in Baltimore."

Citilab never talked to Morgan, which seems odd.

Of course that headline isn't the point of the study. I think the narrative focus of the study should have been centered around April 26, 2015 (the riot) and not early events half a country away (Ferguson). All policing is local. Buried halfway down that Citilab story is a mention of the "Gray Effect." It is a better term. Perhaps because of the double meaning of gray, it can be applied elsewhere in a generic sense.

I'm baffled by many people's attempt to disaggregate a so-called "Ferguson Effect" from local police issues, since I've been arguing this is the same thing. But shorthand terms are only helpful if they have an accepted meaning. And clearly the Ferguson Effect does not. I'm not willing to waste time in a semantic debate or defend a term -- the Ferguson Effect -- that I never liked. So let's call it the Gray Effect. My point is that police matter and that society influences policing, sometimes for the good and -- as last year's spike in homicides portends -- sometimes for the bad. Call it what you will, the effect is real.

Better reporting is done by Baynard Woods and NBC. From the latter:
"I do think we provide some pretty compelling evidence that it is possible for the police to use discretion, to use alternatives to arrest, in a place like Baltimore without influencing the pattern of crime," Morgan said.

That is why Morgan says the eight months before Gray's death could represent a "sweet spot."
The next part of Morgan's analysis, the Gray period, was much less surprising.

"Everything fell apart," Morgan said.

Crimes of all types, violent and non-violent, spiked, for an overall increase of more than 11 percent. [Ed note: In reported crime.... Homicides doubled, and there is good reason to believe more crime was non-reported. And decreasing arrests will also serve to reduce crime stats without a corresponding reduction in actual crime.] The drop in arrests became much more pronounced, from 19 percent to 30 percent, "consistent with the widely discussed conjecture that the Baltimore police pulled back from some routine policing in response to a perceived lack of support from the city's leadership," the researchers wrote.
[Maybe it's minor, but I'll take credit for the subtle addition of "lack of support from the city's leadership," thank you very much. Correction: Steve, ruining my fun as only a quant guy can, says that phrase was in the earliest drafts and had nothing to do with me. --eye roll-- ]

From Woods in the Guardian:
“One reasonable interpretation of these entangled effects is that the crime spike in the Gray period could be a Ferguson effect that would have remained dormant had it not been ignited by a localized Gray effect,” the report states. “However, the size and duration of the crime spike is almost certainly attributable to particular features of the unrest.
The study found a decrease in crime in the period after the new police commissioner, Kevin Davis took office, which they dub the “Davis effect.” Davis replaced then-commissioner Anthony Batts, who was fired just after a Fraternal Order of Police report criticizing his handling of the riot came.
The whole point of the Gray Effect (née Ferguson Effect) is that it is not necessarily centered around the events of Ferguson. Let's the just accept that and move on. It is about media focus and changing political pressures of the past few years.

The substantive issue is that anti-police movements and protests can affect policing and policing impacts criminals and crime. The events around the riots in Baltimore -- specifically the failure of political leadership and the politically motivated prosecutions of police officer -- were Baltimore's Ferguson Gray Effect.

Public events, media reporting, and political leadership all matter to police officers. And when this process is happening in many different cities, a shorthand label can be useful. When the factors combine to change policing in a negative way -- when police are less proactive and more young black men are killed as a result -- we need to recognize the facts and react accordingly.


fh said...

And it sounds to me that your argument amounts to, "be nice to the police and don't criticize them or they won't do the job we pay them to do." When you make that argument and suggest the people who criticize the police are at fault for the police having hurt feelings about pointing out their shortcomings, it sounds absurd to me.

Peter Moskos said...

Well, then you're mistaken. That's not my argument at all. It never has been. Even more, I'm baffled how a reasonable person could believe such a thing based on anything I've ever said. Exactly what part of anything I've ever written would make you think I've argued that "police officers with hurt feelings won't do the job we pay them to do"?

aNanyMouse said...


Seeing that I and Andy D mutually bemoaned, in the thread from a few days ago on Peter's page "Things cops watch", people's inability to reach Second-Order Agreement, Andy must be having another SMH moment as he reads this thread.

It'd behoove you to bone up on this, staring with that thread.
I'll try to keep hammering away at this, unless Peter objects, until this becomes understood by all who post here.

fh said...

You are right. I do not have 2nd order agreement with PCM. I think he believes most cops are good people. I believe most cops are not good people; I am cynical about all people (not just cops). I think he believes cops don't generally lie. I believe that all people including cops lie especially when the stakes are high. I think he believes that being a cop is a hard, thankless job and that they deserve our thanks. I believe that being a cop is a good job in today's economy. I think he believes in the individual agency of criminals while I am more prone to a more societal view of crime.

I could parse PCM's blog to back up my assertion in my first comment (and I actually did), but I realized that we would not have the 2nd order agreement that his comments regarding Tamir Rice's shooting, the legitimacy of the Grey indictments, the nature of Batt's criticism of his rank and file proved my point since we don't have 2nd order agreement. I post here because I think that bringing the lack of 2nd order agreement out in the open is more helpful than just pretending it is personal animosity.

Peter Moskos said...

Well there is personal animosity developing if you attribute false statements to me. I never said "be nice to the police and don't criticize them or they won't do the job we pay them to do." Either I've got a writing problem, or you've got a reading comprehension problem. Which is it?

Because if it's the former, I'd like to correct it and avoid future misunderstandings. If it's the latter, then I'm angry that you wasted my time, having to deny positions I never took. (It's sort of like me having to say I haven't stopped not beating my wife, or something like that.)

fh said...

Proof that we don;t have 2nd order agreement.

"So if you don't like "Ferguson Effect," how about we call it the "when police feel they might get in trouble for doing their job, so police -- mostly to satisfy critics on the left who seem not to care how many people die as long as police are not involved -- get out of their car less, stop fewer people, interact with fewer criminals, and then murders skyrocket" effect? "

fh said...

And I still believe that murders nationally are most likely to have a less than 10% increase while you are convinced it will be at least 10%. At least on that one, we will be able to mark our opinions to market when the actual data comes out.

Peter Moskos said...

I'm not talking "feelings" and "criticism." I'm talking about every stop report going right to a lawyer looking to sue police officers in a city known to settle BS lawsuits with a payout. I'm talking about the detrimental effects of prosecuting six Baltimore cops for doing the very job prosecutors told them to do.

"They might get in trouble for doing their job" and, right before that, "if police feel they can't do their job for fear of lawsuits and/or criminal prosecution and thus do their job differently and then crime goes up."


And this sounds to you like "be nice to the police and don't criticize them or they won't do the job we pay them to do"? Seriously?

This is reading comprehension issue.