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by Peter Moskos

April 21, 2016

Who you gonna believe?

Who are you gonna believe: The Brennan Center for Justice or your lying eyes?

Crime is up. They and I have written about this before. Their conclusion:
Americans continue to experience low crime rates. The average person in a large urban area is safer walking down the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years.
Nobody is doubting America is safer now than 30 years ago. The point is that America is becoming less safe, and we don't want to go back to the crime rates of 30 years ago! We want 2014 to be the normal, not 1986.

And:
Although headlines suggesting a coming crime wave make good copy, a look at the available data shows there is no evidence to support that claim.
But... but... What about their data (looking at 25 of the top 30 cities) that shows a 14.5 percent increase in the number of murders? (13.2 percent by rate.)

How weird.

And also intellectually dishonest:
Final data confirm that three cities (Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) account for more than half of the national increase in murders.... These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting that community conditions remain the major factor.
Nobody suggests the cause of more murders is some national criminogenic miasma "pandemic." Of course the reasons are local. But they can still be part of a greater national trend. That's why they call it a "trend."

Now if the increase were only in three cities, then yes, we could say the problem is localized only in those three cities. But you can't just remove the data points with the largest increases and then say the increase isn't so large!

But, hell, let's remove the three cities most responsible for the increase -- even though that makes no statistical sense -- and see what is going on without Chicago, Baltimore, and DC.

[Computer calculating sounds circa 1985. Flashing lights. Wait for punch card to spit out.... Wheeze:] An 8.8 percent increase. The Brennan Center is basically saying, "nothing to see here, move on." But even an 8.8 percent increase in murder would still be the largest increase in 30 years.

Does ideology really trump the tragedy of more dead (disproportionately black) men?

The Brennan Center puts on its investigative cap and posits: "It is possible that the weak economies of these cities are a contributing factor to their high murder rates." Yeah, no sh*t, Sherlock. We're informed that Baltimore has a high poverty rate and has lost 35 percent of its population since 1950.

Is that the best you can do? Perhaps it's not just the economy. The economy in Baltimore was just as bad on April 26, 2015, as it was on April 28, 2015.

Violence in Baltimore doubled overnight, on April 27, 2015. How can you talk about the increase in violence in Baltimore and not mention the riots, police, or the Gray Effect?

Let me put on my thinking cap. Perhaps the increase in crime has something to do with -- I don't know, just spitballing here -- the interactions between police and criminals? Or maybe not. It's not like anything has happened with public perception and police in the past couple years. So that can't be it. (Sarcasm doesn't travel well through the written word, so let me be clear: I'm dripping with it.)

Now reported violent crime isn't up as much as homicide. That is interesting. But violent crime and homicide are always correlated. So if homicide data says up and violence data says not-so-up, my good money is on the homicide data being more correct. (It's why my preference is to look just at homicide or shooting data when examining trends in violence, at least when the n is high enough, which it is in this case.) Perhaps homicide is up and violent crime is down. But if so, that would be the first time, ever.

My guess is that the apparent disparity reflects less reporting of crime, particularly in cities where crime is going up. Bodies get counted. Bruises less so. Also, just as proactive police can prevent crime, it can simultaneously increase the reporting of crimes. Fewer arrests mean less crime. Not in reality, of course, but in terms of crimes being counted. Some crimes are only recorded because police took the initiative and made an arrest.

I expect better from the left-leaning but usually respectable Brennan Institute for Justice. This is like Heritage Foundation bullshit, but coming from the Left.

Why deny an increase in violence? The point is to have a rational discussion as to why murder is up and what can be done to keep it down. Like global warming, we shouldn't be wasting time arguing about whether or not what the data show is really happening.

[Many of these concepts were thought of while talking to Stephen Loiaconi, for his excellent article on the subject.]

5 comments:

CollegeCop said...

""Why deny an increase in violence?""

Because lefties are human and thus prove to the same kind of "emotional override of reason" right wingers are, despite the fact that they tend to believe they are 'better than that'. "The Ferguson effect" is to a liberal what climate change is to a conservative.

IMO , Conservatives don't just deny climate change because of a distrust of science, but also because they see the whole issue as a ploy to introduce socialism via the back door.

Likewise, Some liberals see police as a source of injustice and racism and think radical reform is necessary and see anything that preserves current police tactics as an attempt to maintain or even expand and unjust/authoritarian status quo. Acknowledging the idea that police are a good thing and have a positive affect on crime almost seems to them like a betrayal of the victims of police brutality and misconduct, which is an emotional response.

My uncle used to say "all the reason in the world can't outweigh one ounce of passion" and I think he's right.

bacchys said...

"Let me put on my thinking cap. Perhaps the increase in crime has something to do with -- I don't know, just spitballing here -- the interactions between police and criminals? Or maybe not. It's not like anything has happened with public perception and police in the past couple years. So that can't be it. (Sarcasm doesn't travel well through the written word, so let me be clear: I'm dripping with it.)"

Of course, it's not reasonable to think that police actions and policies have had any contributing effect to the public perception of police in the past couple of years...

john mosby said...

Prof, when are you going to talk about:

1. Batts's recent interview

2. The panda-suit bomber?

JSM

JPP said...

3. The Freddy Gray anniversary shooting?

Peter Moskos said...

Probably never. Sorry. I was out of the country.
But I am watching the Batts' interview now.
I believe Batts when he said never said "stand down." But he may have said, "hold the line." Regardless, the problem was his (and the mayor's) leadership. It really doesn't matter what he *wanted* if his orders couldn't get through his chain of command. There was a leadership problem more than a training problem (though both have been problems in Baltimore).
And why won't he say "the officers shouldn't have been changed"? I don't know what he means by, "I kinda lost it" when talking to cops about this. This is his bullshit political style I don't understand.
He was a failure. He never really succeeded.
It's just that finally his "progressive" PR shtick met his match in Charm City. He, along with the city, got beat down.