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by Peter Moskos

May 14, 2016

It's in the papers, so it must be real

This shouldn't be news to any reader here. I've been harping on this since at least last October. But now reality is official real because it's in the papers: homicides are up.

Now maybe we can focus on the how and why instead of denying reality? I wonder if all those so ideologically eager to call out "the myth of the widely debunked "Ferguson effect" will have any second thoughts. I kinda doubt it.

And kudos to Richard Rosenfeld who now has major second thoughts about his overly cited initial report denying any "Ferguson Effect." (That's the why science is supposed to work: you get new data, you reach new conclusions.)

It's worth quoting Rosenfeld a bit, from the Guardian:
For nearly a year, Richard Rosenfeld’s research on crime trends has been used to debunk the existence of a “Ferguson effect”, a suggested link between protests over police killings of black Americans and an increase in crime and murder. Now, the St Louis criminologist says, a deeper analysis of the increase in homicides in 2015 has convinced him that “some version” of the Ferguson effect may be real.

Looking at data from 56 large cities across the country, Rosenfeld found a 17% increase in homicide in 2015. Much of that increase came from only 10 cities, which saw an average 33% increase in homicide.

“These aren’t flukes or blips, this is a real increase,” he said. “It was worrisome. We need to figure out why it happened.”
“The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” Rosenfeld said. Now, he said, that’s his “leading hypothesis”.
Rosenfeld said that the version of the Ferguson effect he now found plausible was very different from the one Mac Donald had described.

“She thinks the solution is to stop criticizing the police; I think the criticism is understandable, rooted in a history of grievance, and serves as a reminder that the police must serve and protect our most vulnerable communities.”
“The conclusion one draws from the Brennan Center’s report is, ‘Not much changed,’ and that is simply not true. In the case of homicide, a lot did change, in a very short period of time,” he said.
Honestly, I don't think MacDonald is saying the solution is to "stop criticizing police." (Though, short of murder, it's hard to imagine MacDonald ever actually finding fault in anything police do.... But I'll let her speak for herself.)

The problem isn't criticism of police, the problem is an effort to reign-in what some people see as out-of-control racist policing. This is being accomplished by concerted lawsuits, paperwork requirements, public accusations of racism, and, in Baltimore's case, straight up criminal prosecution of police officers who arrested a man who later died.

And anybody who even attempts to discuss these issues, even in a thoughtful and nuanced manner, such as FBI director Comey, could be slapped down by none other than President Obama himself!

And no, I don't like the term "Ferguson Effect" either, but enough with the semantics. Lives are being lost. Maybe "viral video effect" will catch on, but the "Ferguson Effect" is the term most people are using to describe a very real phenomenon of less proactive policing leading to more crime. So be it.

And now be enguard for specious arguments about "declining legitimacy" from the police-are-the-problem brigade. The problem isn't legitimacy. The problem isn't even poverty (that is a separate problem). The problem is violence linked to public drug dealing and people who believe that policing has no effect on preventing violence. Too many people criticize even effective policing and really do want police to do less. They're not evil people. They're just wrong.

It's also ironic that the same people who refuse to give police credit for any crime decline are now reflexively blaming police for "not doing their job." Which is it? Do police matter or not? I think they do. Either police are irrelevant to crime prevention (see: "root-causes") or they're not. First let's admit that police matter and then we can get on with the tougher job of figuring out what exactly we do want police to do.

It's not that police "aren't doing their job," it's that we, society, #BlackLivesMatter, many academics, and ideological "progressives" (going right up to the President), are redefining police work by insisting (quite loudly at times) that the main criminal and social justice issue of our time is racial bias, police misconduct, and the overuse of lethal force against black men.

It's not that police suddenly and collectively decided not to "do their job." It's that police have gotten the message we're sending them: we want less racially biased policing, less use of lethal force, and nothing controversial on YouTube. Call it what you will, this "is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior." That's not crazy speculation; that's the stated objective of police "reformers." The fact that this shift in policing seems to be having lethal consequences -- through less police discretion and less proactive policing -- is tough pill for many to swallow.

I can't say this enough, but if you think criminally charging six Baltimore police officers for doing their job -- at least five of whom are guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- if you think that doesn't have an impact on police discretion? Well, you're living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

More recently police in Baltimore have been under the gun for A) killing two very armed suspects and B) killing an armed robber holing up a cop. It's like we've moved from "police didn't have to kill that innocent man!" to "why did police have to shoot that man armed with a gun?!"

Consider this: Baltimore police killed fewer people last year than probably ever before. Chicago police stopped fewer people, blacks in particular, than they have in many years. In both cases it's not that police decided to stop working. For police officers, the "juice" is no longer worth "the squeeze." Police are responding, as they should, to public (and ACLU) pressure to do less bad, particularly to people of color.

Homicides in both Baltimore and Chicago, particularly among people of color, are way up. Maybe decreasing abuse at the hands of the state is more important that preventing homicides among our citizens. Reasonable people can disagree, but I don't think so. But maybe -- and this is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about -- maybe there is a very real trade off between violent crime and aggressive policing.

Community policing, nice though it is, does little to address the criminal class, the rubber-hits-the-road moment when police engage violent people in the street even though at that very moment they might be doing nothing wrong.

It's not like we don't know who is likely to be killed and who is likely to be the killer. We do. Not with 100 percent certainly, but we can certain vastly narrow down the pool of suspects. Then what? Effective policing will not always be pretty (or harass only the guilty). Do we want police to engage drug dealers standing around or are they "innocent" except at the very moment when they're slinging crack or pulling out a gun to shoot somebody?

If we do focus on violence, and we should, policing will be racially disproportionate because violence in our country is racially disproportionate. And focusing on violence means focusing on those who commit violence, ideally before they commit the violence. That's the civil liberties part of this. And no, it's not all or nothing, liberty or repression, but perhaps we need to accept we can't have it all.

Instead of only looking at fault, why not look at good policing? The NYPD has shown you can keep crime down and shoot very few people. In New York we've seen fewer innocent people stopped and -- to the great surprise of Heather MacDonald and almost every cop in New York City -- have not see an increase in homicides. (The key variable, I think, is that New York City has seen the virtual elimination of public drug dealing.) But who in the police-are-the-problem brigade will admit that the NYPD, warts and all, does a pretty good job? That would be start.


aNanyMouse said...

Even if we were to decide that there is no direct Ferguson Effect, we must assume that, within the Underworld, there are those who calculate that there might be such an Effect, so that it behooves them to test the waters on how much more they can get away with nowadays. Like holding candy in front of a baby.

Otis Blue said...

@ Mouse,

Congrats on the Existentialist post of the week.

This mirrors PCM's previous posts and is my password for entry into a meaningful discussion of criminal justice reform: your theory of criminal justice and crime needs to include the acceptance of actual criminals.

Andy D said...

Peter, I think I haves asked a similar question before but what is it, exactly, that NYPD is doing so radically different from other Police? Baltimore, for one, as attempted relentlessly and unsuccessfully to copy things they THOUGHT were making the difference, even by importing brass from NYPD over the years. It is the culture of the cops? The culture of the city? Is it funding? Is it tactics? How has New York "virtually eliminated" public drug dealing?

aNanyMouse said...

Also, it’s likely that there has emerged a Ferguson Effect upon civilians, who would’ve previously reported suspicious activities, but who now shrink from helping cops.

Were this recent reticence to help cops to be solely due to news stories about actual misconduct by cops (e.g. toward Laquan), one could say that some cops (and politicians) brought this upon themselves and their colleagues, by their covering for guys like Van Dyke. But so many news stories have sensationalized incidents (e.g. Wilson in Ferguson), while failing to explain to the public the Use of Force model, in which Wilson etc. have been trained for 30+ years.
So what we're seeing is one more symptom of a collapse in our political culture, esp. in journalism.

aNanyMouse said...

@ Otis
If indeed there are those who can’t include the acceptance of (the existence of) actual criminals, I must wonder about the sizes of the rocks under which such persons have been living. One need not have been a cop for one to have encountered “ordinary citizens” displaying perfectly legal, but still quite sociopathic, conduct, in virtually any walk of life, where different hats are worn. The fact that such citizens happen to avoid outright criminal conduct often owes to circumstances whereby pursuing criminal means is unnecessary for these citizens to obtain their objectives. Why should anyone assume that such persons won’t resort to criminal means, if circumstances evolve to make such resorting attractive? (I’ve had the privilege of wearing a few such hats, aside from my cop career.)

Peter Moskos said...

As to NYC and public drug dealing. Part of the answer simply is demographics. New York has a smaller criminal and drug-addicted class. That certainly helps immensely.

But I think the NYPD really focused on street-level drug dealing in the 1990s and pushed it inside. And drugs buying here switched to the delivery model. I'm not certain why that hasn't taken off (best I know) in Baltimore. Maybe Baltimore suffers from more geographic proximity between sellers and buyers.

Also, the NYPD really did (and does) have some very smart people. Baltimore got Ed Norris. Bigger pool to pick from in NYC. And the NYPD can easily muster a few hundred (or more) cops for any even minor issue. So size probably does play a factor.

john mosby said...

On a slightly different angle: Does anyone think the ferguson effect is a first step to drug legalization?

The process would look like this:

1. Stop urban law enforcement thru ferg FX and other policies.

2. Watch the urban homicide rate go up.

3. Realize that most of the peeps and vics are involved in the drug trade.

4. Since you can't go back to the policing you banned in step 1, the only thing left to do is legalize drugs.

No one can really state this as their actual strategy, but could it be anyone's double-secret strategy?

Pls note: I am not claiming that the process would work or not; just predicting that we may see it unfolding.

(For one thing, putting a bunch of violent dudes out of the only job they've ever had may not magically lead, underpants-gnome-fashion, to their suddenly following peaceful remunerative work. If they don't have drug money to shoot each other for, they may shoot each other over prime panhandling spots, or for that matter say screw panhandling and just become armed robbers. But many policymakers may see legalizing the drug trade as a good first step between underpants and profit.)


john mosby said...

Mouse, that is a great point about how legitimate society can channel certain levels of sociopathy into productive efforts. If you and your victims have an education, some contacts, and other middle-class advantages, your pathology becomes mere assholery that can be dealt with thru job discipline, lawsuits, or people just choosing not to deal with you. If you're ghettoized, then you are pretty much out of control until you run into a bigger sociopath. Explains a lot!


Peter Moskos said...

I think drug legalization can only really progress in a low-crime world (like the past decade). (The idea of legalizing to regulate something bad and linked to crime is too much of a stretch for most people.) I would predict more crime would cause the pendulum to swing back to a knee-jerk lock-'em-up era. Were that to happen, current anti-police advocates of course would never accept any responsibility for their current actions being the cause of more repressive policing in the future.

Real reform can only happen when people aren't paranoid (both justly and irrationally) about violent crime. "Law-and-order" is a strong personal and political motivation.

Peter Moskos said...

And yes, Nany, you hit the nail on the head. So many problems are caused by people having "issues" (mental, money, family, employment). Money make not cause happiness, but money sure can solve a lot of problems. It's not really a problem if you can fix it with money.

I remember my first crappy apartment in Cambridge, Mass. The basement of some well-off house. The 30-year-old son of the landlady had no job or life. His volunteer work in the hospital, "didn't work out." (How to you fuck up volunteer work?) He wanted to be my friend. I declined. He wasn't a bad person, but I kept thinking, "thank god they have money. Because otherwise this man would be a ward of the state, in one way or another." People really to forget (or take for granted) how many having a bit of cash can turn potentially life destroying problems into mere inconveniences.

And I had enough money (through work, generous parents, and "social capital") to get out of that situation.

john mosby said...

It's the social capital, though, more so than the financial capital, that fixes/compartmentalizes these problems. Socialists think that a tactically-applied cash infusion will get people out of a problem, but it doesn't. It's the close personal contact with legit/prosperous people that does it.


Peter Moskos said...

It's economists who believe that cash infusions solve everything.

Sociologists love (even invented) "social capital" and "strong" and "weak" ties. This is used (in part) to defend the racism-trumps-all argument while explaining how some poor oppressed minority groups basically succeed (eg: immigrants) while others do not. Social capital is (in part) used to avoid talking subjectively (even judgmentally) about "culture."

Social capital is important. But sometimes it is just about money. My office computer broke last week. No biggie. I bought another. Your car breaks? You get it fixed and can go to work. Bus doesn't come? You take a cab. Child care? Elder care? Health care? Sometimes (not all the time) it really is just about money.

Andrew Laurence said...

If you don't think that decreasing abuse at the hands of the state is more important than preventing homicides among our citizens, how would you feel about INCREASING abuse at the hands of the state, which would no doubt prevent even more homicides?

Life has its tradeoffs, and perhaps I'm not qualified to judge because I'm a middle-aged, affluent white man with little fear of either the police or violent crime, but I'm a lot more offended by a racist murderer acting under color of state authority than I am by an ordinary homicide. We can't have a functioning democratic society if some people's lives can simply be ended with no consequence by people sworn to uphold the law and protect the citizenry.

Peter Moskos said...

Depends on how much of both, but I'd be willing to discuss. What if 5 more bad police-involved killings could somehow magically mean zero homicide. I'd take it.

On the flipside, if abuse at the hands of the state trumped everything, we could easily eliminate it. We could get rid of police and have no police killings. Yes, those are extremes, but at some level we are talking about a trade-off. But most people aren't willing to discuss that.

I think abuse under authority of the state is worse than your run-of-the mill criminally prosecuted homicide. But what if we're not talking about a one-to-one ratio here? What if it's 100:1? Or 1000:1?

Within reason, I'd let the community have greater say over the type of policing they want. Maybe you should have more repressive (but still legal and constitutional) policing in high-crime areas, if that is what residents want. One size doesn't fit all. And there will always be some conflict between state authority and individual liberty.

What I find bothersome boarding on offensive and racist is when a bunch of so-called (often but not always white) "progressive" outsiders tell blacks what their problem is, with regards to their community and policing. What if a focus on police does result in more crime? Should we keep focusing on police? Too much is ideological.

Andrew Laurence said...

I don't see how anyone can make progress on any issue if they're not willing to discuss trade-offs.

Otis Blue said...

@ Mouse,

Maybe I look under more rocks than others. Maybe there just more rocks out here on the west coast, but I have met a great many who refuse to acknowledge that regardless of histories of oppression and truly horrendous life conditions, individuals commit crimes. I can acknowledge a long list of contributing factors that allow me see a complicated person making hard decisions and/or outright mistakes, but many vocal others appear incapable of seeing any decisions being made by the actor at all. All of my grad level criminal justice classes included several very intelligent, supposedly knowledgeable persons who dipped and dove around the concept of people actually committing criminal acts. Their entire existence was focused on state/corporate abuse, and when forced to develop solutions to young men killing each other on the street, it was always back to how the state/corporate elites are causing this. So, what I was meaning was I have little interest in discussing solutions with those whose only answers are to change the fundamental structure of civilization without any care for what we do in the meantime.

Kyle said...

Money gonna solve a lot of problems..
Let's go rob Africa again... or enslave Artificial Intelligence but then the Terminator comes?

Andy D said...

Andrew: This is true of most discourse in our current era. BLM and other anti-police "reformers" by and large want police to be evil more than they want to discuss genuine questions of the proper relationship between police and society. This is true to most political questions, from anti-trans-gender laws (want trans-gender people to be evil more than they want to discuss reality) to Bernie Sanders supporters (want corporations and banks to be evil more than to discuss proper relationships between corporations and people) to Trump supporters (want immigrants to be evil more than to discuss reality of labor and immigration) to drug warriors (want drugs to be evil more than to discuss realities of the drug market and violence) and on and on.

In regards to your comment that "I'm a lot more offended by a racist murderer acting under color of state authority than I am by an ordinary homicide." I would suggest, not that you are "unqualified" but rather that as a "middle aged affluent white..." you DON'T fear violent crime (i.e. your chance of being a victim of random violence is pretty much nil) so you have the luxury of thinking about things like "color of state authority" which is not a concern to people of color who have lots to fear from random violence, and for whom a few questionable shootings by police a year out of millions of citizen contacts in high crime areas might be worth the trade off. That isn't to bash you, your life experience, or to excuse those questionable shootings. Hell, even as a cop my worries about "random violence" are scarcely higher than yours. It just seems to me that from the way you phrase your concern ("color of state authority") there is a disconnect between you (and me) and those living in high-crime areas. I have never heard a lot of concern about state authority from protesters. They tend to favor MORE state authority...just not the police.

Well I guess I've offended everyone now, so I can stop!

Shane Taylor said...

An old quote from Sidney Hook comes to mind. "Every person is potentially a lawbreaker and a potential victim of crime. Genuine concern for civil liberties requires a concern for both."


john mosby said...

Andy D: Great point about protestors favoring more state power, but not wanting to locate it in the police. Do we think this is hypocrisy on their part? Lack of thinking through the implications of their positions? Or do they actually have a plan? The people who police the police would by definition be....police, no? Same for the people who would root out and punish racism, genderism, homophobia, islamophobia, corporate greed, or whatever other bugbear(s) of the Left. Something as simple as telling the unwilling gay-wedding-cake baker to show up in court - who brings him there if he decides not to go? Who seizes his pots and pans in satisfaction of a civil judgment?

Do they want these services to be provided by a nationalized LE agency? By a locally-controlled PD that looks like the community? By Red Guards or Freikorps? Something else?


Peter Moskos said...

Another thing is that nobody defends "racist murderers acting under color of state authority." But much discussion and criticism of police currently concerns cops who either acted in self defense (Darren Wilson) or were simply going about doing their job (Baltimore trials). Many cops believe, with some justification, that people are going after police officers, almost at random, to highlight the evils of police and state authority. But this ignores both the legitimate (and necessary) role of police and is morally dubious in that it sacrifices individuals to pay a societal and historical debt.

Andy D said...

John I really have no idea what the right answer to that is. It is tempting to call it hypocrisy, but I'm not sure that is the right term to use. I feel that the anger, the resistance, the movement does not have very defined goals. Ask yourself, who is the "leader" of this movement? If there WAS one we could ask them what they want to see. I feel like the movement is perfectly happy to demonize the police but they don't want the police to stop showing up when they call. Police are, to most of society, at best a necessary evil. It goes towards the discussion above about not being willing to accept the reality of crime and criminals. The left and the libertarian right have the same problem this this. The left by and large want to explain it away as racism/capitalist exploitation. The libertarians want to ignore it. The right wants to blame race or maybe moral failures and the breakdown of the family. The different groups are so far apart on these issues that i despair of their being any kind of consensus ever.

Andy D said...

Peter: point taken. i.e. I don't see a lot of cops defending Michael Slager in North Charleston (tho IDK if he's racist, he is certainly a murderer acting under color of state authority and, as far as I can see, a liar. He is, not coincidentally, charges with all sorts of crimes and will likely see significant time in prison for what he did.)

woolywoman said...

John Mosby good point on the gnome underware effect of putting violent dudes out of their jobs selling drugs. It would probably take a generation for legalized drugs to lead to less crime. Legalized doesn't mean free, though, so addicted individuals would be committing crimes to buy their drugs. Not everyone actually wants to get better, if my nurse work with other chronic illnesses is any indication. People will stay addicted for lots of reasons, including childhood trauma, personality issues, lack of opportunity, etc.

But, if cops are a little freed up from chasing corner dealers and mules, and there are less huge busts being worked on that take a long time to get into place, maybe they can address some of the person to person, or adult to child violence that currently falls by the wayside. Possibly the gangs will have a lesser hold, although I imagine they will find some other commodity to hold over the weak and want to be law abiding.

It's an endless loop of a question. I'm a nurse, and cops and nurses have a good relationship. As a young punk rocker, I was treated pretty violently by one leo, as a young women in a violent relationship, my life was saved by an leo, and he chose to check up on me periodically afterward, help me with court paperwork, etc. Now I'm a middle class white lady with husband, kids, dog, and minivan. I'm outraged by racist cops and outraged by cop killers. I'm not sure where it all ends.