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by Peter Moskos

July 2, 2016

10 shootings a day: This is the homicide problem

The Chicago Tribune has an excellent article that starts on the West Side [2 miles this house]:
To understand Chicago's violence, start at Kostner Avenue and Monroe Street and walk west up a one-way stretch of graystones and brick two-flats. There on a boarded-up front door you'll see the red stain of gang graffiti. On the cracked sidewalk below lies an empty heroin baggie. Hardened young men sit on a porch.

This single block on the West Side — part of the Harrison police district — has been the scene of at least six shootings so far this year
My father grew up in this neighborhood, a mile away on North Avers Ave. The Greeks are long gone, of course. My father's family moved to Albuquerque in 1947. I checked Google street view for that block of six shootings:

These guys are totally not cool with the google car taking their picture.

Think they're up to no good?

Kind of cracks me up.

Here's the thing. Those guys you see. Them. There. In that picture right there above. Those guys in front of that fence? They are the problem! Sometimes it really is that simple. Seriously. It's not rocket science. There they are.

And police officers know that. But now what?

Chicago cops aren't stopping these guys anymore because, well, why should they? The ACLU sues cops and the Chicago Police Departments for stopping six black guys who are just minding their own business:
All this has led many officers to feel unsure about stopping anyone. Just this week, the president of the police union said many officers feel that "no one has their backs." Other veteran officers agree that Chicago cops are dispirited and have slowed down on the kind of proactive policing that can remove a gun or criminal from the street.
The makeup of Chicago's gangs has changed dramatically over the years. They once were massive organizations with powerful leaders and hundreds of members who controlled large chunks of territory. Now small cliques battle for control over a few blocks.
Experts also agree that personal disputes increasingly are playing a role in the violence. One veteran cop recalled with disbelief recently how a slaying he investigated boiled down to an insult over shoes.

Police also said so-called net-banging on social media fuels conflicts. Gang members have been known to post menacing videos on YouTube, showing them furtively entering rival territory, waving guns and issuing threats.
Ranking officers say reports from the field indicate more gang members are being caught carrying guns than in the past, a troubling trend that could explain in part the surge in shootings.
Morale plummeted as officers expressed concern about their every move being captured on smartphone video, a Tribune story reported earlier this year. Some have suggested that officers became hesitant to make street stops and arrests for fear of backlash.

Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said street stops had plunged by 150,000 so far this year, but he blamed the more extensive paperwork that officers must fill out this year for every street stop.
Another veteran cop said the forms are so complicated that they take as long as an hour to fill out, keeping officers from street duty and leading many to reconsider whether a stop is worth the effort. It's affected the department's ability to gather intelligence on gangs, he believes.
The ACLU has disputed the notion that fewer street stops contribute to spikes in violence.
Of course they have. But the ACLU is wrong. Dead wrong. Look, if you want to argue that these young men shouldn't be stopped at all, fine. You agree with the ACLU (and don't live on that block or hear the gunshots). And the ACLU is right in criticizing police who stop people for the sake of making a stop.

As a cop you don't (or shouldn't) harass everybody walking down the block. You harass these guys on this block. And by "harass" I mean, within the law and constitution, make it little less fun for them to hang out in public and sell drugs. Yes, you as a cop give these guys a hard time. Is that fair? Yes. Because there have been six shootings on this block this year. Is it racist? No. Because these guys are the problem.

If you're a cop, you need to ask a bunch of questions 1) how do you do knowing these guy are slinging and shooting? 2) Should you stop these guys? 3) Are they committing a crime? 4) Are they a Broken Window? 5) What legal basis do you have to stop and frisk those guys?

[The answers are 1) get out of your damn car and talk to them, or at least watch them disperse in your presence, 2) yes, 3) no, and 4) yes. 5) very little at first, but you can build it, ask for a consent search, or conduct a Terry Frisk.]

You pull up to them. See what they do. You can crack down on this group by enforcing Broken Windows quality-of-life crimes. You get to know who they are. You can use your discretion and ticket them for something -- drinking, smoking joints, jaywalking, littering, truancy, spitting -- whatever it takes. You can arrest them when they can't provide ID (they can't, trust me). You can harass these criminals legally and within the bounds of the constitution. This is what police are supposed to do. It's how homicides are prevented. It's how some kids stay out of gangs. But if cops do their job, then we, society, need to support police officers against inevitable accusations of harassment, racism, and even discourteous behavior in their confrontations with these criminals.

As a cop you will not win the war drugs, but as long as drugs are illegal you need to fight the fight against pubic drug dealing. But we're telling cops not to do this. In Chicago cops are listening. And so are the criminals.


bacchys said...

If you see them doing something illegal, stop them. If they are acting in a way that provides articulable facts that they have, are, or about to commit a crime, stop them.

Standing or walking down a public sidewalk doesn't provide reasonable suspicion even if they are the problem.

Peter Moskos said...

That no-can-do attitude is part of the problem.

They don't have to commit a crime. Any violation will do. You start by citing them for something minor. Because they will litter, jaywalk, spit, or curse. I'm sure at least one of those is a ticketable offense in Chicago. Once I can ticket you, everything flows from there.

My point is that these criminals *can* be harassed legally and constitutionally. My question is do we want police to do so?

Thorn said...

Even if we decide that we want police to 'harass' someone with things like jaywalking tickets, will we still be there when something goes wrong? Or will it suddenly become "man killed by police over jaywalking" the way it always goes?

Peter Moskos said...

That's the $64,000 question. See, for example, Freddie Gray.

Andy D said...

No only is that the $64,000 question, it is the #1 reason why the cops (especially in Chicago) are NOT stopping these guys, or anyone else. I don't blame them. I, personally would have a hard time not stopping them, not doing my job. Because I was raised that way. But I can say that with every viral video, with every media outburst, more and more cops in cities like Chicago are going to decide that the remote chance of "death by jaywalking" is TOO MUCH of a risk.

*oh, and an unfortunate typo alert in last paragraph. What type of drug dealing do we need to fight against?

Happy Independence Day, Prof.

EA5 said...

The issue is that the accusations of harassment, racism, and discourteous behavior aren't just coming from their interactions with these gang members. Its pretty obvious that the Chicago Police Department does in fact have problems with corruption, abuse, and racism. From Ronald Watts running a protection racket to the Homan Square detention facility to the irregularities around the Laquan McDonald shooting, there are obviously major problems within the department. I understand supporting proactive policing, but its a harder case to make when the department doing the policing is as thoroughly compromised as the Chicago PD. Proactive professional policing might be the ideal, but proactive corrupt, abusive, and racist policing isn't a viable long term strategy.

And though the idea that a reduction in proactive policing has led to the rise in shootings is a solid hypothesis, its not the only one. Just to throw some back of the envelope math out there, per the Chicago Tribune story, the number of shootings has increased by 648 compared to this time last year. I can't find more recent data, but as of March 31, the number of stops had dropped from about 150,000 to 20,000 and the number of guns seized dropped from 1413 to 1316. If that trend has held, that means that a reduction of over 200,000 stops has led to about 200 more guns on the streets and an increase of 648 shootings. So the addition of 200 guns leading to 648 shootings is definitely plausible. 200,000 stops to get there though is a lot of collateral damage, especially if the stops aren't entirely respectful of peoples rights.

Meanwhile, the clearance rate for murders and shootings is pretty low (though i'm struggling to find a definitive number) so another hypothesis could be that the loss in public trust from the plethora of high profile scandals has discouraged citizens from working with the police. If thats the case, then bringing back those 200,000 stops might not have a positive effect.

Another totally speculative hypothesis is that the corruption within the Chicago PD is actually more widespread than people think and the increased scrutiny has forced corrupt officers to stop running protection rackets. The uptick in violence is then a result of the shakeup within the criminal world rather than changes in policing. We won't know if thats the case though unless activists keep forcing Chicago to get more transparent and to actually take internal affairs investigations seriously.