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by Peter Moskos

August 15, 2016

40 shooting victims and 672 arrests? "That's ridiculous!"

CBS reports:
At least 52 people were shot across [Chicago] over the weekend, including nine homicides.
("At least"? Has it got so bad that we can't even keep track?)

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, talking about the 40 victims known to police, is "sick of it":
672 arrests? That's ridiculous!
There's a certain segment of the community that is driving this violence. The police department is doing its job. We're arresting these individuals. Where we're missing the boat is we're not holding them accountable."
2,639 people have been shot in Chicago this year. That's an increase of more than 50 percent from last year. That really is ridiculous.

And it's even worse in Baltimore. Stephen Morgan, my Harvard squash mate -- I love saying that because, put together, those might be the four snootiest words in the English language! (That said, in grad school Steve and I did play squash once or twice, and I'm pretty sure I won.) -- anyway, Steve sent me these numbers for Baltimore:
28 days beginning Monday 6/27/16

Homicide 33
Shooting 63
Carjacking 32
Street robbery 283

28 days beginning Monday 6/29/15

Homicide 38
Shooting 84
Carjacking 31
Street robbery 327

Prior five-year average of equivalent four weeks (from 2010 through 2014)

Homicide 18.4
Shooting 38.2
Carjacking 13.6
Street robbery 210.6

If there was any doubt, murdres and shooting doubled after last year's April riot. There's a link to his updated report (and a few other things) here.

But when I bring up increased crime, I feel like half the world is gas-lighting me. First there's this inevitable rebuke: "Fear mongering! Crime isn't up. It's at all time low!". There's usually talk about the the "latest available data" as if time stopped in 2014. Yeah, back then crime was at a many-decades low. But now it's not. Who you gonna believe?

If history is any guide, liberals really should not concede crime fears to the Right. Yes, the public always thinks crime is getting worse. But now those fears just happen to reflect reality. So rather than say, "you were wrong for years" it behooves us to say, "OK, now you are right, and what are we going to do about it?"

Politically, I don't want to the only people responsive to rising crime to be Trump and the "law-and-order." They scare me. But every time anybody, myself included, dares think what has happened in the past two years that might impact crime, you get the inevitable "correlation isn't causation" mantra. Makes me bang my head against the wall! Even Steve agrees. (And Steve, unlike me, is a quantitative stats guy.)

Correlation actually can be indicative of causation. At the very least, it's a clue. I mean, what else has changed so dramatically except police and crime? And some point, if you get enough correlation and have taken other variables into account (and reach an all too arbitrary "there's less than a 1 in 20 chance it's random"), well, that's what qualitative social scientists call "proof." And then if you don't like the conclusion, you harp on measurement error or non-random missing data.

Morgan writes (he always has sounded more academic than me. How does he do that?):
I think it is undeniable that this is a downstream effect of the “unrest” last year, but there are still a lot of unanswered (and some probably unanswerable) questions on the particular mechanism that generated the effect.
I'm more rash than Steve, quicker to point at the mechanism of decreased discretionary proactive policing as indicated by, you know, by cops telling me their do less discretionary proactive policing. (If you prefer your data more dry and processed, you could look at reduced arrest numbers.)

Let's play the counterfactual game. Pretend crime went gone down in Baltimore after April of last year but everything else stayed the same. Well, what then would be some possible reasons? People would be pointing to less proactive policing as part of the solution. They might say crime went down because of the indictment of cops. Perhaps this increased police "legitimacy." Or maybe the presence of DOJ investigaters improved policing and lowered crime. Maybe City Council President Jack Young and State Sen. Catherine Pugh's celebrated gang truce" saved lives. But none of that is true. Becuause violence doubled. We'll never have definitive proof. There will always be "a lot of unanswered (and some probably unanswerable) questions on the particular mechanism that generated the effect." But until somebody can show me something else that makes sense, I'm quite happy to Occam's Razor this baby and focus on a massive decline in proactive and aggressive policing. It really is ridiculous.


Syebe said...

For those of us who don't live in (those parts of?) Baltimore or Chicago, why should we care about crime there? The city I live in doesn't have remotely that amount of crime, but it's got police. More officers than annual murders, in fact, so I've got a much greater chance every day of interacting with a cop than I do of being involved (as witness or victim) in a murder. Since the same basic Constiutional framework governs my police as Chicago's and Baltimore's, why shouldn't I accept higher crime for strangers in other places as the price for my interactions with the police here to be less likely to happen at all and more likely to be pleasant if they do happen? Overturning a half-century or more of 4th Amendment caselaw so "reasonable suspicion" and "probable cause" both require greater than 50% certainty before the police are allowed to make a stop may double crime. Hell, say it raises violent crime by an order of magnitude everywhere. Ten times basically nothing is still nothing to worry about, so there's no downside here to making the police less able to stop me or give me orders - and that's the only downside I care about.

I guess my point is, I'm totally fine with there being skyhigh crime in places I don't live (and ok with increased crime where I do live) if it's tied to a noticeable drop in proactive policing where I live. I can't be the only person who thinks that way, even if it's a minority viewpoint.

Peter Moskos said...

I couldn't disagree more strongly. And I think your moral calculus is off base. But that said, thank you for your comment!

I think what you say is the hidden message of too many. I think it's the majority viewpoint! And I think so many people who criticize policing in high-crime neighborhoods care far more police than they do about crime and victims of crimes in "those" neighborhoods. And to some extent, who can blame them/you?

But I have an answer: police can't and shouldn't police the same way everywhere. You can have your cake and eat it, too because in your neighborhood no one is getting shot. Your police can and should be less aggressive. Lives are not at stake.

[But I am curious why you'd take more crime where you live for less proactive policing.]

aNanyMouse said...

Well, Syebe, if servicing of O'Hare, Chicago's RR traffic, etc., gets cutoff by Gangstas, your town may well soon be short of food etc., given our complex JIT delivery system.

Peter: Even the claim that "Crime isn't up. It's at all time low!" is suspect in some circles, e.g. in Chitown, see the 3-part series on CPD brass' cooking of crime numbers, by Bernstein and Isackson in Chicago Mag.

Aside from Ockham's Razor, another applicable philosophical concept here is the "weak criteria of verifiability" argument stewed over by the likes of A.J. Ayer, Karl Popper, and H. Reichenbach, whereby a claim is meaningful only insofar as it (*and* its contrary) is (decisively?) scrutinizable or falsifiable by some possibly-available evidence.

The question to liberals must be, if current evidence isn't such as to get them to concede merit to the claim "crime may be rising due to reduced police activity", what *possible* evidence could get them to concede merit to this claim?

When liberals argue as if the claim "crime may be rising due to reduced police activity" can't be supported via *any* evidence we might ever hope to obtain, they stack the deck in favor of the claim "crime may never be rising due to reduced police activity", so as to make this latter claim meaningless.
Akin to moving the goalposts to the moon!

Thos Wallace said...

Ockham's Razor? How about Ockham's Butter Knife?

As for Mouse's point, we are frequently dealing with beliefs that are close to unfalsifiable. If someone believes that police are part of a larger system -- criminal justice/prisons -- and economic inequality that victimizes and oppresses blacks, then I can't imagine data having much of an impact.

As far as homicides are concerned, there is solid, public, realtime data and no need to wait for some sort of uniform crime report to be published in a couple of years. Furthermore, 'crime is rising' is supported by specific dates when things changed as well as the statements of police regarding how they personally changed attitudes and behaviors in addition to policy changes and supporting arrest statistics. It's not like the 'data' popped out of a massive statistical analysis and produced some 'significant' findings.

How is the housing market in Ferguson? In Chicago and Baltimore (for now) there are areas of wealth that generate tax revenue and care about the survival of the city. In Detroit and Gary, Ind? Not really. And by the way -- even though this is about race, there are substantial numbers of working class and above blacks living in these areas, or adjacent to them. Who I assume are desperate to see a reduction in violent crime.

Syebe said...

Honestly? Part of it may be that I think of crime as something that happens to other people. Even if there's more of it I like my odds of it not happening to me. So I don't fear crime.

And it could be I've just drunken too much of the Radley Balko coolaid, but I do fear police (not just that - there's a lot of projection involved, because the only thing that ever appealed to me about a job as a police officer would be the opportunity to express righteous fury and hurt and coerce people in a socially acceptable manner.). And cops are real and have been personally relevant. I can't dismiss them the way I do crime. I'm 32 years old, I've been a victim of crimes twice: when I was a kid my bike got stolen and once my car was broken into and robbed. I usually see a minimum of two cops (or police vehicles at least) every day. I've been a passenger, not even the driver, in more cars pulled over by police (3 that I remember) than crimes I've been victim of (2).

So less of something that's at best a necessary evil (law enforcement) and at worst untrustworthy people with effectively unchecked discretionary power to ruin (by arrest) or end (by force) my life at the cost of something I don't believe will impact me? Easy tradeoff.