About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

September 20, 2017

St. Louis and the acquital of Officer Stockley

So somehow perhaps I thought doing a podcast would be less time consuming or easier than writing a blog post? No. Hell, no. Do you know what editing entails? Even light audio editing? But it's different. Kind of fun. What the hell. I hope it's educational (and hopefully also entertaining).

Anyway, here's Nick Selby and I talking about the acquittal of Officer Stockley in St. Louis.

We now have six episodes up. (Even though with our odd counting system it only counts as three.) And Nick finally got a decent mic (not till be heard till the seventh episode).

The episode we're most proud of is our interview of former Decatur Police Officer Andrew Wittmer. He talks about his police-involved shooting and the post-incident PTSD.

September 11, 2017

Quality Policing: Episode 2

Enjoy. You can add Quality Policing to your podcast subscription or download the MP3 audio file old-school style. Either way, head on over to the webpage for info and links.

September 8, 2017

Still trying to explain...

What's wrong with the Brennan Center's analysis? There are many problems. But here are a few:

1) They take a non-random sample (which isn't bad in and of itself) and then A) don't tell the reader in the text and B) state conclusions as if the sample were a random sample (every data point equal chance of being picked), representative of the nation.

2) They take short time frames (1 year) to point out that fluctuations could be random. True. For a short time frame. They could take a longer time frames (3 years) and see more clearly developed patterns.

3) This is bit trickier to explain. And that's why I'm giving it another shot. They base their findings on a magnitude of changes within their sample. This has the perverse effect of attention getting conclusions -- "more than half" -- that are noteworthy only in direct proportion to the limitations of their sample.

Let's take an analogy. I want to look at murder in my City of Moskopolis (a fine city, despite a bit of a crime problem). So I take a sample of three police districts (out of ten equally sized police districts). Now it just so happens that we already know that murder in Moskopolis is up 20 percent. But our study looks at District #1, where murder is up 30 percent, and District #2, where murder is up 10 percent.

Now maybe District #1 is important for its own reasons. "Murder is up 30 percent in District #1." No problem there. Or maybe, as mayor of Moskopolis, I prefer to give a bit of spin: "Murder is up 30 percent in District #1, but not so much in rest of city." That's fine, too.

But I can't say this: "District #1 accounts for 75 percent of the murder increase in Moskopolis." This is not true. It is false. District #1 accounts for 15 percent of the city's murder increase.

But some guy who has a stick up his ass about accurate data (even though he really does have better things to be doing with his time) gets all huffy and points out this inconvenient truth to the Washington Post, which quoted my incorrect statement because I'm generally a trustworthy guy.

So the Washington Post calls me and says "What's up?"

"Oh," I say. "I'm sorry. I was talking about 75 percent in my sample. Did I not make that clear?"

The Washington Post dutifully makes the correction and updates the story: "District #1 accounted for 75 percent of the murder increase in two districts."

This is now no longer a false statement, but it's a still meaningless one. Who cares about what percentage of change there is in one district in my sample? Why are we talking about two districts when we could be talking about six, eight, or even all ten of them. And here's a doozy: What if murder went down in District 2? Could District #1 account for more than 100 percent of the increase in my sample? Mathematically, yes, says my calculator. But statistically an increase of 100 percent is absurd. Methodologically, this should be a big red flag.

Anyway, Moskopolis is still a fine place. And indeed, we shouldn't overreact to an increase a murder. But if the mayor says murder isn't up, perhaps you shouldn't believe the mayor.

September 7, 2017

Quality Policing Podcast: Interview With Jeff Asher

There's another quality policing podcast in which I talk to data analyst Jeff Asher about the Brennan Center's latest report on crime. Asher had posted this thread about methodological problems in their data and analysis.
Brennan has a new report out showing murder down 2.5% nationally, but there are some major issues with that finding.

1) The figures cited aren't year-to-date, they're projected year end numbers based on around midyear counts.

2) Murder tends to pick up over the second half of the year, and any projection using midyear numbers will almost certainly be wrong.

3) They found murder -2.5% but included San Fran's 2016 count in that. There was no count for 2017. Removing SF makes murder -1.5%.

4) Detroit is estimated to be -27%, but that's based on Detroit's open data site.

5) That's problematic because the open data site is slow to add murders, so any year-to-date count will be wrong.

6) Detroit had over 130 murders as of late June according to the Detroit Police Department, and the 220 murders they project would be the fewest there since 1966.

7) Taking Detroit's inaccurate count out takes murder in their sample from -1.5% to +0.7% overall. So Detroit's inaccuracy explains the drop

8) The Phoenix count is similarly wrong. Phoenix had about 150 murders in 2016 but this report says they had 80 and project 60 for 2017.

9) The Phoenix figure was reached by using MCCA midyear data and doubling it, but Phoenix only reported Q1 data to the MCCA.

10) As of May Phoenix had 58 murders year-to-date in 2017 and 56 in 2016. Take away Phoenix and Detroit and suddenly murder is up 1.2% in the sample.

11) Which is to say nothing of the methodological issue of projecting midyear for 30 cities to a full year and calling it a national trend.

12) For what it's worth, my midyear piece for @FiveThirtyEight shows murder up a few % but rising slower than previous years.

13) Also worth reading is @Jerry_Ratcliffe on why doing year-to-date analysis isn't a great idea

14) Larger point is that measuring murder nationally is tough, drawing sweeping conclusions from badly incomplete data is a huge mistake in my opinion
This isn't the first time the Brennan Center has released faulty and misleading reports on the rise in homicide. In July, after the last one, I finally made an attempt to talk to one of the report's authors. Once I laid out my concerns, the correspondence ended. Today I asked the other author (via twitter) if he wished to be interviewed or engage in a civil discussion of methods. No dice. It's still an open invitation.

There are numerous problems with their analysis, but the most irksome to me is the straight-up misleading statement. I asked:
Is this statement [from your report] true? "Notably, 55.6% of murder increase 2014 to 2017 is attributable to two cities — Chicago and Baltimore."
Because I know it's not true, since about 14 percent of the murder increase from 2014 to 2017 is attributable to Chicago and Baltimore. He replied:
Yes. It's true for the 30 largest cities (our cohort), not nationally.
This not an explanation as much as a confession because they don't say "for the 30 largest cities (our cohort), not nationally" in their report.

I understand how they got their numbers; on my calculator, I can replicate their methods. That's good, but not good enough. Their methods are faulty.

Here are some of my remaining unanswered questions I posted on twitter.
Since 2013, what is the change in homicides in those 30 cities? I get a decrease in 3 cities and an increase in 27. Is this correct?

Do you understand problems in saying a "percentage of increase in sample"? Substantively meaningless & statistically absurd.

If you have three years of data, why do 2017 tables only compare with last year, 2016?

It may turn out to be true, but still seems a odd choice that only mention of (20%!) 2-year homicide increase is as "short-term fluctuation"

If twitter can't do this justice, I'd be happy to interview you for @QualityPolicing podcast.
I asked if we could "continue w/ a civil discussion of your methods?" Alas, the reply was: "I'm alright, thanks."

For two main reasons, I'm not OK. I'd like the Left to stay committed to the truth. The generally decent Brennan Center should be above Heritage-Foundation-style BS.

But more importantly: when you say murder is down when murder is up, it's not just an issue of truth. It's also an attempt to make the murder victims -- disproportionately poor young black men -- disappear from our consciousness. As if they never existed. Do their lives not matter, too?

September 5, 2017

Quality Policing Podcast

Nick Selby and I made a podcast! Check it out at qualitypolicing.com/. The first episode is up. And cut us some slack, it's the first episode.

September 4, 2017

The Freddie Gray Effect in Baltimore

Building on my previous post on data presentation, I did some grunt work to get a count of murders and shootings for each and every day since January 1, 2012. (If you think that's easy or [that] can be readily downloaded, you're wrong. Update: I could have saved a few hours of grunt work had I thought of using the  =VLOOKUP function in excel to fill in missing dates that had no major crimes.)

If you simply chart the data, you get this kind of chart, which might be cool in an abstract expressionist blurry kind of way, but it's next to worthless as a form of data presentation.

Here's the same data, given a bit of love and handling. For all the reasons mentioned in my previous post, I went back to a one-year moving average, split on April 27, 2015, the day of the Baltimore riots. (Pre-riot takes the average from preceding year; post-riot from the year following.) What I'm trying to highlight, in an honest way, is the large spike in murders and shooting immediately after the riots and Mosby's decision to bring flimsy criminal charges against six Baltimore City police officers.

Unlike other crimes, shootings and homicides are reported quite accurately. Other crimes will rise and fall in sync. (And if the data doesn't show that, consider those data flawed, particularly in terms of less accurate reporting.) And if you're more partial to a line graph:

The riots were a big deal, but nobody died. More important to policing and public safety was what happened after the riots. Nobody was holding the tiller. The department was basically leaderless. The mayor had been almost in hiding. Then Mosby made the biggest mistake of all. She criminal charged six officers for doing their job -- legally chasing and arresting a man running from an active drug corner (this man, Freddie Gray, then died in the police van and that led to riots). Mosby got no convictions because she had no case. She couldn't prove a crime, much less culpability. She would later say, "I think the message has been sent." Police got the message: if you do your job and somebody dies, you might face murder charges. Activists and Baltimore's leaders pushed a police-are-the-problem narrative.

Police were instructed -- both by city leaders and then in the odd DOJ report city leaders asked for -- to be less proactive since such policing will disproportionately affect minorities. Few seem to care that minorities are disproportionately affected by the rise in murder. Regardless, police were told to back off and end quality-of-life policing. So police did. But, unlike the arrest-'em-all strategy formulated by former Mayor O'Malley (which worked at reducing crime a little) discretionary enforcement of low-level offenses targeting high-risk offenders reduced violence a lot. It also sent a proper message to non-criminals that your block and your stoop were not going to be surrendered to the bad boys of the hood.

Of course these efforts will disproportionately affected blacks. In a city where more than 90 percent of the murderers and murder victims are black, effective anti-violence policing will disproportionately affected blacks (Of course, bad policing will, too). The rough edges of the square can be sanded down, but this is a square that cannot be circled. Reformers wanted an end to loitering and trespass arrests. Corner clearing basically came to a stop. Add to this other factors -- fewer police officers, the suspension of one-person patrol units, poor leadership -- and voilà: more violent criminals committing more violent crime.

Murders and shooting increased literally overnight, and dramatically so. Of course this took the police-are-the-problem crowd by surprise. By their calculations, police doing less, particularly in black neighborhoods, would result in less harm to blacks. And indeed, arrests went way down. So did stops. So did complaints against policing. Even police-involved shootings are down. Everything is down! Shame about the murders and robberies, though.

Initially this crime jump was denied. Now we're supposed to think it's just the new normal for a city in "transition." How about this narrative: police and policing matter; and despite all the flaws in policing at a systemic and individual level, police and policing are still more good than bad, especially for society's most at risk. There is no reason to believe that the path to better policing much pass through a Marxist-like stage of "progressive reform" before improving. We pay police, in part, to confront violent criminals in neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of all men are murdered. We own this to those, all of those, who live there. To abdicate police protection in the name of social justice in morally wrong.

And lest you think this rise in crime is only a problem in Baltimore, be aware that over the past three years, homicide is up dramatically in America, almost everywhere. Not just Baltimore and Chicago. Unprecedentedly so, in fact.

In related news, the odds of dying if shot in Baltimore have gone down slightly since 2012, presumably because of better medical care. It's a crude measure, but notice the downward slope of the trend line. The chance of dying has gone down from 39 percent to 34 percent. Also note the seasonal changes in mortality. I don't know why that is.

September 3, 2017

Data presentation and the crime rise in Baltimore

Data presentation fascinates me because it's both art and science. There's no right way to do it; it depends on both hard data, good intentions, and interpretive ability. Data can be manipulated and misinterpreted, both honestly and dishonestly. And any chart is potentially yet another step removed from whatever "truth" the hard data has.

Where I'm going isn't exactly technical, but there's no point here other than data presentation and honest graph making (and also crime being f*cking up in Baltimore after the riots, but that's not my main point). If that doesn't interest you, stop here. [Update: Or jump to the next post.]

I took reported robberies (all), aggravated assaults, homicides, and shootings from open data from 2012 to last month. I then took a simple count of how many happen per day (which is strangely not simple to simple to analyze, at least with my knowledge of SPSS and excel). You get this.

It takes a somewhat skilled eye to see what is going on. Also, since the day of riot is so high (120), the y axis is too large. With some rejiggering and simply letting that one day go off the scale unnoticed, you get this.

It's still messy, but is the kind of thing you might see on some horrible powerpoint. Things bounce up and down too much day-to-day. And there are too many individual data points. Nobody really cares that there were more than 60 one day in July 2016 and less than 5 in early 2016 (I'm guessing blizzard). It's true and accurate, but it's a bad chart because it does poor job of what it's supposed to do: present data. Again, a skilled eye might see there's a big rise in crime in 2015, but the chart certainly doesn't make it easy.

Here's crimes per day, with a two-week moving average. A moving average means that for, say September 7, you take Sep 1 through Sep 14 and divide by 14. Why take an average at all? Because it smooths out the chart in a good way. It's a little less accurate literally but much more accurate in terms of what you, the reader, can understand. One downside is that the number of crimes listed for September 7th isn't actually that number of major crimes that happened on that day. You can see why that might be a big deal in another context. But here it isn't.

For a general audience it's not clear what exactly the point is. You still have lots of little ups and downs, and the seasonal changes are an issue. (Crimes always go up in summer and down in winter. And it's not because of anything police do. And it's nothing do to with the non-fiction story I'm trying to tell.) On the plus side, you do see a big spike in late April, 2015, after the riots and the absurd criminal prosecution of innocent Baltimore cops. But it needs explaining.

Also, you need some buffer for the data. The bigger the average, the more of a buffer you need. But for this I think this is one perfectly fine way to present these data, at least for an academic crowd used to charts and tables.

Another tactic is to take the average for the past year. Jeff Asher on twitter over at 538.com does good work with NOLA crime and is a fan of this. It totally eliminates seasonal issues (that's huge) and gives you a smooth line of information (and that's nice).

You can see a drop in crime pre-riot (true) and a rise in crime post-riot (also true). That's important. Baltimore saw a drop in crime pre-2015 that wasn't seasonal. It was real. And the rise afterward is very real. But there are two problems with this approach: 1) you need a year of data before you get going and 2) everything is muted. What looks like a steady rise (the slope since 2015) is actually a huge rise. But it looks less severe than it is because it takes an average from the previous year. But that's not exactly true. Crime went up on April 27, 2015. And basically stayed up, with a slight increase over time.

Here's my problem. I want to show the rise in crime post-riot. But I want to do so honestly and without deception. But yes, for the purpose of this data presentation, I have a goal. (My previous attempts were pretty shitty.)

Also, you need at least a year of data before you can graph anything. That's a downside.

Here's my latest idea. If one is looking at a specific date at which something happened -- in this case the April 27, 2015 -- and trying to eliminate seasonal fluctuations, why not take the yearly average for the previous year before that time and the yearly average after that date for dates after that time? I think it's kosher, but I'm not certain.

Here's how that works out:

This shows the the increase that was real and immediate. And as minor point I like the white line on the day of the riot, which I got from removing April 27 from the data (because it was an outlier).

Now if I wanted to show the increase in more stark form, I would move the y axis to start at 20. But being the guy I am, I always like to have the y-axis cross the x-axis at 0. That said, if the numbers were higher and it helped the presentation of data, I have no problem with a y-axis starting at some arbitrary point.

Take into account that graphs are like maps. While very much based on truth, they exist to simplify and present selected data. I mean, you can have my data file, if you want it. But I do the grunt work so you don't have to. But of course my reputation as an academic depends on presenting the data honestly, even though there's always interpretation (e.g.: in the case of a map, the world, say scientists, isn't flat). The point, rather, is if the interpretation honest and/or does the distortion serve a useful purpose (In the case of the Mercator Projection it was sea navigation; captains didn't gave a shit about the comparative size of the landmass of Greenland and Africa.)

So taking an average smooths out the line of a chart, which is a small step removed from the "truth," but a good stop toward a better chart. It's not a bad approach. But it tends to mask quick changes in a slow slope, since each data point in the average for a lot of days. A change in slope in the graph actually indicates a rather large change in day-to-day crime. There are always pluses and minuses.

If you're still with me, here's what you get when just looking at murder. Keep in mind everything up to this point has been the same data on the same time frame. This is different. But homicides matter because, well, along with people being killed, it's gone up much more than reported crime.

[My data set for daily homicides (which is a file I keep up rather than from Baltimore Open Data) only goes back to January, 2015. So I don't have the daily homicide count pre-2015. 2014 is averaged the same for every day (0.5781). This makes the first part of the line (pre April 27, 2015) straighter than it should be. This matters, and I would do better for publication, but it doesn't change anything fundamentally, I would argue. At least not in the context of the greater change in homicide. Even this quick and imperfect methods gets the major point across honestly. ]

Update and spoiler alert: Here's a better version of that chart, from my next post.

August 29, 2017

The Consequences of Bad Leadership: the Baltimore Riots of 2015

Last post I talked about what didn't cause the 2015 riots in Baltimore. Well, what did? Macro theory too often assumes happenings and history are per-ordained, that leadership decisions don't have consequences, and that individuals have no free will. But what if the buses kept running? What if police continued to disperse crowds in the street instead of retreating? What if Gregory Lee Butler hadn't cut (or been able to cut) a fire hose outside the burning CVS? What if police had arrested him on the spot? These things matter. If they don't, I don't know why we bother to try at all.

The riots were not inevitable. Systemic problems matter, but they're a constant. As important as they are, poverty and segregation and drug addiction and broken families and violence are nothing new in Baltimore. And they certain were not worse in 2015 than they were in the preceding decade. Why on April 27, 2017 and not on April 25 or 26? Or why not in 2003, when police arrested 312 people a day, many for minor zero-tolerance bullshit reasons? By 2014, the arrest rate had dropped by two-thirds and violence was down. God did not ordain Baltimore would burn a week after the death of Freddie Gray. It didn't have to happen.

Bad leadership caused the Baltimore riot of April 27, 2015. Effective leadership and tactics can be the difference between a protest or even a violent disturbance and a riot. The latter happens not just because people are pissed off. People are always pissed off, sometimes for good reason. Now this is a weird point to make, but Freddie Gray wasn't the first guy to die in the back of a police van; sadly, since the city still hasn't procured safe transport vehicles, he probably won't be the last. Angry people are a necessary but insufficient cause of rioting. Poor decisions in planning, message, and tactics let a bad situation spiral out of control.

Bad leadership has consequences. If not, why seek good leadership? Actions and inaction matter. Only on April 26, 2015, for instance, did the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, defended a "measured" police response to protests by saying: "We also gave those who wish to destroy space to do that as well." The riots started the next day.

At the time, in 2015, many said the mayor's words didn't matter. And also that she didn't mean what she said, which may be true, but those were the words she said and the words people repeated. Also, now it's 2017. Does anybody still believe that the words from a chief elected executive have no impact? That they can't incite violence?

But it took many more bad decisions before the riots started. Somebody (and oddly, we still don't know who) made horrible transit and crowd control decisions at Mondawmin Mall on April 27. School kids were stranded en masse because the transit system was stupidly shut down. Kids couldn't get home. It was bad, but the city still wasn't in riot mode.

Ultimately the riots started because when things got rough, and cops received orders to pull back. The fear at the top, the mayor and Commissioner Batts, was that was police would be criticized for over-reacting. (And truth be told, they probably would have been.) But good leadership is willing to face criticism.

This video shows where and when the riot started, at the corner or North and Pennsylvania Avenues. (And just a block from the aptly named Retreat St). The looting began at 4:37pm. A line of cops was present near the CVS at 4:41pm. Even after looting began, cops didn't act. For more than hour cops stood by while the store was set on fire. A fire hose was cut within steps of officers who followed orders and did not engage. Police didn’t move till 6pm, and even then it took 50 minutes to regain control of the corner. By then it was too late. "Hold the line," police officers were ordered, and they did. And while waiting for orders to act, the "Thin Blue Line" (that ever-trite but here apt clich√©) broke down, and the city burned out of control.

August 27, 2017

"A small price to pay"?

Last post I presented the depressing fact that at current level of violence, the chance for a man in Baltimore's Western District to live to age of 35 without being murdered is just 83 percent. Yes, more than 17 percent of black men in the Western District will be murdered unless Baltimore can get a grip on violence. It hasn't always been so bad.

Before the riots and failed "reform," there were about 217 murders a year in Baltimore (2010-2014). That's not great, mind you. Not at all. Police Commission Davis said:
They [celebrated] when they got to a certain artificial number of murders. As if 200 murders is acceptable for a city of 600,000 people.
You know, darn it, at some level he’s right. Two-hundred murders is not acceptable. But... but... the chutzpah. Last year 318 people were murdered in Baltimore. 344 were murdered in 2015. In 2011 murders dropped to 197, the first time in decades murders were below 200. And the current police commissioner has the nerve to disparage city leaders who took a brief celebratory lap? The nerve.

Right now, for Baltimore, 200 murders wouldn't just be "acceptable," it would be a dream. 229 people have been killed this year, and we’re not even out of August.

(Murders in 2011 vs 2015, Baltimore Sun, click to embiggen)

It's not just the violence, it's that Baltimore's leaders blame everybody but themselves.
[Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn] Mosby cited zero-tolerance policing as a "failed strategy" that continued in Baltimore long after it was formally disavowed by the city's leaders. "Those failed policies are what got us to the place we were at in the spring of 2015," she said, referring to the unrest.
Blame O'Malley? He left office ten years ago. Violence went up two years ago.

Davis says:
"There was a price to pay for" the drop below 200 homicides, a price "that manifested itself in April and May of 2015," Davis said, referring to the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray.
Really? So according Davis, years of oppressive policing led to riots. It could be true. (Though I'm shocked to hear Progressives float the idea that repressive policing reduced homicides.) Perhaps the yoke of police oppression led people to rise up righteous indignation?

Between 1994 and 2014, annual arrest numbers in Baltimore varied from a low of 39,654 to a high of 114,075. You think more than 100,000 arrests each year for four years in a row might spark a riot? Well, it didn't. That was 2002 to 2005. Murders went up slightly during those years, to 269. If 114,000 arrests didn’t start a riot, it’s hard to imagine fewer than 40,000 doing so. By 2011, arrests were down 50 percent.
1994 arrests: 77,545 -- 321 murders
: 81,140 -- 325
: 61,403 -- 331
: 77,750 -- 312
: 89,149 -- 313
: 85,029 -- 205
: 86,093 -- 261
: 97,379 -- 256
: 106,117 -- 253
: 114,075 -- 271
: 104,033 -- 278
: 103,837 -- 269
: 93,393 -- 276
: 86,334 -- 282
: 82,656 -- 234
: 79,552 -- 238
: 69,617 -- 224
: 59,877 -- 197
: 55,451 -- 217
: 42,097 -- 235
: 39,654 -- 211
: 27,765 -- 344
: 25,820 -- 318
Look at at 2007 to 2014, a Baltimore miracle happened! Arrests were cut in half while homicides went down 25 percent, from 282 to 211. This was hard work and good policing. Not perfect, mind you. Sometimes not even good. But better, incrementally, year by year.

Davis and Mosby are trying to rewrite history, pretending years of progress never happened. Now it's one thing to be pissed on and be told it's raining, but these two are pissing all over our feet and telling us we're better off with wet shoes.

Go ahead and fix long-term systemic problems. But while you're doing that, in the meantime, let's tell police what we want them to do with criminals today. Violence varies independently of poverty, racism, unemployment, segregation, an family breakdown, the so-called "root causes" of crime. These didn't change in 2015. Policing did. Discouraging proactive legal discretionary policing allowed violent criminals to be more violent. Telling cops not to make legal but discretionary low-level arrests on drug corners was a bad idea.

There's only so much decline a city can take. Baltimore's population is at a 100-year low. And the people leaving, hard-working non-criminal taxpayers, are sick of crime.

Mosby admits Baltimore "is kind of in transition right now." I'm afraid Baltimore is transitioning from a city with failures to a failed city.

August 26, 2017

Too much to bear

Back when I wrote Cop in the Hood, I was horrified to figure out that 11.6 percent of men were being murdered (see the footnote on pp. 219-222). Well it's even worse today.

In 2015 and 2016, 126 people were killed in Baltimore's Western District. Eighty-six were black men age 18 to 34. (By comparison, 64 people were killed in the two preceding years.) Based on a total population of 38,000, there are approximately 4,500 black men aged 18 to 34 in the Western District. So the annual homicide rate for 18-to-34-year-old men in the Western District over the past two-year is 955 per 100,000. (The national homicide rate is now about 6 per 100,000; Baltimore's is 50.)

What does a murder rate of 955 mean? Well, here's a survival function:
1 - (1 - r)^x
r is the death rate and x is number of years. The death rate is 1 in 105 or .009555. The number of years from 18 to 34 is 17. So 1 - (1-.009555)^17 =0.1747.
This means that if homicide levels don't drop, a 17-year-old man in the Western District will have a 17 percent chance of being murdered before he reaches the age of 34. The numbers before 2015 weren’t great. Actually, they were pretty terrible; but they were a hell of lot better.

One-in-five men murdered?! I don't know what else to say.

[I thought of some things to say in my next post.]

July 19, 2017

"That’s quite a day’s work.”

Yesterday this video came out of Baltimore officer putting gel caps of heroin in a can, placing the can in trash in an alley, leaving the alley, and then "starting" his body cam and going to discover the heroin where he put it. Problem is, for the cops, the camera records video for 30 seconds preceding the press of the on button.

A man was arrested related to this and held on $50,000 bail. Nobody put up the 10 percent needed to get out, so he had been in jail for the past 7 months. He was released yesterday (eventually) after the video came out.

These seem to be possibilities, based on the video:

Option A: Dirty cops planted drugs on an innocent person.

Option B: Dirty cops planted drugs on a guilty person.

Option C: Dirty cops realized they forgot to turn on their body cameras, and decided to recreate the discovery, based on a true story.

Option D: Well-intentioned but stupid cops forgot to turn on their body cameras when the did find the drugs, and decided to recreate the discovery, inspired by a true story.

Option E: It's all some great misunderstanding and somehow this is acceptable police work.

I'm going to dismiss Option E, as has every cop I've spoken to.

Here's what makes this video so odd. Not exactly the "what," but the "why?" If you were planting drugs to frame an innocent (or guilty of something else) person, you'd plant the drugs on the person. It doesn't make sense to plant drugs in a stash because (absent other evidence) people in Baltimore City don't get prosecuted for a stash of drugs. This is why drug dealers use a stash (it also provides loss protection against robbery). You can't prove possession without a direct eyes-on chain-of-custody from person to stash. And even then you can't prove the stash belongs to a person who just happens to be reached into it.

I wrote about this kind of scenario in Cop in the Hood.

Could there be a chase of an innocent person, with drugs planted to provide probable cause for arrest? Could be in theory, but I don't think so here because the drugs were not planted in a place where somebody would throw them while running from cops. No, the drugs were placed in a can, in a drug stash. So maybe this was a reenactment based on a true story. This scenario, which is where I would place my money, is also the saddest. I mean, it was stupid, damaging to police, and harmful to the prosecution of criminals. It was also career ending directorial choice. And for what? That's what gets me about so-called "noble cause" corruption. Why? (See #3, below.)

Other issues:

1) $50,000 bail is a lot of bail, especially for a drug arrest in Baltimore.

2) Even after watching the video, the State's Attorney's office (the public prosecutor) at first only offered time-served. What the hell? It can't be said often enough what a disaster Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City's elected State's Attorney, has been. Baltimore is a city without effective leadership at the top. One quality of leadership is to take responsibility for what happens under your watch. This does not happen in Baltimore. Bad leadership has consequences.

3) And it's always a good time to periodically repeat that almost all police corruption stems from drug prohibition. How's that war working out? You think the fifth decade will be charm? I don't. The war on drugs will not be won. And the damage from the fight -- to families, communities, incarceration, police -- is immense and entirely self-inflicted. Society could better deal with the problems of drug use without police.

And it's not that all drug cops are dirty. That's important to say not to defend cops, but to not excuse the dirty ones. Being involved in narcotics is not an excuse to be a dirty cop; that's on the cop. But if we want to get rid of police corruption on a systemic level, you need to get police out of the drug game. Just like we did with gambling: regulate and control the supply and distribution. Voila! Cops are no longer on the take with the numbers' racket.

But back to the issue at hand. In some ways this is all academic. (But hell, I am an academic.) I'd really like to read the arrest report and statement of probable cause. But there is no scenario where this video is good or defensible. Whether it's planting drugs or a dramatic re-enactment, it's bad. David Rocah is 100 percent correct. From Justin Fenton's and Kevin Rector's story in the Sun (well worth reading):
David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, said that even “a faked recreation of officers finding the untied bag of drugs” would still be “potentially criminal” and should be a violation of police rules.

Rocah criticized the state’s attorney’s office for “the total lack of any apparent systemic response” to the incident, including putting the officer on the stand in another case after the video was flagged.

Rocah said it was “insane” that state laws that bar the disclosure of disciplinary records for police officers would prevent the public from seeing the results of the Police Department’s investigation or knowing how it punished the officers internally.

Rocah also said “there is zero reason to trust any video or any statement from any of these officers” given what was clearly observable in the video flagged by the public defender’s office.

“So even if it is indeed true that they simply staged a re-creation of finding the drugs, these officers have not only destroyed their own credibility, they have single-handedly destroyed the credibility of every piece of video where BPD officers find contraband without a clear lead-in that negates the possibility of it being staged,” Rocah said. "That’s quite a day’s work.”
Update: Indeed, this officer forgot to turn on his body-cam when he went and found the stash. So he decided to recreate the scene as it actually happened, potentially a firing offense. Counterfactually, had he simply fessed up (or been caught) failing to turn on his body camera, the departmental punishment would have been verbal counseling.

July 17, 2017

Police use less lethal force in states with more blacks

Recently I came across a breathless headline in Salon: "Number of fatal shootings by police is expected to reach 1,000 for third year." That's an odd way to put it because A) it implies the number has been at a record high the past three years when B) this is only the third of three years the Washington Post has been counting and C) it's not true.

According to the Washington Post data they cite, there were 991 people shot and killed by police in 2015 and 963 in 2016. The more accurate headline, as see in the actual Washington Post is: "Number of fatal shootings by police is nearly identical to last year." Well, that's a bummer if one is trying to hype a crisis. Also "reach" is not synonymous with "approach." But I'm not hear to quibble about the semantics of a few dozen deaths.

The number of those killed by police seems to be steady at just under 1,000 per year. But given the increase in homicide, it's actually surprising the number killed by police hasn't increased. When violence goes down, as it did in the 1990s, police shoot fewer people. When violence goes up, as it did in the late 1980s, police shoot more people. I suspect there are two variables pulling in opposite directions. One involves more violence in general -- increasing police-involved shootings -- and the other involves less police engagement and fewer interactions with citizens. Less proactive policing means fewer interactions and less that can go wrong (and also more crime).

I looked at the Washington Post data of those shot and killed by police in 2015 and 2016 and broke it down by states with more and fewer African-Americans. States that are more than 10 percent African American include 21 states plus D.C. (198 million people, 18 percent black, 36 million blacks). There are 29 states less than 10 percent African American (126 million people, 6 percent black, 7 million blacks).

People, all people, are 1.6 times more likely, per capita, to be shot and killed by police in states that are less than 10 percent black compared to states more than 10 percent African American. Blacks are still more likely than whites, per capita to be shot overall. But this ratio (2.6:1) doesn't change significantly based on how black a state is.

For both whites and blacks, the likelihood of being shot by police is greater in states with fewer blacks. And the difference is rather large. There are seven states less than two percent black. In 2015 and 2016, zero blacks were shot and killed in Maine, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. But if you think cops don't shoot people in these states, you're wrong. Compared to the four states with the highest percentage of African-American (Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland are more than 30 percent black), the overall rate of police-involved killings in states with few blacks is higher. And this is despite a lower rate of overall violence.

The implications of this are many, but for starters, if one wishes to reduce the number of people shot by police, it would make sense to focus on states that have more police-involved shootings in general. New Mexico, Alaska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Arizona have rates two and even three times the national average. Even though California ranks only 13 out of 51 (4.2 per million compared to 3.0 nationally), California is significant because it's so large. In terms of reducing police-involved shootings, these are the low-hanging fruits.

Were the states with fewer blacks able to reduce their rate of lethal force to the level of states with more blacks, there would be an 18 percent nationwide reduction in the number of those killed by police. But this would require a move away from a general focus on policing and race toward a focus on police departments that shoot a lot of people of all races (particularly hispanics, it should be noted, and not examined here). Alas, at the intersection of police, race, and ideology, I'm not holding my breath.

And there's a caveat: though state-level data is revealing, it's often too general in terms of policy solutions. Intra-state differences are very large (and not examined here). Policing is local, and some local jurisdictions simply shoot a lot more people than others. (That linked-to post is from two years old, but the basic points are solid).

Here are the raw numbers. As always, click to "embiggen." Data available on request. Corrections welcomed. Strongly encouraged, even.

Sources: 2016 population, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/
Killed by Police, Washington Post, https://github.com/washingtonpost/data-police-shootings

Update July 17: Thanks to I.L., corrected and updated.

July 13, 2017

Murder still trending up

Murder in 2017 continues to go up. (The increase is at slower pace compared to the previous two years, but that is minor consolation.) At what point do you sound the alarm? Yes, the murder rate is still lower than when it was high, but the increase since 2014 is equal (or may surpass) the largest homicide increase in America ever (1966-1968). Here's a very good summary of the murder rise by Jeff Asher at 538.com. It's both fact based and spin free. Refreshing.

Asher brings the data up to mid-year 2017. Overall, nationwide, on average, it's not good. There's an estimated 27 percent homicide increase since 2014. And no, it's not just isolated to a few cities. My previous post gives data for cities 2014-2016.

July 1, 2017

Two-year increase in homicide

Over the past two years, homicide increased 31 percent in America's 52 largest cities.

The cities range from little Richmond (220,000 people) to big NYC (8.5 million), from comparatively safe San Diego (homicide rate 3.5 per 100,000) to dangerous St. Louis and Baltimore (rates of 50+).

Collectively 50.5 million people live in these 52 cities, or roughly one-sixth of America's population. Homicides increased 31 percent over two years (4,946 to 6,496, which is about 36 percent of all US homicides). 45.3 million people live in cities in which homicide rose; 5.3 million live in cities in which homicide decreased.

For graphic representation in the chart above, I removed cities with fewer than 40 or more murders in 2016 because a low n leads to overly dramatic year-to-year changes. This affected El Paso, Seattle, Portland, Raleigh, Omaha, Tucson, Wichita, Long Beach, Minneapolis, and Fresno. (I also dropped Bakerfield its 153-percent increase is either a crazy outlier or my numbers are wrong.) Of the 43 remaining cities, 39 saw homicides go up.

The cities that seem to be bucking the trend of greater violence over the past few years are Seattle, Portland, Fresno, Boston, Tucson, Columbus, and New York City. In terms of raw numbers, the cities with the largest increases in murders are Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, Memphis, Dallas, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, and Kansas City. Were one to take the eight cities with the biggest increase out of the equation -- and there's not any moral or statistical justification for doing so, but just for fun, because the Brennan Center likes doing this trick -- the rest of the cities have a collective 2-year 20-percent increase. That's 20 percent more than we've seen in a very long time. So, no. It's not "just Chicago."

Here are the top 52 cities and their two-year change in homicides, 2014-2016.

And the data in text form, for your cut-and-pasting needs. Albuquerque: +103% | Atlanta: +19% | Austin: +25% | Baltimore: +49% | Boston: -15% | Charlotte: +60% | Chicago: +80% | Cleveland: +33% | Columbus: -11% | Dallas: +49% | Denver: +97% | Detroit: +6% | Durham: +95% | El Paso: -19% | Fort Worth: +35% | Fresno: -17% | Hampton Roads, VA: +39% | Houston: +44% | Indianapolis: +10% | Jacksonville: +25% | Kansas City: +67% | Las Vegas: +44% | Long Beach: +28% | Los Angeles: +13% | Louisville: +73% | Memphis: +63% | Miami: +6% | Milwaukee: +68% | Minneapolis: +19% | Nashville: +83% | New Orleans: +17% | New York: +1% | Oakland: +10% | Oklahoma City: +96% | Omaha: -6% | Philadelphia: +11% | Phoenix: +28% | Pittsburgh: -20% | Portland: -23% | Raleigh: +29% | Richmond: +45% | Sacramento: +46% | San Antonio: +36% | San Diego: +53% | San Francisco: +24% | San Jose: +50% | Seattle: -35% | St. Louis: +18% | Tucson: -11% | Tulsa: +76% | Washington: +29% | Wichita: +31%

July 13 Update: A short while back I finally sent an email to one of the authors at the Brennan Center expressing my concerns about what I see as their deception. I received a brief reply stating, in part, "the statistics you cite [to wit: "Chicago accounted for more than 55 percent of the murder increase last year" & "A similar phenomenon occurred in 2015, when three cities — Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — accounted for more than half (53.5 percent) of the increase in murders"] refer to the increase in murders in a group of 30 cities that we study in our reports – not the national increase in murder." I replied:
Thanks for replying. But these clarifications do not negate the basic mis-truth of the highlighted statements (which have been cited and repeated which clarification). As as academic, I do not understand this. It's not enough to have the truth somewhere in a publication. The summary and abstract, especially when right beneath the title, need to be be accurate standing alone. Surely you understand that readers, especially journalists on deadline, may not have the time or statistical knowledge to parse data as I do. They read and quote the summary. And isn't that what you want them to do? So these need to be factually correct.

Chicago simply does not account for half of the increase in "urban murders." Personally, I would only feel comfortable saying "Chicago accounted for (roughly) 12 percent of last year's homicide increase" (assuming a national increase of about 2,000). But since we have the two-year data, why not use it? I would feel more comfortable saying "Chicago is (approximately) 9 percent of the nation's homicide increase over the past two years."

You've chosen to highlight a large percentage (55.5%) that is large only because of the self-selected limitations in your sample size ("in this group of cities"). Taking a percentage increase within a limited sample is not correct. For instance, were we to look at just the top five cities (NY, LA, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia), one could say Chicago accounts for 95.5 percent of the total increase in urban murders. While mathematically true, this would be substantively meaningless if not downright misleading. Or, to further illustrate this point, why not just take the top three cities? The numbers would allow us to say: "Looking at the three largest cities, Chicago accounts for 102 percent(!?) of last year's urban homicide increase." Of course, the numbers come out this way, but one city accounting for more than 100 percent of an increase is both conceptually impossible and mathematically absurd. Does this make sense? The larger sample you use lessons the magnitude of the absurdity, but not the nature of its existence.

Were one to take a larger sample, looking at the top 50-plus cities, then Chicago accounts for 38 percent of last year's increase. And 20 percent of the two-year increase. Were one to include all urban areas, of course, the percentage would be much smaller. But any arbitrary limit on the denominator is statistically dubious.

But back to my initial point -- what is highlighted (and cited in the media) is right there is the lede/summary/subtitle without qualification -- how is one expected to interpret, "Chicago accounted for more than 55 percent of the murder increase last year"? Do you think this is an accurate presentation of data?
Here our correspondence seems to end.

In addition to the UCR, here are some of my source. Corrections welcome.
http://www.kerngoldenempire.com/homicide-tracker http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Bakersfield-California.html

Correction, July 5: Numerous errors and typos have been corrected; the post has been updated.

Prelude to a post

Homicide is going up. It's been going up for two years. And yet educated people still act shocked.

I'm tired of refuting the homicide-increase deniers, but their arguments comes down to these collectively nonsensical points: A) homicide isn't up in every city; B) homicide is up a whole lot in some cities; C) the increased risk of homicide isn't spread equally among society but disproportionately concentrated among poor young black males with access to guns living in neighborhoods with historic and systemic issues of racism and segregation; and D) homicide is still lower than what it was when it was really high. To which I say A) statistically speaking, that's why we look at averages; B) indeed, that's a big problem, but it doesn't negate the general increase; C) no shit, Sherlock, same as it's ever been; D) ah, go fuck yourself!

You see, writing about this same old topic has made me cranky because I can't believe I still have to. And I'm disappointed that so-called progressives waste time building a denialist house of cards instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing something to prevent poor black men (disproportionately) from getting murdered. But for whatever reason, a few years back, many of the left ceded crime prevention to conservatives. Somehow I missed the meeting where we decided that the only important criminal justice issues were to be police misconduct and the use of lethal force against African Americans (well, that and Mass Incarceration). And when generally respectable institutions like the Brennan Center make false statements about murder -- repeatedly -- we've got a problem.

To wit:
  • Alarmingly, Chicago accounted for 55.1 percent of the total increase in urban murders.
  • A similar phenomenon occurred in 2015, when three cities — Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — accounted for more than half (53.5 percent) of the increase in murders.
Since 2014, violence has increased. And it’s increased a lot. But Chicago neither accounted for "55 percent of the murder increase last year" nor "55.1 percent of the total increase in urban murders"! To say so once might be a mistake. To say it a few times might reflect statistical idiocy. But to do so again and again? I don’t get it. If forced to confront this false statement, they'll probably end up saying, "it was poorly worded and we meant 55 percent of the total of the cities we looked at." [Update: yup.] But regardless, it makes no statistical sense. Talking about the percent of total change one city makes in a small sample is bullshit, statistically and morally. Because it's possible to pick a sample in which Chicago is 100 percent of the increase. I don't think they're idiots. But if not, are they trying to deceive? Or do they just get there by accident? If Chicago's increase of 254 accounted for 55 percent of the murder increase last year, that would mean a total increase of 208 murders outside Chicago last year, nationwide. The actually increase in murders in 2016 is probably 2,000 more than 2015. And 2015 was 1,500 higher than 2014.

Second, in 2015, Baltimore, Chicago, and DC accounted for nothing close to half of the increase in murders. The national increase (2014-2015) was around 1,500. 255 is 17 percent of 1,500, not 53.5 percent. So how do they come up with these numbers? I've figured it out. Put it this way, if your sample only included Baltimore, Chicago, and DC, you could say these cities accounted for 100 percent of the increase in murder. Add a few cities, and that's basically what they've done.

There's a method to what, when, and why they do what they do. They don't just pull number from thin air. They use faulty methods until they get a number they can replicate. And then they just put it in words, knowing nobody ever checks these things. Either that or the authors are complete statistical idiots, but I doubt that.

Baltimore just finished the first half of 2017 with 170 homicides, the most since 1992, when the city had 115,000 more residents.

An assistant city health commissioner who oversees anti-violence initiatives was jumped and robbed in downtown Baltimore on his way back to work after having a sandwich for lunch. In the hospital, skull fractured, he said, "I think we need to look into what is causing people to engage in this kind of behavior." No. Actually, we don't. Cause I'll tell you the cause: bad or absent parenting on top of 500-years of systemic racism combined with 20th-century government programs designed to segregate and limit the ability of blacks to succeed. I can speak the liberal shibboleth. I even believe the liberal shibboleth! So what? Now what? One can and should acknowledge history, but that won’t change it. And the greater point, at least when it comes to crime and violence, is that none of this is new. Somehow, despite social injustice and white supremacy, crime and violence had been going down for basically 25 years. The violence problem has gotten worse just in the past two years. Talking about historic social issues, as important as they are, is nothing more than a distraction to avoid dealing with today's issues of criminals and wrong-doers.

Crime wasn't supposed to go up, of course. Crime reduction, say some, is just part of the grand social justice and intersectionality equation. DOJ reports (on policing in Baltimore, for instance) focused exclusively on improving police, necessarily as that is, and ending racially disparate policing. They managed this without even talking about crime prevention and racially disparate rates of violence. This recent crime rise needn't and shouldn't have been politicized, but, as I warned, if the left won't even acknowledge an increase in violence (disproportionately among poor black men) we effectively cede any crime "solution" to the "Trumpian right." So now we get BS talk crime and terrorism, like somehow crime and terrorism is mostly due illegal immigrants and Muslim grandmothers. So yeah, I'm cranky in my middle age.

But the past two years, 2014-2016, has seen the largest two-increase in homicide, in, well, probably ever. And the response of otherwise smart people is either to A) scratch their head and go, gosh, gee, maybe it's poverty and guns and historic policies of racism. Except those haven't changed in the past two years. Or B) it's not a problem because, well, homicide is really up in Chicago? I don't even know how to counter that. If you care more about right-wing overreaction to murder than the lives of those murdered, you win. Don't care. But for people with a conscious that trumps ideology, read on.

Here are the cities I looked at: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Bakersfield, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Durham, El Paso, Fort Worth, Fresno, Hampton Roads (Norfolk, Newport News, et al), Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh, Richmond, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, St Louis, Tucson, Tulsa, Washington, Wichita.

I got the homicide numbers best I could for each city going back as far as possible. It's a lot of grunt work (but actually a bit easier than it used to be, thanks to journalists keeping track).

For those cities, 2013 was the least violent year ever, with a collective 4,900 homicides. It could have gone lower; God did not ordain an urban homicide rate of 9.8 be the bottom below which no more lives could be saved. Generally, overall, homicide had been decreasing for 25 years. It could have continued to go down. But alas, people decided that police were the problem. And the problem to bad policing wasn’t better policing but less policing. How'd that turn out?

I'll push the data in the next post.

May 27, 2017

Tweet this

I've got over 2,500 posts on this blog. But I can't help but notice I've only posted six times in the past three months. That is a record low. So what have I been doing? Well, I do have a job. But also I've been on twitter a lot more. See, writing is work. And this work here? It don't pay.

Twitter scratches much the same itch for me as posts here, but with a lot work from my end. In terms of being engaged intellectually in police issues, Twitter is more interactive. Plus, on twitter I get to "meet" people like Jeff Asher. [See my previous post.]

Jeff has written some great stuff over at 538.com, which for some reason I simply did not know about until today. Take this on the effect which people insist shall not be known by the Ferguson Effect. Or on the rise in violence in Chicago, in particular, or nationwide, in general.

And I'm not shutting this blog down. And these things go in phases. Right now police simply aren't in the news like before Trump was elected. But if you want to know what I think about some current police issue and don't see it here, I've probably written something about it, but in 140 characters or less.

May 26, 2017

How to make people care about violence

Over at Nola Crime News, Jeff Asher tweeted this graphic just now.

Click on it; it moves! So while people are dying, I'm thinking about data presentation. There's something about a moving line that may make one pay attention to dead people in a way that actual dead people don't.

Jeff's graphic looks at Baltimore City shooting victims over the past 365 days. Each data point tallies the total number of shooting victims over the past 365 day. This nullifies seasonal change, which is worth a lot. But by taking a past-year average, you lose the "BAM" of what happened literally overnight, after six police officers were criminally charged for the death of Freddie Gray. The violence didn't just "increase." It stepped up, by two-thirds. Overnight. After April 27, 2015. The visual above indicates a rapid but continuous increase over the course of a year. But it's still a good visual and can't think of better one.

I don't know how to present a good visual that shows what has happened in Baltimore. In the past I've tried with a pre- and post-riot trend line. Not just once, but twice. But that's hardly convinced the masses that police (or more dead bodies) matter.

People are already talking about the rise in violence in Baltimore in terms of poverty or drugs or police legitimacy or blah-dee-blah. And sure, all that matters. But stop it! None of that, not any of that, explains the increase in violence. Police because less proactive because A) innocent cops were criminally charged and B) Political pressure (from the mayor, the police commissioner, and the US DOJ) told police to be less proactive as a means to reduce racial disparity in policing. You see it Baltimore. You see it Chicago. You see it in New Orleans. The problem is you're seeing it basically everywhere.

Here's New Orleans, again from Jeff Asher.

These increases are no joke. This is a "holy shit" type increase in violence. And the chart under-presents the quickness of the increase.

What happened in New Orleans? I don't know NOLA as well as Baltimore or New York. But the NOLA PD has seen a 30 percent reduction in manpower and a massive reduction in proactive policing (as measured by drug enforcement. I also suspect the consent decree hasn't helped police in terms of crime prevention, since, and this is important: crime prevention isn't one iota of any consent decree. Somehow, crime is supposed to manage itself while police are better managed.

The only big city of note without an increase in violence is NYC. And even here, people object to the exact kind of proactive policing that keeps crime from rising. Luckily, at least in New York, even liberal Mayor de Blasio isn't listening to the "police are the problem" posse.

May 3, 2017

"You Get the Police You Ask For"

Since I've been remiss at writing anything here recently, I'm going to link to a piece from Jim Glennon at Calibre Press:
[Baltimore] Mayor Pugh then thanked federal officials for their assistance in the arrest of a man who murdered a three-year-old in 2014.
The Mayor’s expectation that the FBI can assist in the day-to-day in Baltimore not only won’t happen, it can’t. The Feds, and I am not one to bash them, are great at what they do. But what they don’t do is don uniforms and walk a beat.

The Baltimore cops may be undermanned but that isn’t the reason for the surge in crime. They have been understaffed before. What’s different in the past two years? An absence of proactive policing. The surge in crime began immediately after the cops pulled back. Though no division of the elite political class, few criminologists, no mainstream media outlets, and no legal activist groups like the ACLU will openly acknowledge this.

Why? Because they are the ones who wanted proactive policing stopped in the first place.
The anti-police pundits blather on about how the violence isn’t as bad as in the early 1990s. They’ll yammer about how the crime surge is only in about 75 of the country’s counties. They’ll wax poetically about economic issues, past history, immigration, lack of trust between the police and the community, and then they will go back to their security-controlled TV studios and gated communities, sip chardonnay and chitchat about law enforcement ills with like-minded peers.

Meanwhile, real people are dying, and the FBI, the CIA, the DOJ, and the VIPs won’t be able to stop the carnage.
So politicians, pundits, etc., you got what you asked for. The question is: Did the citizens ask for it?

March 30, 2017

Not how I was trained

I'm curious what cops think about this police-involved shooting in Portland, Oregon:
Hearst, a seven-year bureau member who became a police officer after graduating from Multnomah University's bible college, said he never saw Hayes with a gun, but was trained not to wait to see one. [emphasis added]

"Because if I let him get his hands on his gun, he will be able to pull that gun out and shoot me or my coworkers before I'm able to react to it."
To be clear, this was an armed robber who was shot. But he didn't have a gun. (His replica gun was nearby.) The "trained not to wait to see one" rubs me the wrong way. Thoughts?

March 20, 2017

"A police officer’s view from street level"

San Francisco Sgt Adam Plantinga always had good insight on policing. A few years back I posting a bunch of excerpts from his book: 400 Things Cops Know.

Plantinga was interviewed recently in The Christian Century and addresses some tough issues. It's worth reading the whole interview, but in case you don't:
There’s a 90-10 rule in law enforcement: 90 percent of people are decent, 10 percent aren’t, and as a cop you deal with that 10 percent about 90 percent of the time.
All of this has a tendency to make you skeptical and disillusioned—to distort your worldview. It’s part of what’s known as compassion fatigue.... In its most damning strain, goodness starts to look something like weakness.
What the police must strive for is equality under the law. If that isn’t happening, attention must be paid. But in some people’s minds, every time a white police officer has a negative encounter with a black suspect, racism is clearly afoot. To be sure, racism is threaded through every institution in our country, from mortgage lending to how kids are disciplined in school.
But if a police controversy is about race only because some people arbitrarily decided to make it about race, the damage that can be done is much more than simply the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome. Accusations of racism are incendiary.
Some of these recent cases generate such a visceral reaction that they demand a response. The Walter Scott case in North Charleston, where the officer shot Scott while Scott was running away, looked to me like a straight-up assassination. The shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa bears all the trappings of an officer tragically overreacting to a perceived threat.
The governor of Minnesota was quick to say that if Philandro Castile had been white, he wouldn’t have been shot by police. I’m not sure how fair that is, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people as true. But if Michael Brown were a large white man going after Wilson’s gun after slugging him in the face, would Wilson have just brushed it off as the misguided antics of a fellow Caucasian? That doesn’t strike me as plausible.
Then there are the cases, and I believe they are rare, where a life is lost because officers didn’t know how to properly use the equipment on their duty belt or they panicked or they simply made an awful decision that they can never take back. There may not have been malice involved but the damage is done. Those officers’ cases should be decided in criminal court where they are entitled to the same due process as anyone else.
And ask any street cop and she’ll tell you about a host of times she could have justifiably used deadly force but elected not to.

That’s why cops bristle when they see a protester screaming that the cops are indiscriminately murdering people as he holds up a sign that says “It Could Be My Son Next.” Good sir, if your son comes at the police with a knife or a gun, then yes, God help him, he could be next. Otherwise, your son has about as much chance of being murdered by the police as he has of dying while canoeing.

Anytime an officer fires his weapon, it should be subject to intense scrutiny. The police are to uphold the sanctity of life whenever possible and must justify every bullet we fire. But don’t overstate the problem.
You build trust in a lot of ways. It starts by getting out of your patrol car and talking with people. The neighborhood’s contact with you must be more than simply knowing you as the arresting officer. You’ve got to explain to folks why you’re doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t always work, but it’s still a worthy endeavor.

A prevailing police weakness is the habit of brushing off people’s questions, as well as an inability to seriously consider a point of view other than our own. The public might be wrong on some issues, or have unrealistic expectations of the department. But we have to listen to them.

March 3, 2017

"The corrupt and brutal ones always work together as if pulled by some magnetic force"

"The corrupt and brutal ones always work together as if pulled by some magnetic force." (Perhaps said by a Chicago cop, but I can neither cite nor verify.) I think the reason why might be as simple as the fact that nobody likes to be given the stink-eye by their colleagues. So you most people disapprove of what you do, you eventually find like-minded folk who appreciate your work ethic and style. In the police world, for the more aggressively inclined, this means a specialized unit that focuses on arrests for drugs (and guns and maybe vice). And then, in precious semi-isolation, you feed and build on the habits of those most similar to you.

I wrote about the federal indictment of seven Baltimore City police officers yesterday (the actual indictment is here) and said: "This is about bad apples. But it's not just about bad apples. There's the barrel that allows these apples to rot."

Who else is to blame? How do we prevent this from happening again? Who said, "Crime is up! Get me guns! And take all the overtime you need"? Who ignored complaints because the "numbers" were good?

I don't have the answers. But these are sincere questions. Because true organizational change best happens from within. Things sure didn't improve when innocent Baltimore cops were criminally charged after the death of Freddie Gray. And the solution sure won't be found in some faddish mandatory training course in implicit-bias or gender-based stereotypes. Bad reform does more than not help. It hurts: good cops work less; bad cops keep working.

Last year I spent a fair amount of time criticizing the DOJ's report on the Baltimore City Police Department. (And for good reason, as it was an anonymously written, horribly researched, per-ordained slam job designed to pave the legal way to a federal consent decree while absolving current political and police leaders of all accountability for the current mess Baltimore is in. These were the same ace "investigators" who went to Baltimore while this crap was going on and unearthed shocking secrets of poorly written arrest reports from 5 years ago.) But I also wrote this:
Mixed in with questionable methodology, intentions, and anecdotes, there's some of God's awful truth in this DOJ report. Yes, the department is a dysfunctional organization that keeps going only because of the dedication of rank-and-file who do their best, despite it all.
I tried to highlight what the report got right. I hoped things would get better, but I didn't think they would:
Maybe this DOB report will improve the department despite itself. Though I might be wrong, I doubt it. I suspect people will ignore [what's wrong with the organization] and just focus on eliminating discretionary proactive policing that saves lives. If policing has taught me nothing else, it's taught me that things can always get worse. Or, as has been said: "I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse."
It did get worse.

I also wrote this about the DOJ report:
Accountability ends above the civil-service ranks. Why is that? Where is the leadership and accountability on high? Nobody blames the bosses -- the mayor and police commissioner in particular -- for the dysfunction of the department they control.
You think cops like working with (the very small minority of really) bad cops? Hell, no. But the system has no way to get rid of them. So you make do. You have to.
I defend most police officers because I've been there. ... I've had to work with cops I wouldn't trust as far as I can throw.

So fix it, dammit. Good cops want to, but they can't.
And then we get to a failed discipline process.

[From the DOJ Report:] The system has several key deficiencies.
It is clear that the Department has been unable to interrupt serious patterns of misconduct. Our investigation found that numerous officers had recurring patterns of misconduct that were not adequately addressed. Similarly, we note that, in the past five years, 25 BPD officers were separately sued four or more times for Fourth Amendment violations.

You might call that a red flag.
How much do you want to bet that one or more of the just-indicted officers are on that list? But did anybody do anything?

You know what might help: figure out who didn't do the wrong thing. What you have here is an inadvertent integrity sting. Now I know you're not supposed to get credit for doing what you're expected to do. But you might find something out from who (if anybody) in that squad didn't abuse overtime. Whose name didn't come up in a wire tap? Who entered the squad, had a look around, and left right away thinking, "maybe uniform patrol isn't so bad after all"? But that's not the way these things work.

[Update: According to Justin Fenton in the Sun these seven were the entire squad. Worth reading Fenton's whole article. As to spending your career "risking your life" to protect others as a defense, this clip from Scott and Bailey comes to mind.]

It's not that good cops cover for bad cops as much as they stay the fuck away from them. Why? Because if you know enough to rat somebody out, you're already in way too deep. And if you don't know enough, well, what are you supposed to do? Go to Internal Affairs and say, "I got a hunch"? You put on blinders to cover your ass. You hear rumors, and then you stay the hell away because when the shit hits the fan, you don't want to be anywhere near it. It's less Blue Wall of Silence than a Blue Cone of Silence.

And the solution, as is always the case, needs to focus on the wrongdoers rather than be collective punishment on the good cops, the majority. From my book, Cop in the Hood:
Some officers enter the police department corrupt. Others fall on their own free will. Still others may have an isolated instance of corruption in an otherwise honest career. But there is no natural force pulling officers from a free cup of coffee toward shaking down drug dealers. Police can omit superfluous facts from a police report without later perjuring themselves in court. Working unapproved security overtime does not lead to a life in the mob. Officers can take a cat nap at 4 a.m. and never abuse medical leave. There is no slope. If anything, corruption is more like a Slip 'N Slide. You can usually keep your footing, but it's the drugs that make everything so damn slippery.
As to overtime, from 15 year ago:
To control overtime pay, superiors also discourage late discretionary arrests. While a legitimate late arrest may result in a few extra hours of overtime pay, the sergeant signing the overtime slip is likely to ask details about the arrest to confirm the legitimacy before adding an extra hour or two and giving very explicit instructions to "go straight home."
This "rounding up" of overtime was pretty common. And I'll even defend it as one of the only carrots a boss has to reward somebody for doing a good job. Regardless, it is a far cry from what seems to have happened here.