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by Peter Moskos

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.