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by Peter Moskos

January 30, 2013

Flogging Gains Steam

There's a bill to bring back corporal punishment (seemingly in lieu of incarceration) in Montana. It ain't gonna happen, but still...

Speaking of which, did I mention -- gosh, no, I didn't think I did -- that In Defense of Flogging is out in paperback? Already? Where does time go? You might be thinking, "So light. So tidy. So cheap. Such a pretty orange cover. It actually fits in my pocket!"

So why don't you go and buy a copy? It got rave reviews, and yet you didn't buy it. Because you were waiting for the paperback. So now is your chance!

It's only $12.59!

January 19, 2013

Earl Weaver, RIP

"In five years, who's going to be in the Hall in Fame?!"

You, Earl, you gonna be in the Hall of Fame.

“Little did I know 15 years ago, how deeply attached I’d become to this city. I came here in 1968 when urban areas were being demolished by riots and fires ... but, after the turmoil subsided, it didn’t take me long to find out I was in a baseball town."

Here's the obit in the Sun.

January 9, 2013

Stop and Frisk

A federal judge ruled that some of the ways the NYPD conducts their "Trespass Affidavit Program" are unconstitutional. The NYT reports, "The judge ordered the police 'to cease performing trespass stops' outside the private buildings in the program unless officers have reasonable suspicion, a legal standard that requires officers to be acting on more than just a hunch."

So the judge basically ordered the NYPD to follow the law and the constitution. You'd think that would go without saying, but apparently somebody had to say it. The ruling is well stated and actually pretty mild. It doesn't ban the program or stop and frisks. It bans illegal stop and frisks (which, of course, were already technically illegal).

Of particular note, the judge criticized the check-the-box system in which officers tic, "furtive movements" as a basis for the stop. The NYPD set up this system to make the forms idiot proof. But most cops aren't idiots. And maybe those that are shouldn't be on the street.

It is likely that the NYPD will have to go back to what is generally accepted standard practice everywhere else: articulating in words their reasonable suspicion for a stop. That's the way it should be.

I find it curious that the NYPD defends the system by saying this is what landlords want. It would be a lot better of the program was conducted at the behest of the residents. I don't think most tenants, particularly poor tenants, see their landlords as looking out for the best interests. Landlords own buildings to make money, not to serve the best interests of their tenants.

As a side note, and quite worrisome assuming it's true:
The judge expressed concern over a department training video that she said incorrectly characterized what constituted an actual police stop. In the video, a uniformed narrator states "Usually just verbal commands such as 'Stop! Police!' will not constitute a seizure."

The narrator explains that the encounter usually qualifies as an actual stop only if the officer takes further steps such as physically subduing a suspect, pointing a gun at him, or blocking his path. "This misstates the law," Judge Scheindlin said of the video, which has been shown to most of the patrol force.
To say only that this "misstates the law" is quite generous. That the NYPD would incorrectly educate its officers on such a basic issue... well I'd like to think it simply ain't so, Joe.

A "stop" (for which reasonable suspicion of crime is needed) occurs when a person cannot or reasonably believes he or she cannot leave. Because it is illegal to disobey a lawful order, reasonable suspicion kicks in the second a cop says "stop" or "come here."

This decision could be a win-win for the police and the community if the NYPD rises to the challenge by discouraging illegal quota-based stops based on "hunches" while continuing to encourages and support officers who perform legal stops. The risk (I think it's a small risk) is that NYPD will know throw up its hands and stop policing. But nothing in this decision bans legal and effective policing.

Ah, the good ol' days

Some of my old police friends my recognize these stories from Slate.com, which are taken from Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan's soon-to-be bestselling The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office. Tim knows my story well, since his help and editorial vision made Cop in the Hood the rip-roaring success it is.

January 7, 2013

Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down

More murders in Chicago. Fewer in NYC. Clearly something is going on. But generally you'll hear nothing but crickets (or winter winds) blow through the ivory towers. It's a real shame. These days, most academics will (almost reluctantly) concede that effective policing may play a roll in reducing homicide. And yet still very few academics would dare consider the hypothesis that aggressive -- yes sometimes even unpleasant -- policing may actually prevent homicides. (And, yes, you can and should be polite and respect the law and state and federal Constitutions at the same time as policing effectively and aggressively. Police work is harder and more dangerous when police go out of the their way to piss off people).

As some academics may be afraid of digging deeper because they're afraid of what they'll uncover. Better to round up the usual suspects of poverty, gangs, racism, drugs, etc. But the NYPD does itself no favors by not giving a damn what people think: "Everything is under control. No need to look here. Keep moving." But academics and the NYPD need each other. Certainly they do if any lessons are to be learned from the NYPD and applied elsewhere.

You can't just "do it like they do in New York" because we don't know what about what they do in New York works. Is it Compstat? Stop and frisk? Broken Windows? Foot patrol? Zero Tolerance? College-educated police officers? Community policing (whatever that means)? Hot spots (actually, we do know that this works)? Better public housing? Mandatory prison time for illegal gun possession? Decreased incarceration? More immigrants? More eyes on the street? Getting rid of lead? Who knows? But let's say that one thing the NYPD does pretty well these days in keep homicide numbers low. Well one thing academics do pretty very well is test theories and break things down into parts. There's a lot going on here. It would be nice to systematically figure out what works. We need to understand these parts so that effective police tactics and strategies can spread to other cities.

In the meantime, it's like we're swinging at a piƱata, blindfolded. We took a few swings and feel some contact. But in the end all we see is candy in the floor. So we scoop some up and forget about what we actually did.

January 5, 2013

Bang Bang, That Awful Sound

Chicago's 2012 murder total was 532. NYC's total number for 2012 was 417. Even in absolute numbers this is significantly lower than Chicago! Amazing. The comparable homicide rates for NYC and Chicago are 5 and 20 per 100,000.

Homicides in New York City declined 19 percent from 2011 (just to remember: in 1990 2,245 people were killed in NYC). To get such a substantial drop on such a low (by US standards) homicide number needs some explaining. Chicago saw a 23 percent increase from 2011.

Had the New York numbers gone up and the Chicago numbers gone down, you'd hear sage mumblings from chin stroking academics about regression to the mean (which, of course, assumes there is a mean (average) homicide rate toward which to regress... but I digress). I'll tell you what the answer isn't: people in New York just loved each other more; while clearly hate was on the rise in Chicago.

[More tomorrow]

January 3, 2013

Bang Bang, I Hit the Ground

Remember that fear mongering from last year?

"Which one?" you might say.

The one about more police officer getting killed? Forty officers were shot and killed in 2008. In 2011 that number increased to 67! Even the New York Times go in the act: "72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008." There was lots of talk about a new environment in which criminals felt more "emboldened" to assault law enforcement officers.

I was asked about this a few times last year and said bullshit (I wasn't quoted). It was probably just a statistical spike (albeit one with a lot of dead police officers on the end of it). Part of the reason I didn't think this was a trend was that in 2007, 66 officers were shot and killed. Maybe 2008 was the aberration.

Well the good news is that the number of officers shot and killed went down from 67 in 2011 to 47 in 2012. Sometimes it's best to just be lucky.

Update: Three offices were shot and injured last night in NYC.

January 1, 2013

Bang Bang, He Shot Me Down

Eleven people were shot in Chicago early New Year's Day.

Nine were shot New Year's morning in New York City.

Happy New Year.

Meanwhile, best I can tell, nobody was shot in Baltimore! The Baltimore Sun gives a crude but useful breakdown of basic homicide demographics for the 217 killings in Charm City in 2012. Of note:

A low Baltimore clearance rate of 47%. Yes, this does mean that more than half of murderers get away with murder (at least for a while). The real clearance rate for the year -- if you remove the cases from prior years closed this year -- is even lower, 35 percent. The actually odds of getting convicted for homicide in Baltimore? I don't know. But it's low.

As for the victims and killers, the numbers are typical. More than 4 in 5 killed with a handgun. 90% are men. 94% are black and 5% white (Baltimore is about 65% African American). A promising sign is that Baltimore is now about 5% hispanic, and yet only 1 homicide victim was hispanic.

One-third of victims (more than I would have suspected) were over 35 years old.

83% of victims had criminal records. 24% were on parole or probation at time of death (this is why some people actually do live longer in prison). 38% of victims had been previously arrested for a gun crime. Of known suspects, 45% had gun-related priors for gun crimes.