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by Peter Moskos

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.


Dana King said...

Wasn't Chicago's gun control law gutted by the Heller decision? (Asking, I really don't know.) If that's the case, and new York's gun control laws were relatively unscathed by that decision (which i also don't know), could that be part of the answer?

I'm not trying to be adversarial here. I really don't know.

PCM said...

Yes and No. Chicago's law was gutted. New York's wasn't touched (because the case was about Chicago) but any reasonable reading of Heller makes it clear that NYC's gun process is no longer constitutional. Heller said the government cannot have a blanket ban on guns that extends to a person's right to have a gun in their home for protection.

This was significant (you could even say interpretive and activist) because it was the first time the court ever explicitly extended the 2nd Amendment to cover an individual's right to own a gun unrelated to any militia.

Heller wasn't about New York City. But under Heller, NYC's gun application process will certainly be found to be unconstitutional. It just hasn't happened yet.

In NYC, your (new) right to have a handgun in your home is routinely denied at the whim of the police commissioner and for such vague qualities like having "bad moral character."

In other words, in New York City you need to convince the police department to allow you do exercise your constitutional right. And you pay a hefty non-refundable application fee no matter what they say. That's not how constitutional rights work.

New York City will have to change its gun laws to make it possible for good citizens (clearly defined) to possess a gun in their home.

IrishPirate said...

If you follow the links in this link, and read some of the comments it might give some insight as to Chicago's relatively high murder rate.


Here are some of my WAG's, wild assed guesses, as to the reasons.

1. The elimination of the high rise housing projects spread their residents throughout the city. Members of different gangs started to encounter each other more frequently. Bang bang.

2. Relatively fewer immigrants.

3. The complete politicalization of the higher ranks of the Chicago Police Department. There are high ranking members of the CPD who have NEVER passed a promotional exam. They get promoted up the ranks through "merit" promotions. A percentage of promotions through the ranks of Lieutenant are "merit". All Captain promotions are "merit" and every rank above is "exempt"--a non career rank.

Theoretically, the Superintendent(Commissioner of the department) could have a career rank of Sergeant or even Patrolman.

One recent District(precinct) commander is the son and brother of two convicted former Aldermen turned federal felons. He passed the most important test of all. The CLOUT test.

4. The working and middle class black communities have been leaving Chicago at an enormous rate. The last census showed the absolute numbers of blacks in the city of Chicago dropping by around 20 percent.

Most of the homicides in Chicago are black on black.

5. Local and federal prosecutors have done a wonderful job of imprisoning the leadership of local gangs. Now the gangs are breaking up into factions and not only shooting members of other gangs,but shooting members of other factions within their own gangs.

The law of unintended consequences writ or written in blood.

I could continue, but the hardware store beckons.

EOJPG said...

I saw a blogosphere conversation about the causes of Chicago's high murder rate. The consensus seemed to be Chicago's status as a drug-trafficking hub is what causes its murder rate to be what it is. I suspect none of the participants in that conversation have ever been to Chicago, other than perhaps the airport.

First, how well broken-down are the murders? Can they be coded as domestic dispute, drug trafficking, etc.? Would there be a way to discriminate between murders due to Chicago as a drug-trafficking hub versus "ordinary" drug-related murders (e.g., turf battles between rival gangs)?

Second, how well-developed are competing hypotheses as to high murder rates - e.g., deindustralization (Work disappears presumably leads to crime appearing?) - and can they be tested?

Third, sure, NYC's success may be multivariate and thus causality may be difficult to unpack or disentangle. But I would think other cities could perhaps be used as a natural laboratory of sorts - perhaps San Francisco uses one of the techniques used in NYC, but not the others; KC uses another of the techniques, but not the others; and so forth.

Just comments from the peanut gallery.