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by Peter Moskos

September 30, 2015

Schoolcraft gets $600K

Adrian Schoolcraft wanted money and he got it, according to the Post.

Here's my take from May and June and August, 2010.

Schoolcraft wasn't the first to point out that the NYPD was under intense (and illegal) quota pressure. He's just, as I wrote,
The only one, in my humble opinion, who has tried to martyr himself and turn number fudging into a tidy personal $50 million profit. He and his father have tried twice before to sue police departments for money. Maybe the third time is the charm.
It was.

The War on Drug does create prisoners

In the New York Times David Brooks repeats John Pfaff's argument in Slate that the war on drugs isn't responsible for our crazy high prison population. Brooks vouches for Pfaff as "wonderfully objective, nonideological and data-driven." That might all be true. Pfaff is probably a swell guy and kind to animals, too.

There's something to be said for talking to warm human beings rather than correlating cold data. Now admittedly being "data-driven" does beat the alternative of just making shit up. But the problem one sees in the "data-driven" fields (and Brooks is an economist) is that if you don't understand the data in the first place, you can be "data-driven" till the polynomial regressions correlate with statistical certainty... and still be wrong.

Pfaff says:
The fact of the matter is in today’s state prisons, which hold about 90 percent of all of our prisoners, only 17 percent of the inmates are there primarily for drug charges.
No shit. But who really thinks that only convictions related to the War on Drug are "drug charges"? (It's worth mentioning that a violent drug dealer might cop a plea to a "non-violent possession" charge, but still be sent to prison for the crime actually committed.)

The War on Drugs doesn't just create "drug" prisoners. Prohibition creates unregulated public drug markets. That's where the violence is. Prohibition doesn't lessen addiction. And that's where you find the property crimes. We need to end the drug war not to release a bunch of pot-heads from prison but to change the violent culture of the streets.

The main problem with the War on Drugs -- and it's not locking up too many non-violent drug users -- is the violence inherent in an illegal public drug market. Pacifists don't last long slinging on the corner. Arresting a drug dealer creates a job opening for another potentially violent street-corner dealer. Lawyers and economists should be able to understand that.

September 29, 2015

Why did crime plummet in the US?

Over at Vox there's a fair and brief look for and against all the theories of the crime drop.

1. There's about half as much violent crime in the US as there was 25 years ago
2. The theory: putting more people in prison helped reduce crime
3. The theory: putting more police on the streets prevented crime
4. The theory: broken-windows policing prevented serious crime
5. The theory: police have gotten better at detecting and preventing crime
6. The theory: more guns, less crime
7. The theory: the economy got better and crime got less appealing
8. The theory: crime is harder because people don't carry cash as much anymore
9. The theory: people aren't committing crimes because they're inside playing video games
10. The theory: gentrification is taking over crime-ridden neighborhoods
11. The theory: people are committing fewer crimes because they're drinking less alcohol
12. The theory: psychiatric pills reduced violent and criminal behavior
13. The theory: less crack use led to less crime
14. The theory: America's gangs have gotten less violent
15. The theory: the US population is just aging out of crime
16. The theory: legal abortion is preventing would-be criminals from being born
17. The theory: lead exposure caused crime, and lead abatement efforts reduced it

September 28, 2015

Violent crime steady in 2014

As I suspected (and hoped) crime was not up last year. Of course it was up some places (and thus down in others). What a country we live in: we can send a man to the moon and don't know how many people were murdered in 2014 until late September, 2015.

When the 2015 figures come out in a year and show a 2 percent increase in homicides, mark my words: people are going to scream about skyrocketing crime. I mean, people in NYC have been screaming for skyrocketing crime (yes, I "for" as well as "about") since, well, De Blasio (about 2 years now). Imagine the crescendo if crime were actually go up nationwide. Gee, I wonder if some will blame Obama?

From the Crime Report: "Murders, which are the most accurately reported crime, decreased .5 percent last year to 14,249, the FBI said. The total was a drop of nearly 15 percent from the 2005 national count."

September 24, 2015

Crime is/isn't up!

Jarret Murphy over at City Limits points out that crime has increased plenty of times in NYC in the past 15 years. And nobody really raised an alarm. This year it's not even clear that crime is up, despite news accounts saying so. So there's this a narrative of crime being out of control: Murders are up 5 percent!!! (Maybe a bit more after a bloody weekend.) But 5 percent is pretty statistically minor. And we are coming off a record low year.
Do you remember the bloody year of 1999? I don't. But the FBI says the number of murders in New York City rose 6 percent that year. How about scary 2006, when the number of killings jumped 10.6 percent? Do you recall the fear with which we all tiptoed through 2008, when the city saw a 5 percent rise in slayings? Don't get that mixed up with 2010, when the city reported a 14 percent increase in murders.

Somehow, "Bloody Ninety-Nine" didn't smudge Rudy Giuliani's reputation as America's greatest crimefighter. Nor did the four increases in the annual murder count during Michael Bloomberg's 12 years in office dent his image as a cool and competent manager. In fact, none of these significant spikes in bloodshed triggered the kind of public concern about crime now gripping columnists and some elected officials.
Indeed, if de Blasio is guilty of politicizing the actual crime statistics, it's mainly because his opponents are guilty of politicizing the imaginary crime stats they derive from news headlines, gut instinct and their pre-written narrative that de Blasio is really just John Lindsay standing on his tip-toes.
Maybe it's good we've become less tolerant of crime increases. And maybe the sky will start to fall. But it's not falling yet.

September 20, 2015

NYPD Discipline

Some stats about the NYPD in the New York Times. Bratton is giving more discretion to local commanders for disciplining cops for minor offenses. That's good. It's another move away from the micro-managed overly top-down approach of former Commissioner Ray Kelly. The article then tries to say Bratton is not applying Broken Windows within his own department... but that once again mistakes Broken Windows for Zero Tolerance.

Seemingly arbitrary and pernicious discipline is a major cause for low officer moral. The idea that you can get punished for wearing the wrong color socks just as easily as excessive force, for instance. (Though seriously, I hate seeing cops with white socks. They make black cotton sports socks. Go buy some. A pick up a few more white t-shirts while you're at it.)
Arrests dropped to 388,368 in 2014 from 394,537 in 2013.
Summonses fell to 359,202, from 424,850.
Street stops plunged to 46,235, from 191,558.
Those stats are not hard to find. But these don't surface as often:
The number of officers suspended without pay each year hovers around 200. A total of 172 were suspended last year and 117 have been suspended so far this year, through Friday. Those put on desk duty, or “modified”, reached 134 last year and number 98 so far this year.

Last year, 96 officers were arrested, mirroring an average of about 100 each year, a majority of them on drunk driving and domestic violence charges, the department said. (An arrest automatically leads to a suspension so all of the arrested officers are among those counted as suspended.)
That means that about 70-75 NYPD officers are suspended without pay at the department's discretion. For those who believe in some mythic Blue Wall of Silence, how do you account for an NYPD officer being arrested, mostly by other NYPD officers, every 4 days? (About one in every 350 officers is arrested each year, which seems like a lot to me. For non-police, the number is about 1 arrest for every 20 people).

I leave you with this quote:
“Chief got kicked; chief kicked inspector; inspector kicked captain; captain kicked lieutenant; lieutenant kicked sergeant; sergeant kicked cop; cop kicked civilian. This is what Bratton has to undo.”

September 18, 2015

"Excuse me ladies and gentleman. I'm sorry to interrupt. Can I have your attention."

You know when you hear that on the subway, some obnoxious person is going to come through, asking for money.

Well, I sure am.

I don't ask much of you, gentle reader. But why not give a little money to help feed hungry people? And it will actually go to buying food to put in hungry bellies.


My wife is one of the people behind this, so I guarantee it ain't no scam.

But first read this, by our friend Annia Ciezadlo. Yes, this is what I (but mostly they) did on our summer vacation.

But you may ask why I care. I ain't no bleeding-heart do-gooder. But I do have a soft-spot for Syrians. See I've been there. Twice. For vacation. Aleppo was wonderful. A lot of people don't realize that most refugees from Syria are educated middle-class people. They had lives and jobs and dropped their kids off at school got stuck in traffic and lived in nice apartment buildings. Until the war. And now their neighborhood might look like this:

That was Aleppo back in 2007. At the juice stand by the park. We ordered a tamarind drink and the kid gave us a drink and then wouldn't take our money. Why? Because we were Americans from far away. And he was very sweet. Today he might be marching across Europe today, cursing the Hungarians.

You can even look at the rest of my vacation pictures if it will help you give.

So how does this relate to the Greek island of Mytilene (AKA Lesbos)? It just so happens I've been going there with my family for a long time. And it just so happens that this year a massive humanitarian crisis is literally washing up on the island's shores. And many of these refugees are the same damn people who were so nice to us back in Syria!

My wife and her friend speak Arabic. So they went off to see how they could help. Mostly I hung out at the beach guarding this octopus to make sure nobody else ate it before they got back for dinner.

I didn't want to take up room in the little rent-a-car, which they were filling up with people walking across the island in the heat. Plus, it was vacation. Anyway, I did go one time with them across the island to help out with my limited Greek. See, here's Kara Tepe, the refugee camp, a few weeks ago.

And here's my wife taking and giving polaroid-like pictures to cute orphan refugees. Oh, did I just play the cute hungry orphan card? Gosh, I guess I did. (This is a different camp, just FYI.)

So give a bit to help feed hungry people who are being forced into a trial by ordeal across Europe. They're nice people. Really. And if there's a chance, put "cop in the hood" or something in a message. I'm curious if anybody reading this will be inspired to give money.

Here's the link again: https://www.gofundme.com/dx4293xg.

September 17, 2015

"It’s Showtime NYC"

Interesting concept reported in the New York Times to get subway dancers out of the subway. An arrest based approach wasn't working (not the first time you've heard that):
Arrests alone — though drastically increasing — were not solving the problem, Mr. Bassin said. He said many of the dancers interviewed in the planning stages of the new effort viewed being arrested as part of the cost of doing business. The statistics appear to bear that out: A quarter of those arrested in 2015 for dancing on the subway had previously been arrested for the dancing
I should mention I know Mr. Bassin, a lawyer in the mayor's office. This is a very Broken Windows approach:
Ian Bassin, approached the Police Department with an idea for addressing the problem — which results in regular complaints from passengers — by providing an alternative to the criminal justice system.
And I like that even de Blasio is getting better at understanding Broken Windows:
“Broken windows doesn’t mean simply arresting our way out of every minor infraction,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement. “It means focusing on quality of life while providing pathways for all New Yorkers to reach their full potential.”
One reason I like this program is it does not limit police discretion. It's still up to the officer. But now cops can actually help solve the problem (and most people, myself included, think it is a problem) rather than just choose between basically no enforcement and arresting a kid for dancing on the subway:
Though officers may still pursue arrests or issue summonses for soliciting on trains, they have been urged to consider the alternative approach: handing out the cards with information about the dance initiative.

Every transit officer now carries the small, brightly colored square cards. Roughly 200 have been handed out to dance groups since officers began the effort in May.

“It’s very refreshing for us and our officers to have another alternative when we’re out there,” said Joseph Fox, the chief of the Police Department’s Transit Bureau. “What this program has given us is something in between warning and admonish, and enforcement.”

As a result, Chief Fox said, arrests of dancers are down, 185 through late August, compared with 264 over the same period in 2014. (There were 153 arrests of dancers in all of 2013.)
Also of note:
Chief Fox said he and Mr. Bassin looked into the backgrounds of the men who were arrested or given summonses for dancing on the trains and found that, while a large number had had some contact with the criminal justice system, it was mostly for minor offenses such as fare beating. A smaller fraction, roughly 25 percent, had been previously arrested for a serious crime like robbery, burglary or felony assault.
The jury is still out on whether the program is working. And success can be judged a few way: fewer complaints on the subway, fewer conflicts on the subway (I've seen a dancer punch a guy for not moving out of the way on a busy train), more people being able to enjoy the right to get home without illegal distractions, fewer people entering the criminal justice system, and potentially more dance potential. Some of the guys do have serious skillz, but they're probably not going to be "found" on the subway. They might be in a city-sponsored public performance space.

Now if only they could make a city-sponsored public performance space for all the subway beggars...

September 9, 2015

"I do think people underplay the poverty in [Baltimore]. They really don’t understand it."

There's an interview with Justin George in The Trace. He was a Baltimore Sun reporter who recently moved on to Milwaukee. I like that he's willing to consider the possibility there might be some trade-off between aggressive policing, which causes community resentment, and getting illegal guns off the streets, which saves lives:
Which of the citywide initiatives to help cut the homicide rate has been the most successful?
What everyone talks about most is these plainclothes cops, which are very controversial. These are detectives who are working in unmarked cars. They gather intelligence. When Baltimore’s homicides dipped below 200, in 2011, for first time in decades, one of the things pointed to were these units. They were chasing down leads, looking for guns and getting info on who has them. But a lot of black residents were being unfairly harassed. At the John Hopkins gun policy center they say that some units that are specifically trained to spot guns have shown effectiveness in other cities. But these units also run the risk of alienating the neighborhood.

So what can be done to turn things around in Baltimore?
I can only speak to what the residents tell me. And they tell me repeatedly that there aren’t enough things for you to do on the streets. They say that they want more recreation centers; they miss the different athletic leagues and getting youths involved with good influences. And there’s certainly that notion that a lot of these kids need people who are rooting for them. And when I say kids, I’m talking about teens here. I think if there’s a boost in the economy, you’ll see a change. But I want to express, I’m not an expert in any of this — I’m just a humble journalist. But I do think people underplay the poverty in the city. They really don’t understand it.

September 8, 2015

CCRB and the NYPD

A new report from the New York's CCRB (civilian complaint review board) is out.

There are some interesting things here. Much more video evidence means more complaints are being substantiated. But overall complaints are down substantially (22%) from one year ago.

And this:
From January 2014 through June 30, 2015, one percent of identified officers on the force were responsible for 18% of all misconduct claims, five percent were responsible for 52%, and 10% were responsible for 78% of claims during this period. Five percent of officers were responsible for generating 100% of force complaints. Significantly, 86% of officers had no CCRB complaints during this period of time.
That's on page ix. There are another 62 pages after that I skipped.