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by Peter Moskos

November 20, 2015

The Ferguson Effect

Another good piece by Leon Neyfakh at Slate.com. This one on the "Ferguson Effect."


Concerned citizen said...

This article is dizzying.

A subtitle states, "There is no Ferguson effect--but that doesn't mean we can ignore urban murder spikes."

But wait a second. Maybe the urban murder spikes are insignificant. "An authoritative new report" indicates that "It could well turn out that the sudden jumps in the homicide rate on display in some of the cities analyzed in the Brennan report are the product of nothing more than statistical noise."

However, "That's little consolation...for
people living in the midst of the mounting violence."

Since there is no Ferguson effect, what explains the mounting violence that may or may not exist?

The answer (hold onto your hats): Essentially, the police are ignoring black on black violence.

"Too few homicides in poor black communities are solved...because our society doesn't care enough about solving them."

"...our criminal justice system harasses people on small pretexts ...It hauls masses of black men through its machinery but fails to protect them from bodily injury and death.”

john mosby said...

Good point - what the article describes seems like the ferg effect in different words. But there are two ways to prevent murders. One is proactive patrol, which is the most common thing affected by depolicing. The other is effective homicide investigation: It doesn't prevent the murder that just happened, but it may deter further murders, either generally by showing the wages of sin, or specifically by locking up dudes before they kill again.

And effective investigation looks a lot like proactive policing: You keep the crime scene closed for hours, you canvass the neighborhood whether it wants to be canvassed or not, you bring in the usual suspects such as rival dealers. Basically you communicate to the community that business as usual is over until people start talking.

Are the cities with murder spikes doing these kind of homicide investigations? Are the cities with no spikes doing them? Does anyone know? It's not the sort of thing that can easily be reduced to statistics, or that departments will talk about publicly.


That Fuzzy Bastard said...

“[T]he perceived harshness of American criminal justice and its fundamental weakness are in reality two sides of a coin, the former a kind of poor compensation for the latter,” Leovy writes in her book. “Like the schoolyard bully, our criminal justice system harasses people on small pretexts but is exposed as a coward before murder. It hauls masses of black men through its machinery but fails to protect them from bodily injury and death.”

Yes! Calls for police reform are not (beyond a few fringe types) calls to eliminate the police, they're calls for a police force that is better at stopping crime. A police force that uses maximum force on every minor offender is a police force that lacks the community goodwill needed to catch bad guys. It's all the same problem.

Concerned citizen said...

I have not read Ms. Leovy's book.

I get the impression that she is disappointed at the rate that police solve black on black homicides.

If my impression is correct, than here's what I think:

The prime way that homicides are solved (anywhere--the hood, the suburbs) is people talking.

Too often in the hood, the streets don't talk, partly due to fear--a fear of retribution, which in my opinion is totally understandable--and partly due to a culture of no-snitching, which in my opinion is morally deplorable.

With regard to a culture of no-snitching: Some people say that heavy-handed policing is partly (or largely) to blame for it. Maybe so. I don't know. Regardless of its roots, "no-snitching" is a morally deplorable and reason to deny justice to the family of a homicide victim.

Concerned citizen said...

Apologies, I mistakenly inserted the word "and" between "deplorable" and "reason" in the final sentence of my post.

Adam said...

Peter, what are your thoughts on the report from the Brennan Center that was cited in the article?

Moskos said...

I probably should read it more carefully. But honestly, I stopped at this line: "The 2015 murder rate is projected to be 11 percent higher than last year in the majority of cities studied." Fair enough. But that was the first line.

Adam said...

Meaning you saw a problem with that line? Or it told you all you needed to know?

I haven't read the report carefully yet, but skimming through it, I see some cause for concern. They spend a lot of space reassuring readers that an 11% increase in murder isn't a big deal because our current murder rate is still way lower than it was 30 years ago. True, but can you really even compare 2015 to say, 1985 or 1990? In terms of crime rates, that was just a different world. It'd be like saying, in 2005, that the casualty rate for U.S. soldiers at war rose by 11% from the previous year, and then having someone come back with "Well, things are still way better than they were in the Vietnam era." Yes, that's true, but war was a different thing in 1970 as compared to 2005. An 11% increase in the murder rate is what, 1,500+ extra dead people?

The report also says "Tracking broader measures of crimes instead of murders is undoubtedly a better way to gauge public safety. In fact, murder accounted for just 1.2 percent of all violent crime in 2014." Say what!? Isn't it Criminology 101 that tracking murders is the best way to gauge violent crime, given how hard it is to fudge murder statistics and how easy it is to fudge every other kind of crime statistic?

And what the hell is with the table on page 11 ("Why is murder up in some cities")? Three of those five cities aren't even included in the study, which is limited to the 30 most populous cities in the country. Of the two cities that are included (Baltimore and Detroit), Detroit has seen a 6.4% decrease in murders (see p.2). So what's with this list of five cities? As best I can tell, it's an opportunity for a liberal organization to say the crime rate is high in certain cherry-picked cities because in those places, unemployment and poverty rates are high. Am I wrong...?

On the whole, I agree that it's too early to say there's a nationwide crime wave. But crime is way up in certain cities, and it's up in a lot of the cities where one would expect the "Ferguson Effect" to be greatest (St. Louis, Baltimore, Milwaukee, etc.).

Moskos said...

I meant "that's all I needed to know."

But of course I know that's not true.
Thanks for the summary/good-parts-version.

What else can we really say? I thought murders would be up about 10% in 2015. A report says as much. So I feel a bit smug. As to their spin. It seems like liberal political BS. But who can say? I've been hearing people say since 1992 that that crime has bottomed out. And yet it probably didn't until 2014. That does matter!@
If 2016 is down again, great. 2015 could be a statistical fluke. But I doubt it. It's very weird to me that people say a increase in homicide doesn't matter because we're coming off a record low year.

And not having read the rest of the report, I'll take your word that there is some craziness in there.

As to any "effect": Why Milwaukee? For the life of me I can't figure that out.

Adam said...

Milwaukee's high profile case was Donte Hamilton. It didn't get as much national news attention, but it was a big deal there. The officer was called to do a welfare check on a homeless, schizophrenic man sleeping in the park. The officer initiated a patdown for no apparent reason, got the Hamilton riled up, and then a fight ensued. Finding himself on the losing end of the fight, the officer shot and killed Hamilton. The prosecutors declined to charge the officer, but Chief Ed Flynn fired him. The police union called that decision a "travesty" and the rank and file issued an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the chief.

In my opinion, Chief Flynn is one of the few police leaders who really gets it. This op ed that he wrote after the Walter Scott shooting is great (Time Magazine -- "Officers Are Depressed By The Current Climate").