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by Peter Moskos

May 26, 2017

How to make people care about violence

Over at Nola Crime News, Jeff Asher tweeted this graphic just now.

Click on it; it moves! So while people are dying, I'm thinking about data presentation. There's something about a moving line that may make one pay attention to dead people in a way that actual dead people don't.

Jeff's graphic looks at Baltimore City shooting victims over the past 365 days. Each data point tallies the total number of shooting victims over the past 365 day. This nullifies seasonal change, which is worth a lot. But by taking a past-year average, you lose the "BAM" of what happened literally overnight, after six police officers were criminally charged for the death of Freddie Gray. The violence didn't just "increase." It stepped up, by two-thirds. Overnight. After April 27, 2015. The visual above indicates a rapid but continuous increase over the course of a year. But it's still a good visual and can't think of better one.

I don't know how to present a good visual that shows what has happened in Baltimore. In the past I've tried with a pre- and post-riot trend line. Not just once, but twice. But that's hardly convinced the masses that police (or more dead bodies) matter.

People are already talking about the rise in violence in Baltimore in terms of poverty or drugs or police legitimacy or blah-dee-blah. And sure, all that matters. But stop it! None of that, not any of that, explains the increase in violence. Police because less proactive because A) innocent cops were criminally charged and B) Political pressure (from the mayor, the police commissioner, and the US DOJ) told police to be less proactive as a means to reduce racial disparity in policing. You see it Baltimore. You see it Chicago. You see it in New Orleans. The problem is you're seeing it basically everywhere.

Here's New Orleans, again from Jeff Asher.

These increases are no joke. This is a "holy shit" type increase in violence. And the chart under-presents the quickness of the increase.

What happened in New Orleans? I don't know NOLA as well as Baltimore or New York. But the NOLA PD has seen a 30 percent reduction in manpower and a massive reduction in proactive policing (as measured by drug enforcement. I also suspect the consent decree hasn't helped police in terms of crime prevention, since, and this is important: crime prevention isn't one iota of any consent decree. Somehow, crime is supposed to manage itself while police are better managed.

The only big city of note without an increase in violence is NYC. And even here, people object to the exact kind of proactive policing that keeps crime from rising. Luckily, at least in New York, even liberal Mayor de Blasio isn't listening to the "police are the problem" posse.


Charles G. said...

Is the reduction of proactive policing a public relations attempt to keep the peace? (Does this go back to your previous comment that we get the policing we ask for?) I cannot understand which is the chicken, which the egg in the rise of violence. And what contributes to citizen terror at police presence? Is this a sense of entitlement gone haywire on the part of citizens? Is no one fit to be accountable because a few cops over the course of the year are charged with a crime? What's with this all or nothing view? Why so intemperate? So hot-headed? (I hope the answer isn't "social media," because I don't even know where to start with that.)

Andy D said...

Charles, here is the answer though it is backed only by common sense and personal experience rather than data: No, it is not a PR move. It is cops on the street being a) too scared of (and demoralized by the prospect of) getting fired/prosecuted/vilified in the press to do proactive policing and b) the press/BLM/politicians/the DOJ/the ACLU saying "stop doing proactive policing!"

From a street-level view in Baltimore, 6 cops who committed no crime were arrested, vilified and dragged through the courts because those cops were
1. on a corner where they had been told to be (told by the same prosecutor who then convicted them before trial in a news conference)
2. doing what she told them to do,
3. doing it the way they always did it, and
4. Freddie Gray died.

This coming after the DOJ and the media went absolutely bonkers about a "hands-up-don't-shoot" story in Ferguson, MO that was absolutely false.

Somewhere in there we passed a tipping point where good cops decided that their paycheck and pension were not worth stopping that car or making that street stop, since they get paid the same and take less heat in the media when they just show up at the murder and string up crime scene tape. Good cops hate this, but speaking from personal experience I am NOT going to jail or getting dragged through a media circus for a drug arrest or minor violation when I have done nothing wrong.

Jay Livingston said...

"Basically everywhere." Except, as you note, NYC.

Here are some numbers for 2015 and 2016
Houston 303 302
Pittsburgh (my home town). 57 56 (For the county 114 and 105)
DC 162 134
Philadelphia 280 278
Newark (Newark for godssake!) 103 93

I'm very skeptical about attributing short-term changes (1-2 years) to global causes. I start from the assumption that crime is local, as you do when you look at Baltimore.

I didn’t check all cities, but some had increases that were relative small. The trouble is that when the base number is low, a few murders can make a big difference in the rate. Boston had 7 more murders. I don’t know what the circumstances of all those were. Maybe some nutter killed several people; maybe a gang war. Maybe just more drunken arguments that escalate and someone has a gun. Is seven a lot? I don’t know, but that change from 40 to 47 could have headlines screaming about an 18% increase, or better yet, nearly a 20% increase, and blame it on the Ferguson effect (i.e, the cops).

Unknown said...


Your call for calm and a skepticism in the face of increasing numbers of murders is admirable and reasonable. Hopefully, you offer a similar voice of with regards to the hysteria over "police violence". That really is all this no-body street cop can ask of anyone.

JDB said...

@Andy D,

I feel that I need to take exception to your comment.

You made a list of street level BPD concerns regarding the Freddie Grey incident, and the last thing on your list is that someone died? That some police officers were accused of a crime, and got to experience the criminal justice system from the user perspective is at the top. This happens to the rest of the world all the time. People’s lives are often thrown into chaos and potentially ruined when they are accused of crimes. Not everyone who gets caught up in the criminal justice system is guilty.

Perhaps if more importance were placed on the fact that someone died or was severely injured, and work was done to find the cause and correct it every time, the public would have a different perspective on the situation. Someone is responsible for that man’s death, through action or indifference. When you label it as the cost of doing police business, what do you think is going to happen?

The world has changed, like it or not. Incidents like this will get caught in the news cycle. The public is demanding accountability and the police response to that is, our feelings are hurt, and we’re afraid to do actual police work because we might be caught screwing up and have to face the consequences of that?

I’d like this to not sound like a rant. There are a lot of things at play here. When I see something about police deciding that protecting their paycheck is more important than doing their job, it raises serious questions for me. I wish you could see these things from another perspective. You’re asking to be held up as unquestionable heroes, but this doesn’t sound very heroic or even honorable. People in every other industry screw up, lose their jobs, and are held accountable for their actions. Why should it be different for police? Shouldn’t there be a higher level of accountability for a job where peoples lives hang in the balance? I’m not just talking about officer involved shootings, or brutality, but almost any police/public interaction could ruin someone’s life.

No, I don’t think the police are THE problem. Even though a tiny percentage of police interactions end in someone’s death or serious injury, the failure to adequately address these situations erodes the pubic trust in the police. Talking about how many other problems there are in a community doesn’t address the lack of trust. Will holding officers accountable for their mistakes lower the crime rate? Probably not. But talking about what a small problem police abuse is compared to some other issue, doesn’t address either accountability or solve the other problems in our communities. It just sounds like an attempt to misdirect attention from something that you don’t want to deal with.