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by Peter Moskos

August 27, 2017

"A small price to pay"?

Last post I presented the depressing fact that at current level of violence, the chance for a man in Baltimore's Western District to live to age of 35 without being murdered is just 93% [updated to include 2018 data]. Yes, more than 7 percent of black men in the Western District will be murdered unless Baltimore can get a grip on violence. It hasn't always been so bad.

Before the riots and failed "reform," there were about 217 murders a year in Baltimore (2010-2014). That's not great, mind you. Not at all. Police Commission Davis said:
They [celebrated] when they got to a certain artificial number of murders. As if 200 murders is acceptable for a city of 600,000 people.
You know, darn it, at some level he’s right. Two-hundred murders is not acceptable. But... but... the chutzpah. Last year 318 people were murdered in Baltimore. 344 were murdered in 2015. In 2011 murders dropped to 197, the first time in decades murders were below 200. And the current police commissioner has the nerve to disparage city leaders who took a brief celebratory lap? The nerve.

Right now, for Baltimore, 200 murders wouldn't just be "acceptable," it would be a dream. 229 people have been killed this year, and we’re not even out of August.

(Murders in 2011 vs 2015, Baltimore Sun, click to embiggen)

It's not just the violence, it's that Baltimore's leaders blame everybody but themselves.
[Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn] Mosby cited zero-tolerance policing as a "failed strategy" that continued in Baltimore long after it was formally disavowed by the city's leaders. "Those failed policies are what got us to the place we were at in the spring of 2015," she said, referring to the unrest.
Blame O'Malley? He left office ten years ago. Violence went up two years ago.

Davis says:
"There was a price to pay for" the drop below 200 homicides, a price "that manifested itself in April and May of 2015," Davis said, referring to the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray.
Really? So according Davis, years of oppressive policing led to riots. It could be true. (Though I'm shocked to hear Progressives float the idea that repressive policing reduced homicides.) Perhaps the yoke of police oppression led people to rise up righteous indignation?

Between 1994 and 2014, annual arrest numbers in Baltimore varied from a low of 39,654 to a high of 114,075. You think more than 100,000 arrests each year for four years in a row might spark a riot? Well, it didn't. That was 2002 to 2005. Murders went up slightly during those years, to 269. If 114,000 arrests didn’t start a riot, it’s hard to imagine fewer than 40,000 doing so. By 2011, arrests were down 50 percent.
1994 arrests: 77,545 -- 321 murders
: 81,140 -- 325
: 61,403 -- 331
: 77,750 -- 312
: 89,149 -- 313
: 85,029 -- 205
: 86,093 -- 261
: 97,379 -- 256
: 106,117 -- 253
: 114,075 -- 271
: 104,033 -- 278
: 103,837 -- 269
: 93,393 -- 276
: 86,334 -- 282
: 82,656 -- 234
: 79,552 -- 238
: 69,617 -- 224
: 59,877 -- 197
: 55,451 -- 217
: 42,097 -- 235
: 39,654 -- 211
: 27,765 -- 344
: 25,820 -- 318
Look at at 2007 to 2014, a Baltimore miracle happened! Arrests were cut in half while homicides went down 25 percent, from 282 to 211. This was hard work and good policing. Not perfect, mind you. Sometimes not even good. But better, incrementally, year by year.

Davis and Mosby are trying to rewrite history, pretending years of progress never happened. Now it's one thing to be pissed on and be told it's raining, but these two are pissing all over our feet and telling us we're better off with wet shoes.

Go ahead and fix long-term systemic problems. But while you're doing that, in the meantime, let's tell police what we want them to do with criminals today. Violence varies independently of poverty, racism, unemployment, segregation, an family breakdown, the so-called "root causes" of crime. These didn't change in 2015. Policing did. Discouraging proactive legal discretionary policing allowed violent criminals to be more violent. Telling cops not to make legal but discretionary low-level arrests on drug corners was a bad idea.

There's only so much decline a city can take. Baltimore's population is at a 100-year low. And the people leaving, hard-working non-criminal taxpayers, are sick of crime.

Mosby admits Baltimore "is kind of in transition right now." I'm afraid Baltimore is transitioning from a city with failures to a failed city.


Adam said...

There’s no question that Bealefeld dramatically reduced oppressive policing as compared to the O’Malley years, and that he did so all while lowering the crime rate. For that he deserves praise, and Davis should have acknowledged this.

But you seem to be suggesting “years of [perceived or actual] oppressive policing” didn’t lead to the riots. If that wasn’t the cause, then what was? I don’t think it proves anything that riots didn’t break out when zero tolerance policing was at its peak. The timing of Freddie Gray’s death was just right. Whatever one’s thoughts on BLM, etc., it’s undeniable that Ferguson started a movement. That’s why in-custody deaths and police killings have sparked unrest in cities since 2014, even though countless similar events occurred in the past and didn’t trigger riots or mass protests. These demonstrations are an expression of frustration not just with the individual cases that spark them, but with the (real or perceived) injustices inflicted by the police for many years.

I really don’t doubt that proactive discretionary policing helped drive down violence during the Bealefeld era. But all of that stuff – corner clearing, pretextual stops, arrests for loitering, trespassing, “failure to obey”, etc., “consent” searches, not to mention plenty of patently unlawful stops and searches – was still widespread when murders dipped below 200. I think the Freddie Gray charges chilled proactive policing, but so did the DOJ Civil Rights Division, which has condemned all those tactics through the consent decree. And if the public reaction to and comments on the decree were any indication, the people of Baltimore agree. Aggressive policing (whether constitutional or not) does come at a cost in terms of liberty, privacy, and the public’s relationship with its police department. Was the cost too high? I think that’s up to the people of Baltimore to decide. Seems to me the people have spoken.

Moskos said...

My next post will have a few thoughts explaining how the riots actually happened. Less theory and more tactics and poor leadership. No, it was not "time" for the riots. I simply do not buy the idea -- mostly because arrests were down 50 friggin percent(!) -- that residents, some of were not even alive, were "rising up." The protests were protests. That was fine. The protests, by and large, were not violent. The riots were not a protest that got out of control.Everything was kind of under control until April 27th, when the mayor gave what was seen as a green light to riot, and then cops retreating from students who were prevented from getting home. Police gave up control of an intersection, for hours, and then lost control of the streets. What you saw was a party, not a political statement.

Politicians then exploited the unrest by charging cops (which ended in justified failure) and inviting the DOJ report (anonymous, heavily boilerplate, & filled with factual and legal mistakes) that somehow absolved all current leaders for any responsibility? How about that? The progressive police "reform" agenda (less policing and crime fought through improved social conditions) is nothing new. And now they go their way. Too bad it doesn't work.

As to the people speaking, the people voted the mayor out of office, choosing flawed competence over "reform." We will see if Mosby gets voted out at the next election.

Adam said...

I interpreted Davis/Mosby as saying the widespread frustration with the police department, which manifested itself in the protests, was the result of oppressive police tactics employed not just many years ago, but also in the few years prior to the Gray incident. That, I think, has some truth to it. If they were making some sort of claim about how the Gray protests devolved into a full blown riot, that seems wrong, and I’m inclined to agree with you that poor BPD & City Hall leadership prevented the police from keeping things under control as well as they could have.

You know I share your frustrations with the DOJ “investigation.” A lot of that report was crap, but not all of it. As much as things had improved by 2010-11, a lot of BPD tactics were still problematic. I don’t think we can read much into SRB’s departure (she did not seek re-election and therefore wasn’t “voted out of office”), but maybe you’re right that the people are pining for the return of corner-clearing, “humbles,” and jump-out squads. Surely some are, but many are under the delusion that Baltimore can be policed like Highland Park, Illinois without that coming at a cost (more crime). Even if we wanted to go back to the old ways, I doubt that could be done under the cloud of the consent decree. Davis shouldn’t get a free pass here, but he has an impossible job. Under the decree, he essentially has to provide ACLU/NAACP-approved policing while people look to him to drive the murder rate back to what it was pre-consent decree. Tall order.

Moskos said...

Sometimes I almost have sympathy for Davis. I don't think anybody in his position *could* do a good job. But then I remember a lot of his problems are problems because *he* agreed to them. He got the job, in part, because he was willing to be a political flunky by supporting the doomed criminal prosecution of cops. Rumor has it, despite the riot-causing bad leadership of Batts, Batts had the backbone to stand up for his cops and not support bringing BS charges against his officers in the death of Gray. Davis, they say, didn't have such scruples. And then rather that provide leadership as a police commissioner, Davis bought off on receivership. Instead of controlling the police department, as other bosses have done, he bought off on the idea that the department was out of control. If Davis isn't accountable, who is? He's the person at the top. The department is a mess. And whether it's his fault on the elected politicians he works for, the buck has to stop somewhere.

As to ACLU/NAAPP approved policing, there needs to be more pushback against their policing agenda. Not because they don't mean well (fun fact: I'm a 2nd-generation lifetime NAACP member), but because what they're advocating does not work! More poor black men in Baltimore are being killed. Being "progressive" isn't enough. And you'd think crime prevention would be somewhere on their agenda. But it's not. It needs to be.

Chris Tonjes said...

You missed an earlier trial balloon TJ smith floated: 300 murders is the new normal. The city council woke from their slumber long enough shoot that one down. This is more of the same, but worse since they both seem very comfortable sacrificing people in exchange for "taking their time to get it right". They ain't distilling small batch bourbon! Davis here displays his greatest strength (surrealistic excuse creation) and his greatest weakness (running a police department).

Moskos said...

I missed that trial balloon. Thanks.
(And nice line about distilling small batch bourbon!)

Unknown said...

These numbers are incredible, and I feel as though there needs to be more attention to this matter than there is. What possible programs do they have that have failed so profoundly? There are so many different theories on community programs that could help reduce the number of crimes, and I wonder which ones, if any, this city has tried to initiate.

Mackenzie W said...

Do you think that putting new people in office would stop the climbing trend in homicide? Or even level it out? It does seem like there is a correlation with who is in office and the behavior of citizens. The are fed up with not being heard and it seems like they believed the only way to be heard was with murder and violence. The current officials blaming old officials that left office more than 10 years ago isn't going to get anyone anywhere they either need to change their policies to try to come to a similar understanding in Baltimore or the city will go from a failing one to a failed one.

Unknown said...

With political change what were the changes in the policies and organization of the policing force? From what I could infer it seemed as if officers were instructed to overlook lower based offenses, is this correct? This would seem to be problematic as where does it stop to lower arrest numbers. Officer discretion is one thing but to be told to overlook illegal acts is a completely different thing. I am also curious if the police force has gone through some organizational changes to include staffing of officers. Would the introduction of new officers, to increase police presence affect homicide numbers? It would seem that the city needs new leadership and potentially a new policy of law enforcement soon, to avoid an increase in homicides and a decrease in population.