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Published: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 05:42:02 -0500


Trump Says U.S. Murder Rate at Highest Level in 45 Years. That’s Not Even Close to Being True

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 16:46:00 -0500

President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed the murder rate in the United States is "the highest it's been in, I guess, 45-47 years." "I'd say that in a speech and everybody was surprised because the press doesn't like to tell it like it is," Trump said during a morning meeting with law enforcement officials from around the country. Yes, everyone should be surprised by that claim, but not for the reason the president suggested. They should be surprised because it is completely false. According to the FBI—which tracks crime statistics in the country, not "the media," as Trump suggested—the murder rate in the United States is near an all-time low. According to the FBI's 2015 crime report, there were 15,696 murders in the United States that year, which translates to a murder rate of 4.9 per 100,000 people. That's the highest murder rate in six years, not 45 years. In fact, even with the murder rate ticking upwards over the past two years, we are still at a level that's less than half of the peak murder rate during the past 45 years, according to the FBI's statistics, collected from more than 18,000 jurisdictions around the country. Here's the facts. Forty-seven years ago, in 1970, the murder rate was 7.9 per 100,000 people. The rate climbed steadily throughout the 1970s and reached a peak of 10.2 per 100,000 people in 1980. Murder rates dipped throughout the mid-1980s before rising again at the end of the decade to a second peak of 9.8 per 100,000 in 1991. From that second peak, the murder rate steadily declined until it reached a low point of 4.4 homicides per 100,000 people in 2014, before the uptick in 2015. Data for the full year of 2016 is not yet available, but statistics from the first half of 2016 suggest that the murder rate might have climbed again last year (though certainly not to levels that come anywhere near the peaks in 1980 and 1991). The slight increase in violent crime during 2015 can be attributed mostly to seven urban areas—Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.—that accounted for half of the national increase. It's not even true for Trump to argue that crime is increasing in cities, since only 25 of the nation's 100 largest cities saw an overall increase in violent crime in 2015, according to the FBI. It's not just the murder rate that has fallen recently. All forms of violent crime are down 19 percent, and property crime fell by 23 percent, between 2008 and 2015. Trump is wrong about this. Still, being wrong about crime has helped fuel Trump's rise from reality TV star to leader of the free world. At the Republican National Convention in July, Trump said the nation was experiencing "a moment of crisis" caused by "violence in our streets and chaos in our communities." "Crime is out of control and rapidly getting worse," he tweeted in July. And he's been spouting off about the murder rate being at a 45-year high since at least late October. "We have the highest murder rate in this country in 45 years. You don't hear that from these people. They don't want to talk about it. The highest murder rate in the United States in 45 years," he said at a rally in Iowa on October 28, according to The Washington Post. He repeated the assertion the next day at an event in Phoenix and the day after that at a rally in Las Vegas. As I wrote last week, many voters seem to share this misguided view that crime is reaching record levels. Polling data from Democracy Fund Voice, a nonpartisan organization that conducted a series of polls and sit-down interviews with voters during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, shows that 63 percent of all voters The numbers for people believing crime and believe crime is getting worse, while only 14 percent say it's getting better. Among self-identified Trump supporters, the gap was 79-8, compared to 51-21 for Clinton supporters. "Pretty much everyone believes it's gotten worse as a problem," says Patrick Ruffini, co-founder of Echelon Insights and one of the members of the Democracy Fund Voice research team. Voters being [...]

Trump Is Wrong About Crime in Chicago (and His Voters Are Wrong About Crime Everywhere Else Too)

Thu, 26 Jan 2017 15:32:00 -0500

Amid a flurry of executive orders this week, President Donald Trump has been threatening to take some sort of federal action intended to curb violence in Chicago. It started Wednesday, when Trump tweeted that he would "send in the Feds" if law enforcement in Chicago "doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on." If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible "carnage" going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017 Trump was asked about that tweet during Wednesday's interview with ABC News' David Muir, who asked the president to clarify what he meant by "send in the feds." After first indulging his newfound fascination with the word "carnage" (an actual quote from the interview: "It's carnage. You know, in my speech I got tremendous—from certain people the word carnage. It is carnage. It's horrible carnage"), Trump responded with another vague promise, or threat, of federal law enforcement action in the Windy City. "I want them to fix the problem. You can't have thousands of people being shot in a city, in a country that I happen to be president of," Trump said, adding that "maybe it's okay if somebody else is president" and imploring the city's officials to "get tougher and stronger and smarter" but without really answering the question of what federal action he would propose. Without wanting to downplay the seriousness of the violence in Chicago, it's necessary to inject some facts into all this talk of "tougher and stronger" policies, especially if Trump really is considering some sort of federal intervention in Chicago. For starters, yes, there are a lot of murders in Chicago. More than 300 of them during the first half of 2016, according to newly released data from the FBI. But there's also a lot of people in Chicago, which means that the murder rate actually is not one of the worst in the country. That dishonor, at least for the first six months of 2016, belongs to St. Louis, Missouri, which had more than 27 murders for every 100,000 residents during that time. That's more than double Chicago's murder rate of 11.6 per 100,000 residents. Both Orlando, Florida, and Baltimore, Maryland, had rates above 20-per-100,000 during the same period, the FBI data shows. Yes, Chicago is a violent city, but it's hardly a unique case requiring a unique response. Further, "the feds" are already there. As Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, pointed out in a commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago's police department already works with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on a regular basis. Is Trump talking about sending in the National Guard? That would be unprecendented and, MacDonald says, a pretty terrible idea. "Doing so would require the declaration of a national or state emergency," she writes. "However gruesome the bloodshed, there is little precedent for mobilizing the National Guard to quell criminal gang violence." Trump is wrong about the level of violance in Chicago, but all his talk of "carnage" and "tougher" law enforcement responses feeds directly into his political base and their view of the world. Unfortunately, that view is as wrong as Trump's. I attended a fascinating forum at the Cato Institute on Wednesday evening that included a discussion of polling data from Democracy Fund Voice, a nonpartisan organization that conducted a series of polls and sit-down interviews with voters during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Their polling data shows interesting divides between Trump voters and non-Trump voters on several issues, including immigration, race, and general views of American society. It's potentially helpful as policymakers on all sides attempt to understand what feelings are animating Trump's political followers. Patrick Ruffini, co-founder of Echelon Insights and one of the members of the research team who presented the data on Wednesday, mentioned that he was particularly struck b[...]

Trump’s Chicago Crime Slams: Political Posturing, Federal Overreach, or Legit Assistance?

Wed, 25 Jan 2017 12:00:00 -0500

There's plenty of chin-scratching today about President Donald Trump's tweet last night, "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!" The feds are already involved in Chicago's crime-fighting efforts. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have agents there attempting to track and fight illegal arms trafficking in the city. And more recently, the Department of Justice has released a massive report detailing unconstitutional behavior and civil rights violations by the City of Chicago's police department. But of course, that's not what Trump is talking about. Trump has made it abundantly clear that whatever is causing Chicago's crime problems, it has nothing to do with police abuse or violent police behavior. He instead sees a "dangerous anti-police atmosphere" in America and is promising to stop it. There's also an element of Trump's thin-skinned nature coming to the surface here. Sure, Trump has been running as a "law and order" candidate all along and has a page devoted to law enforcement on the White House site. But on Monday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel used a ribbon-cutting to attack Trump's obsession with crowd sizes. Clearly Trump's tweet was a response. From the Chicago Sun Times: "You didn't get elected to debate the crowd size at your inaugural....You got elected to make sure that people have a job, that the economy continues to grow, people have security as it relates to their kids' education. It wasn't about your crowd size. It was about their lives and their jobs," the mayor said after cutting the ribbon at a domestic violence shelter in Uptown. Emanuel advised Trump to do what he did while working as a political operative for former President Bill Clinton and as former President Barack Obama's first White House chief of staff. "The most important thing you can do is create a relationship between the desk in the Oval Office and the issues at the kitchen table," Emanuel said. "And I don't think in the kitchen tables of America — and I definitely can tell you on Saturday at the parade — people were not talking about the crowd size on Friday. They were talking about jobs, education, health care, security." But Emanuel himself was responding defensively to Trump invoking Chicago as a hotbed of crime and violence. There's a political spitting match going on here, which helps explain why we don't really know what Trump means when he talks about sending in the feds. And Chicago isn't even necessarily opposed. They certainly want federal money. The city's finances are a disaster area within a state that is itself a financial disaster area. An infusion of federal cash would pay for more police officers (to satisfy the public) and more "training," which tends to be the urban left's idea of the source of police abuse problems. It's just like public education, where whenever anything goes wrong, the problem is not enough money and training. (See the Department of Justice's plan to fix Baltimore's policing problems.) The rest of us who aren't posturing politicians who have to live in these environments should be concerned that each side is beating the same drum over and over again. Emanuel wants to blame the problem on access to guns, despite Chicago's infamously restrictive regulations. Trump wants to blame it on "anti-police" attitudes, despite the city's deeply entrenched and widely understood abusive and secretive behavior by its law enforcement officers. He's in favor of "stop and frisk" methods that violate citizens' Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unwarranted searches. Neither seem all that interested in these exchanges in exploring how the city's failure to hold bad police officers accountable for misdeeds contributes to "anti-police" attitudes and how the local government officials line their pockets via the economic predations of its poorer citizens (remember: Cook County has a soda tax being implemented this summer). Neither side in [...]

Slenderman Documentary Unpacks Disturbing Teen Murder Attempt

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:15:00 -0500

Beware the Slenderman. HBO. Monday, January 23, 10 p.m. Riverdale. The CW. Thursday, January 26, 9 p.m. Kids these days! Remember the good old days when the worst trouble a mischievous child could get into was maybe joining a killer sex cult or blowing herself up in a Greenwich Village bomb factory? Well, television this week is full of evidence that Dennis the Menace has left the building, probably armed with a hatchet and a pocket full of strap-ons. Actually, HBO's documentary Beware the Slenderman doesn't deserve such a flippant introduction. It's a serious—and seriously disturbing—piece of work about a pair of 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who, inspired by a creepy internet meme, lured a friend into the woods after a birthday party and stabbed her 19 times. That she survived was no fault of theirs. The news of that 2014 attack on 12-year-old Payton Leutner by her supposed friends Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier was, for most American grown-ups, the first word they'd heard of Slenderman, a lanky, faceless character who for the past five years had been haunting Internet chatboards and campfire-story sites. In the beginning, Slenderman was nothing more than a shadowy and curiously disquieting image, digitally inserted into the periphery of family snapshots, usually eyeing or surrounded by children. But as he grew into a fad, inspiring fan fiction, homemade video games and a slew of "found-footage" videos modeled after The Blair Witch Project, the Slenderman myth acquired its own canon. He was said to abduct and murder little children in ominously unspecified ways. The victims were often unloved or neglected kids, giving the killings a somehow even more chilling penumbra of mercy. Slenderman was able to multiply his damage many times over by acquiring proxies, cult members to do his work. And practically anybody might be swept up in his machinations, as victim, proxy or both. "The moment you know about him, he knows about you," explains one Slenderman expert interviewed in Beware. Like millions of other kids, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier became fascinated by all things Slenderman. But unlike all the rest, they had trouble comprehending that he was imaginary. Perhaps social isolation was part of it; neither girl had many friends. (Though that begs the question, why turn on one of their few schoolmates who was a pal.) In any event, they plotted to qualify as proxies by murdering Peyton and fleeing to Slenderman's hidden kingdom in a nearby national park. In harrowingly matter-of-fact confessions to police later, they described how they first tried to convince their victim to go to sleep to avoid unnecessary confusion and noise. ("I don't like screaming," Anissa primly declared to the cops. "That's one thing I can't handle.") When that didn't work, they banged her head against the wall of a park restroom in an attempt to knock her unconscious. Finally they jumped her from behind ("like lionesses chasing down a zebra," bragged Anissa) and Morgan stabbed her 19 times. "I trusted you," murmured Peyton as they dragged her into the bushes to die. Which, miraculously, she didn't. Despite its title, Beware the Slenderman is not a call to moral panic. Writer-director Irene Taylor Brodsky, a CBS News producer before she turned to documentaries a decade ago, steers clear of both tabloid shrieking and babble. Neither the internet nor horror culture is demonized as an assassin of juvenile morality. Morgan's mother, noting that at the same age she was a big fan of Stephen King's It, a novel in which a group of children is terrorized by a killer clown, says she was aware of her daughter's fascination with Slenderman but thought nothing of it: "We never thought for a moment that she could believe that it's real." And though there's understandably a good bit of blue-sky psychological theorizing about what could possibly have turned a couple of cossetted suburban 12-year-olds homicidal, Brodsky always steers it back to basics. As one doctor notes, talk of c[...]

Brickbat: Traffic Jam

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The city of Aurora, Colorado, has agreed to pay $325,000 to 14 people detained at an intersection while cops searched for a bank robber. A tracking device placed in the money by the bank led police to the intersection, but they could not determine which vehicle it was in. So they detained everyone at the intersection. Several of those filing the lawsuit were handcuffed and held for two hours.

The Surprising Truth About Gun Silencers

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:01:00 -0500

In The Godfather, a Mafioso prepping young Michael Corleone to assassinate some rivals gives him a pistol for the job. After firing a bullet into the wall, Michael complains, "Ow! My ears!" His friend says, "Yeah, I left it noisy. That way, it scares any pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders away." The Corleones would have had little interest in a bill allowing gun owners to obtain silencers without the federal permits required since 1934. Some people like the deafening boom of a gunshot. Most shooters don't, and the National Rifle Association is pressing for enactment of the Hearing Protection Act, which also has the endorsement of Donald Trump Jr., an avid trophy hunter. The proposal horrifies gun control advocates, who see it as a favor to homicidal maniacs. The Violence Policy Center in Washington argues that silencers pose a grave danger to public safety because they "enable mass shooters and other murderers to kill a greater number of victims more efficiently." Some perspective is in order. Right now, getting a federal permit requires a $200 fee, an extensive background check and a wait of several months. Possession of a silencer without a permit is a felony that carries a 10-year prison sentence. Under the proposed change, silencers would be treated like ordinary guns. Criminals would be ineligible, since they can't pass the required federal background check for purchases. Only law-abiding adults would have legal access. The industry prefers the term "suppressor" because the devices don't eliminate the noise; they merely diminish it. The American Suppressor Association attests, "On average, suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by 20-35 decibels, roughly the same sound reduction as earplugs or earmuffs." A shot from a 9 mm pistol equipped with a silencer is about as loud as a thunderclap. Recreational shooters and hunters would like to have silencers because they don't want to damage their hearing but dislike using ear protection. If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had been around in the 1930s, gun rights lawyer Stephen Halbrook quipped to The Washington Post, it probably would have mandated their use. Silencers also reduce the recoil and improve the accuracy of guns. For the average gun owner, there is no downside. There are collateral benefits, too. In rural and unincorporated areas where shooting is allowed, they minimize the disturbance to neighbors and wildlife. It's not hard to imagine how they could be deployed for bad purposes. Yet there are some 900,000 registered silencers in this country, and they are rarely used in crimes. Chicago has a lot of bloodshed, including 762 homicides and more than 3,500 shootings last year, but silencers figure in little or any of it. Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, told me, "We seldom recover silencers. Sometimes you may get a gun with a makeshift silencer, but even that is rare." A report last year by the VPC cites a handful of shootings in which silencers were used. But the paucity of examples confirms that they are not of great interest to criminals. An earlier study by Paul A. Clark published in the Western Criminology Review found only two federal court cases involving the use of a silencer in a murder between 1995 and 2005. He also unearthed eight cases in which "a silencer was actively used during commission of a crime but not used to physically injure anyone." That works out to one serious silencer-related crime per year, in a country that in 2005 had 16,740 homicides and 417,000 robberies. Supporters of the status quo say this merely proves the effectiveness of strict regulation. But improvised versions can be fashioned out of flashlights, oil filters or metal conduit. YouTube has numerous videos providing guidance for the do-it-yourselfer. If silencers were truly valuable to ordinary criminals, there would undoubtedly be a thriving black market and plenty of crimes committed w[...]

Brickbat: We're Here to Help Ourselves

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Former Dayton, Ohio, police officer Ryan Meno has pleaded guilty to stealing prescription pain medicine from a home that he went to to respond to a possible break-in. He faces up to 30 months in prison.

911 Emergency Response System Significantly Reduced U.S. Murder Rate, Says Study

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 12:45:00 -0500

The U.S. homicide rate peaked in 1980 at 10.2 per 100,000 Americans and the number of annual homicides rose to 24,703 in 1991. Since then U.S. homicide rates have been falling and reached 4.5 per 100,000 in 2014 (a rate not seen since the 1950s) and an annual toll of 14,249. Both the rate and number of murders ticked up in 2015 to 5 per 100,000 and 15,809 respectively. Lots of research has been devoted to trying to figure out why homicide rates fell over the past couple of decades. Some researchers focused on higher incarceration rates; others on more effective policing; still others cited the aging population; and some attributed lower homicide rates to better emergency medicine. Given the fact that the data on criminally inflicted gunshot injuries is not collected comprehensively, this this latter claim has been challenged. A fascinating new working paper, "Dial 911 for Murder," by George Mason University economists Thomas Stratmann and David Chandler Thomas argue that advances in the 911 emergency response system over time, combined with the advent of cell phones have contributed significantly to the lower U.S. murder rate because victims are receiving emergency medical care ever more speedily. The argument is that victims of violent gun firearms attacks are increasingly likely to be saved from death thus converting what would have been homicides into aggravated assaults. In addition, they find the establishment of 911 systems initially increased reporting of aggravated assaults and that the subsequent proliferation of cell phones seems to have had a deterrent effect on such assaults. The initial 911 system devised in 1968 connected to an operator who then transferred the call to the police, fire, and ambulance services as appropriate. In the late 1970s, dedicated 911 call centers were established with monitors that displayed the home number and address of callers and from which emergency services were dispatched by trained personnel. Now GPS 911 is rolling out enabling dispatchers to pinpoint callers and dispatch services to people using cell phones. The researchers suggest that "when potential violent street offenders know that cell phone users have a quick way to reach the police, via GPS 911, their incentive to commit a crime decreases." The researchers account for the lethality of weapons over time, socioeconomic changes, improvements in trauma care, and so forth. Once they've parsed the data, they report: While the level of violent crimes, measured as aggravated assaults, is 219 percentage points higher in 2014 than in 1964, homicides in 2014 are eight percentage points lower than in 1964. In this paper, we find support for the hypothesis that the introduction of 911 services explains much of the decrease in homicide rates. Moreover, the introduction of 911 provides an explanation for the divergence between aggravated assault and homicide rates that started in the early 1970s. ...The empirical results in this paper indicate that reductions in emergency response times played a significant role in reducing U.S. homicides over the past 45 years. .... The reported 911 effects are quantitatively important, suggesting more than a 34 percent to 56 percent decrease in homicides that can be attributed to the 911 systems and associated reductions in response times. One simple approach to illustrate the benefits of 911 is to use our estimates to quantify the lives saved by 911 innovations. Such an exercise shows that in 2014, without 911 emergency services, the number of homicides in our sample cities would have been more than 13,000 homicides, instead of the reported 5,872. Citing the trends in Mobile, Alabama they report that the introduction of basic 911 coincided with an immediate 29 percent drop in that city's homicide rate which continued to fall in the following years. However, after the introduction of enhanced 911 in the l[...]

FBI: Violent Crime Up, Property Crime Down

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 16:40:00 -0500

The FBI has just put out its preliminary report on crime in the first half of 2016. The news is mostly bad, with violent crime increasing 5.3 percent since the previous year. Since the FBI's stats also showed violent crime going up in 2015, there's a good chance we're on track for two consecutive years of rises. (The full report on 2016's crime rates won't come out until the fall.) Specifically, the report shows murders up 5.2 percent, aggravated assaults up 6.5 percent, violent robberies up 3.2 percent, and rape rising either 3.2 or 3.5 percent, depending on how you define the crime. (The FBI revised its definition of rape in 2013, but it continues to offer statistics for both the old definition and the new one.) Property crime, on the other hand, showed a very slight decline, though one particular property offense—auto thefts—became more common. All this is roughly similar to the trendlines from 2015, which also saw an overall increase in violent crime, an overall decrease in property crime, and an auto-theft exception to the property-crime decline. Since this year and a half of increases follows a two-decade drop in crime rates, these levels remain low by historical standards. (That's not true of some specific places, such as Chicago and Baltimore, that are undergoing undeniable crime crises. But these numbers offer a nationwide perspective.) The unanswered question is what these rises represent. Is this a new trend that threatens to undo the gains of the '90s and '00s? Is it a temporary shift, comparable to the brief hike we saw in the mid-'00s before the rates resumed their fall? Or is it something else? John Pfaff, a Fordham law professor and the author of the forthcoming Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, offers a third hypothesis. "Sometimes a rise in crime is causal—the rise in murders that started in 1985 was due to crack-market related violence," he says. "But any rise (or fall) in crime is also partly just noise. So it's perfectly plausible to look at, say, murder rates and say that the mean was about 9 per 100,000 during the high-crime era, with a lot of 'noisiness' around that. The same story may be true now: Perhaps with hindsight we'll realize that the mean murder rate is now going to be around 6, with some good or bad years on either side of that. What some are viewing as a 'rise in crime' could instead just be more a regression to the mean, and to a mean that is still much lower than it was 20 years ago." Just to muddy matters more, the other major measurement of crime in America—the National Crime Victimization Survey—actually showed nonfatal violent crime going down in 2015. (We do not yet have their 2016 results.) The FBI's count and the NCVS count each have their strengths and weaknesses, so that isn't a rival narrative so much as it's a sign that there are limits on our ability to perceive the "real" crime rate. There are two major measurements of crime in America, and at the moment they diverge. (For more on the differences between the NCVS numbers and the FBI's numbers, go here.) Murder, in any event, does seem to be on track to go up for two years running. The NCVS doesn't cover homicides (by definition, murder victims can't be surveyed), and the FBI numbers probably aren't far off (as the saying goes, bodies are hard to hide). While we don't have the FBI's numbers for the second half of 2016 yet, many jurisdictions do have preliminary counts for the full year. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Jeff Asher has gathered data from most of the country's big cities, and he's projecting that we'll ultimately see a national rate of about 5.3 murders for every 100,000 people in 2016—slightly less than in 2008: So the numbers are still far lower than in most of the last half-century, but that line isn't pointing in the direction we want. Pf[...]

The Idea of a Hate Crimes Offender Registry Is Absurd

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 15:30:00 -0500

Somebody let California Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-San Fernando Valley) know that the current criminal justice reform trend is supposed to be about helping released criminals who have served their time and done their penance re-establish stable lives in their community and get jobs. We're not supposed to be finding ways to make their lives even worse. Bocanegra is engaging in a round of post-Donald-Trump-election legislation as social signaling that is bound to make life harder for a small class of criminals. On the basis of the reported increase in hate crimes in California (which the legislator attributes to Trump's election) Bocanegra is attempting to create a new crime registry. He wants to make a database for people to look up anybody who has been convicted of a hate crime. He declares: The Hate Crime Registry will be an important public safety tool to better protect individuals and communities from hate crimes, help reverse this deeply troubling trend, and significantly reduce hate crimes in California. In the coming months, I will work diligently to bring together Democrats and Republicans, law enforcement and victims' rights groups, to take immediate steps send a clear message to perpetrators that violence rooted in bigotry and bias will not be tolerated in California. He has introduced AB 39, which has no actual content as yet. It's just an announcement of an intent to pass further legislation to establish this registry. On what basis is Bocanegra claiming that such a registry would protect individuals from hate crimes? He provides no data on hate crime repeat offenders. Are there any? A quick check of the state's numbers on hate crime convictions shows 119 total convictions for 2015 (CORRECTION: While there were 119 convictions of various charges connected to hate crimes, there were actually only 59 hate crime convictions for 2015. I misread the numbers). The most annual convictions they've listed for hate crimes in recent years was in 2009: 223 of them. The population of California is approaching 40 million. The model for the assemblyman is obviously sex offender registries, but we're seeing more and more information every single year that sex offender registries are not effective and end up containing the names of people who may have committed crimes in the past but are no danger to the community and are not predators. Lenore Skenazy just went over a case last weekend of a mother of three on the registry forever due to her behavior as a teen. These registries are awful, and there's no reason to think that a hate crime registry would be any better, particularly given that hate crimes are also a sentence enhancement. That means a person could be charged with a hate crime in connection to a murder … or in connection with vandalism. A database assumes that these people are all equally threats to the public due to the commission of a crime and assumes they'll maintain a bigoted attitude toward people based on their religion or race or sexuality or what have you, forever. It's odd for a legislator to propose such a database given the criminal justice "ban the box" push, encouraging employers wait until they're offering somebody a job to check their criminal background. The City of Los Angeles just passed a law prohibiting using criminal history from weeding out early applicants (which is a terrible encroachment on private businesses' right to set employment practices, but that's another issue). The law will go into effect later in the month. With a hate crime database, an employer wouldn't need to ask a job-seeker about their criminal background. They can just look up their name. And heaven forbid they have a name similar to somebody else in the database. This is an awful, terrible law that the legislature should reject out of hand. Based on the data we've gotten fro[...]

President Obama Thinks He Did a Great Job With Criminal Justice Reform, But He Should Have Done More

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 18:40:00 -0500

President Obama published a commentary today in the Harvard Law Review titled "The President's Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform." In one sense, Obama is clearly trying to telegraph to thought-leaders how he believes his legacy regarding one of his key issues should be remembered. In another sense, the article is a pre-emptive warning to anyone concerned with mass incarceration, police-community relations, sentencing reform, and other related issues that they might not have realized how good they had it under the Obama administration. Sure, Obama cherry-picks his data, omits any relevant but inconvenient information that might damage his narrative—he doesn't touch the war on drugs or marijuana legalization at all—but it is easy to understand who Obama is addressing. This isn't a paper that will be widely read by the public, this is for the academics and think tankers who will be among the first to determine where Obama's legacy ranks in the pantheon of American presidencies. In the 56-page commentary, Obama writes "Criminal justice reform has been a focus of my entire career — even since before my time at the Harvard Law Review" a reference to his tenure as the first African-American president of the august legal publication. Obama writes, "I will be the first President in decades to leave office with a federal prison population lower than when I took office even as my Administration saw the rate of violent crime fall to its lowest point in decades," and also credits his administration with helping to reduce sentences for non-violent offenders, make it easier for people with a criminal blemish on their record to gain employment and education, and also helping young people "avoid getting entangled in the justice system in the first place." Among other reform achievements cited are the Justice Department's 2010 decision to reverse "a policy requiring prosecutors in every case to bring charges that could result in the most severe possible sentence," as well as its instruction to federal prosecutors to stop threatening defendants in drug cases with enhanced charges based on previous drug convictions as a means of gaining leverage in plea negotiations. Donald Trump gets some none-too-subtle shade thrown his way by Obama over his tendency to emotionally react on Twitter when hot-button news stories break. Obama writes that "presidents are not private citizens" and thus, when "a viral YouTube video...leads the evening news, incites protests, and drives calls for reform," the commander in chief needs "to be careful about speaking about legal matters before all the facts are in—even if it appears that everyone else in the United States is commenting on them." The president tosses some red meat to the gun control faithful with vague rhetoric about "smart guns," "background checks," and other "commonsense steps to reduce gun violence." He also rails against solitary confinement, zero tolerance polices at school, and excessive bail practices. Also included among his "work unfinished," Obama calls for more transparency and better practices regarding police body cams, treating the opioid crisis as a public health issue, and restoring the right to vote for ex-convicts. Obama boasts of expanding access to substance abuse treatment through Obamacare, but is willing to spread some of the credit around, like when he touts the "red states" of Alabama, Georgia, and Texas for leading and innovating: By reducing sentences and reinvesting some of the savings in other public safety initiatives — especially programs that actually address substance abuse and support for those with mental illness — these states have improved outcomes, enhanced trust, and thus ultimately made better use of taxpayer dollars. The president touches upon his Task Force on 21st Ce[...]

One in Six Women Will Be Victims of Stalking, Says Obama. Another False Crimewave?

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 16:08:00 -0500

President Obama has declared January 2017 to be National Stalking Awareness Month. "Every year, stalkers deny too many people the comfort and safety they deserve, violating our basic expectation of dignity and respect for all," starts the presidential proclamation, issued December 28. "This month, we join together in support of victims to raise awareness of this threat and reaffirm the importance of ensuring every person can live free from fear of violence, harassment, and any form of stalking." That all seems innocuous enough, the kind of feel-good pronouncement that means little in terms of concrete action but won't do much damage, either. But then Obama drops this: approximately one in six women and one in 19 men will be victims of stalking. Seems a little high, no? According to Obama's unsourced statistic, more than 16 percent of U.S. women will be stalked in their lifetimes. The closest thing to such a fact among federal data comes from a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, based on data collected in 2011 through the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS). The 2011 NISVS data encompasses interviews with 12,727 American adults, who were asked about their experiences with rape, sexual assault, sexual coercion, and stalking. Based on those interviews, researchers concluded that "an estimated 4.2 percent of women and 2.1 percent of men were stalked in the 12 months preceding the survey," and "an estimated 15.2 percent of women and 5.7 percent of men have been a victim of stalking during their lifetimes." But "stalking" as defined by the CDC may fall short of many people's idea of stalking. In the agency's estimation, physically following someone or surveilling them by other means isn't a prerequisite for being a stalker; simply sending an unwanted text, social-media message, email, or phone call will do. Certainly, a string of unsolicited and unwelcome communications from someone could rise to the level of stalking. Messages that are menacing, or persistent, may elicit the same feelings of fear and anxiety that being physically stalked engenders. But for the CDC's purposes, unwanted communications must merely occur once to be counted as stalking. Ditto for someone approaching a "victim" unsolicited on just one occasion. Here's how the poll primed respondents for the stalking questions: I'm going to ask you some detailed questions about times when you may have been contacted, followed or harassed. When answering, please think about anyone who may have done these things to you, including romantic or sexual partners, other people you knew, or strangers. Please do not include bill collectors, telephone solicitors, or other sales people. Respondents were then asked how many people had ever watched or followed them from a distance; spied on them with an electronic device; broke into their homes or cars just to "let you know they had been there"; approached them in public when they didn't want to be approached; left them an unwanted text or voice message; contacted them with an unwanted phone call; sent them unwanted email, Facebook, or Myspace messages; or given them unwanted letters or gifts. The CDC summary report claims that respondents must have experienced more than one type or instance of these behaviors from the same perpetrator to have been counted as stalking victims, but a questionnaire described as the direct survey text contains no follow-up questions about stalking after these that would determine prevalence from the same perpetrator or emotional states of victims. In an older report, the Department of Justice (DOJ) relied on a slightly less expansive definition of stalking than the CDC. For DOJ counting purposes, stalking behaviors—this includes "making unwanted pho[...]

Meet the Community in Louisiana Where Police Throw People in Jail First and Then Investigate

Fri, 30 Dec 2016 13:30:00 -0500

Imagine being treated the same way a person arrested for a felony is treated—brought into jail, strip searched, imprisoned—even though you aren't arrested. Worse yet, imagine being treated that way because you might have been a witness to a crime and police wanted to interview you. That's exactly what had been happening down in Louisiana in Evangeline Parrish (population 33,500) and its town of Ville Platte (population 7,300). According a long-term Department of Justice investigation that was just released in December, police and sheriff's offices there had a long-established practice of jailing people for days without charges or warrants as "investigative holds." The practice is extremely unconstitutional but apparently had been policy. Police held people for days without charging them with crimes, but often suspected them of having committed crimes. According to the DOJ report the detention was partly because the police thought these people were guilty of something but lacked actual evidence, so police used the opportunity to keep them behind bars while they looked for something to hit them with. They were forced to sleep on the floor in jail and were not allowed to contact the outside world and let people know what had happened to them. They were essentially "disappeared" by law enforcement officials: Investigative holds initiated by [Ville Platte Police Department] VPPD often last for 72 hours—and sometimes significantly longer—forcing detainees to spend multiple nights sleeping on a concrete floor or metal bench. Indeed, VPPD's booking logs indicate that, from 2012-2014, several dozen investigative holds extended for at least a full week. During this time, VPPD exerts control over the detainees' liberty: The detained person is not permitted to make phone calls to let family or employers know where they are, and have access to bathrooms and showers only when taken into the jail's general population area. Similarly, [Evangeline Parrish Sheriff's Office] EPSO's investigative holds often last for three full days. During that time, detainees are forced to sleep on the Parish Jail's concrete floor. One EPSO deputy reported that he saw someone held without a warrant or a probable cause determination for more than six days. As with VPPD, EPSO also controls the detainee's liberty. EPSO does not permit detainees who are "on hold" to make phone calls to let family or employers know their whereabouts. Indeed, we were told that certain detectives have threatened EPSO jail officers (referred to as "jailers" in the Parish Jail) with retaliation if the officers allowed detainees to make phone calls. One EPSO jail officer described an incident in which an EPSO detective reprimanded him after the jail officer provided toothpaste and other personal supplies to a person locked in the holding cell. These investigative holds are not even ostensibly supported by probable cause. Both EPSO and VPPD detectives acknowledged that they use investigative holds where they lack sufficient evidence to make an arrest, but instead have a "hunch" or "feeling" that a person may be involved in criminal activity. One VPPD officer noted that they use investigative holds specifically where the officer needs more time to develop evidence to support a lawful arrest. Similarly, an EPSO detective described using investigative holds when he had "a pretty good feeling" or a "gut instinct" that a certain individual was connected to a crime. The DOJ report goes on that it was not just suspects who were treated this way. They even locked up people they thought might be witnesses to a crime, meaning just about anybody could have been subjected to this treatment: For example, one woman told us that VPPD officers detained her and her [...]

Brickbat: You Know What I Find Offensive?

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Canada's Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu calls a proposal proposal by a Conservative Party politician to legalize pepper spray so that women can better defend themselves "offensive to women." She says the proposal "places the onus on women to defend themselves rather than focusing on addressing and preventing gender-based violence."

Brickbat: Stocking Stuffers

Wed, 28 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Iesha Conley, a postal worker in Brooklyn, has been charged with stealing gift cards from from the mail. She reportedly used one card to buy almost $100 in sex toys.