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Published: Fri, 28 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2016 00:58:13 -0400


Brickbat: Off Duty

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Christopher Padgett cut off his ankle monitor and ran off shortly before his murder trial. Police are still looking for him. He got a good head start on them because the Hamilton County Corrections Department doesn't monitor those on electronic ankle monitors on weekends or after business hours on weekdays, and Padgett cut his off sometime around 1:40 a.m. on the day of his trial.

Did Nonfatal Violent Crime Come Down Last Year After All?

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:05:00 -0400

Today the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report on crimes committed in 2015. You will be happy to hear that both violent crime and property crimes declined. You may also be confused to hear that, since it's been less than a month since the FBI released its report on crimes committed in 2015. That also showed property crimes declining, but violent crime went up 3.1 percent and homicides leaped 10.8 percent. What, you might ask, is going on here? The answer is that it's hard to get solid crime numbers, so several competing means of measurement have evolved—none of them perfect, but each of them complementing the other. The FBI's statistics came from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which gathers offenses that have come to the attention of the police. This month's figures come from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which gets its data by polling people; the idea is to tally offenses whether or not they've been reported to the police. There are other differences between the two measurements. Most notably, the NCVS does not cover homicides. (Sorry, but you're stuck with that 10.8 percent jump.) Murder is the one crime where there's not a ton of doubt about the UCR numbers: People are much more likely to report a murder than a robbery; and bodies, as the saying goes, are hard to hide. It's certainly possible to get a homicide count wrong, as Chicagoans recently learned, but the UCR figures are the best we've got, and in any event you can't exactly survey the dead about how they died. There are other crimes that are included in the UCR but not the NCVS (such as offenses against children under 12), and there are crimes that are covered by the NCVS but not the UCR (such as simple assault). But the biggest difference is the NCVS's attempt to include crimes that weren't reported to the police. And that's one reason it's good news that it didn't show a spike last year. One of the biggest questions about last month's UCR numbers is why homicides rose so much more than violent crime in general. Several people—including me—speculated that nonfatal violent crimes may have surged more sharply than the FBI report suggested; they just didn't show up in the police figures because they weren't reported as consistently as the homicides were. The new NCVS is a reassuring sign that those speculations might not be true. Of course, the NCVS has its limits too. The people its pollsters have the hardest time reaching are low-income minorities without a fixed address—precisely the people who are most likely to be the victims of violent crimes. In a 2014 piece for ProPublica, Lois Beckett pointed out that yet another source of crime data, the Centers for Disease Control's count of nonfatal but violent gun injuries, had been going up over the previous decade even as the NCVS showed such assaults declining. So which was right? On one hand, she noted, the CDC's tabulations may be more likely to include the victims that the NCVS was unable to reach. On the other hand, the CDC figures "are based on a representative sample of 63 hospitals nationwide, and the margin of error for each estimate is very large." Whatever its limitations, the NCVS gives us a more complete picture of crime in America—and this year, it cuts against some of the sky-is-falling rhetoric that's been sloshing around ever since the UCR numbers were published. Here are some highlights from the report: • The overall rate of violent crime declined slightly from 2014 to 2015, falling from 20.1 victimizations per 1,000 people to 18.6 per 1,000. • Property crime also dipped, dropping from 118.1 per 1,000 households to 110.7 per 1,000. • Most specific categories of crime logged a decline, though not always a statistically significant one. Robbery, aggravated assault, simple assault, burglary, theft, serious violent crime involving weapons, and serious violent crime involving injury all came down. But sexual assault, serious domestic violence, and serious intimate partner violence all saw slight increases, as did motor[...]

FBI Stats Show ‘War on Police’ Claim Still Not Accurate

Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:35:00 -0400

(image) The FBI has released its final numbers of the number of police killed in 2015 and they match the preliminary data released in May. For all of 2015, 41 law enforcement officers were killed as a result of attacks. This is a drop in the number of police killed in 2014 by 10. More officers died as a result of accidents, 45.

Long-term trends suggest this is an even bigger decrease. In 2011 there were 72 officers killed. In 2006 there were 48.

But what about assaults against police? The FBI notes that 50,212 police officers were assaulted on duty in 2015 but doesn't compare to previous years. That's where things get interesting, because it turns out there was a noticeable increase in assaults against police in 2015. In 2014, when killings were higher, there were only 48,315 reported assaults. So even though fewer police were killed, more were attacked, enough to increase the change the ratio from nine to 10 when determining how many officers out of 100 were assaulted. The percentage of officers needing medical treatment for the assault remained about the same (28 percent).

The increase in assaults is a reversal of a trend. I noted back in May that assaults had been dropping since 2012. But we should be wary of assuming that a single year deviation is the start of a new trend.

We have two and a half months left before the end of 2016, and it does looks like we will see an increase in the number of police deaths this year compared to last year. The Officer Down Memorial Page currently lists 45 officers killed by gunfire and 10 officers killed by vehicle assaults. If those numbers hold up in the FBI's analysis that will indicate a spike, but it's nevertheless important not to mistake it for a trend or to think that specifically targeted ambushes against police will be more likely because of high-profile attacks or because of increasing protests against police behavior.

In July, Jesse Walker explored how one might figure out whether there actually was a war on cops and found the data wanting. Read more here.

Was Patty Hearst Brainwashed?

Sat, 08 Oct 2016 06:00:00 -0400

Col. Frank H. Schwable was an Annapolis graduate with 23 years' service in the U.S. Marine Corps and a chest full of medals won as a combat pilot in the Pacific during World War II. His commanding officer in Korea testified that Schwable "was one of the brightest, finest, most conscientious, and, during the war, one of the bravest officers I have ever known." Sent to South Korea as a staff officer, he yearned for a combat command and volunteered to fly reconnaissance missions. On July 18, 1952, his plane mistakenly drifted over enemy lines and was shot to pieces. Schwable and his co-pilot successfully bailed out of the plane before it crashed but were captured by Chinese troops within minutes. Schwable did his best to not give anything away to his captors. For several weeks, he insisted he was a new arrival in Korea who hadn't even been assigned a post and had little knowledge of the war or the American order of battle. The Pentagon, however, issued a press release identifying him, and soon the Chinese knew he'd been there for months, knew his exact assignment, and even knew the names of his wife and children. They made it clear his interrogation was about to take a harsh new turn. Locked alone in a small room for hours a day, weeks at a time, Schwable had nothing to do but imagine what might be in store for him. Finally he was moved to a darkened tent, where he was questioned 11 hours a day. After several weeks of that, he was placed in a hut about the size of a large dining-room table, where he was ordered to sit stiffly at attention except during designated sleeping hours. As winter arrived, the hut grew so cold that the can into which he urinated froze over. When he contracted diarrhea, he was allowed to go to a latrine, but there was no toilet paper. He had to use frozen tree leaves instead. Eventually his captors began demanding that Schwable falsely admit to planning a bacteriological bombing campaign against North Korea. "They say black is white and you try in every way you can to show that black isn't white, but there is no use because you end up—black is white," he would recall after the war. The interrogation escalated until the Chinese threatened to kill him if he didn't confess. "There was absolutely no reason in the world why Frank Schwable should not have believed them," wrote military historian Raymond B. Lech, who recounted Schwable's tale in his harrowing 2000 account of life in the POW camps, Broken Soldiers. Everything Schwable had to endure—the physical discomfort, the fear, the isolation—was boring away at his brain. "I can only portray this phase of the treatment by likening it to sitting for some 10 uninterrupted weeks on the floor of a closet in a deserted house," he would say later. He was living "under such a cloud of fear, futility and make believe—yet bitter realism—that confusion reigned supreme and I existed in a world of fantasy that is beyond my description." By the end of November, four weeks after his capture, Schwable was confessing to a litany of war crimes that expanded on a daily basis, most particularly his (nonexistent) role in a (nonexistent) U.S. aerial bombardment of North Korea with disease-ridden insects. As he penned his confession, he was no longer certain he was lying: "It was real to me, the conferences and how the planes would fly up there and how they would go about their missions—that was real." For three days beginning February 22, 1953, Radio Peking aired his taped confession, which had also been filmed. When his signed confession was shown to his co-pilot, whose treatment had been similar, the man immediately broke and signed his own. The two men had been separated immediately after their capture, but the co-pilot caught a glimpse of Schwable from a nearby cell about three months into his interrogation and was shocked; the colonel, he said, looked like an exhausted little mouse with sunken jowls and droopy eyes, moving as if sleepwalking. Schwable wouldn't be released until[...]

Trump’s Stubbornness on the Central Park Five’s Guilt a Warning to Criminal Justice Reformers

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 17:00:00 -0400

Donald Trump so famously believed in the guilt of five teenagers accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989 that he put out full-page advertisements in New York newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty in the state. There was no evidence attaching the five young men to the crime, and they were convicted on the basis of confessions coerced after days of interrogations. It wasn't until 2002 that another man (who encountered one of the convicted men in prison) confessed to the crime. DNA evidence (which was not presented in the original trial) matched up. The five boys, now full-grown men, have been exonerated. They've gotten a settlement for $41 million from the city of New York. Trump still thinks they're guilty. They confessed! The police said they were guilty! That's apparently what Trump recently told CNN in an interview: "They admitted they were guilty," Trump said this week in a statement to CNN's Miguel Marquez. "The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same." Since Trump obviously still believes that the Central Park 5 are guilty, it cannot be said he is lying or even misleading. But he is undoubtedly holding steadfast to an opinion in the face of DNA evidence to the contrary and the fact that the Central Park 5 have been exonerated by the legal system. One wonders if he even knows about the gentleman who confessed. According to the Innocence Project, one of our four people who have been convicted but are later exonerated due to DNA evidence have actually confessed to the crime. There are a whole host of reasons why the boys confessed their own involvement or that of their friends. Trump's stubborn clinging to his snap conviction of the boys from back in 1989 should be considered a dire warning about any sort of possible criminal justice reform if the man were to become president. Concepts like reduced sentences, eliminating mandatory minimums, ending the unnecessary use of solitary confinement, increased commutations—all of these criminal justice reforms depend on people in positions of authority recognizing that their long-held concepts of judicial punishment are incorrect. In order to reform sentencing for harsher convictions for crimes connected to crack cocaine instead of powder, for example, one has to first acknowledge that the panic over crack cocaine was itself misguided and the overly harsh sentencing has not made the country safer. But Trump is not willing to countenance the idea that he might have been wrong about the Central Park 5. He insists that the unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program in New York City helped reduce crime, though there's no evidence that it did anything of the sort, and crime continued to fall after the program ended. Trump sees an out-of-control crime crisis where one does not currently exist. Perhaps his unwillingness to believe that these men were innocent of a crime is part of that mindset. Or perhaps it's a reflection of his general unwillingness to acknowledge being wrong. Either way, it's yet another reason to be concerned about how law enforcement policy would look under Trump.[...]

We Have a Clown Crime—But It's Not That Kind of Clown Crime

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 11:40:00 -0400

Two months into the Great Clown Panic of 2016, we finally have a clear-cut case of a "clown" committing a violent crime. It isn't really the kind of crime that people were worried about, and the perp wasn't really dressed as a clown, but... Actually, there's no need for a but. This is an ordinary crime committed in a not-all-that-unusual way. Some journalists are treating it as a sign that the Clown Threat is real, but that says more about media sensationalism than it does about anything else. What we have here is a lesson in how crime-trend narratives are constructed. Some background: For about two months now, people have been reporting encounters with mysterious, malevolent clowns, sparking rumors that the jokers plan to kidnap children, molest children, shoot up a classroom full of children, or otherwise victimize people, especially children. As is often the case during these phantom-clown scares—yes, this isn't the first one—the incidents generally fall into four categories: 1. Someone, usually a kid, reports that he spotted a clown lurking or that a clown attacked him. No one finds the clown. The episode never gets resolved, but it probably didn't really happen. 2. Someone reports that he spotted a clown lurking or that a clown attacked him. No one finds the clown. The episode does get resolved, because the person who made the report confesses to making it up. 3. Someone circulates a clown threat or clown sighting or clown something on Facebook or another social media platform. No clown actually shows up. 4. A prankster decides to take advantage of the fear spread by #1-3 by dressing as a clown and scaring people. He does not kidnap, molest, or shoot anybody. In other words, the scare is almost entirely a mix of hoaxes and hysteria. There are a couple of cases out there where police are taking reports of clown attacks seriously, but even then no one has been able to locate the alleged attackers. The "suspect wearing a clown costume" who reportedly grabbed someone at Texas State University has not been apprehended, for example. And while the headline-writers at SFGate took an alleged kidnapping attempt in Concord, California, seriously enough to write this credulous hed... ...when you read the actual article, you find that (a) yet again, only one witness has supposedly seen the clown; and (b) even if the incident did happen, the so-called kidnapping attempt consisted of the suspect pulling once on a child's arm while conversing with her mother. Strange things happen every day, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that a crook isn't likely to try to snatch a child right in front of her mom, especially while dressed in a costume that could only make it harder to avoid everyone's attention as he slips away. So what's the bona fide violent crime that I mentioned at the beginning? On Tuesday night, a man wearing a clown mask robbed a Walgreens in Brownstown Township, Michigan. He did not try to kidnap or molest anyone. He did not announce his intentions in advance on Facebook. He wasn't even "dressed as a clown" in any meaningful sense of those words, though I've heard that phrase in the subsequent press coverage. He was wearing dark pants, a hoodie, and a mask to cover his face; he just happened to pick a clown mask, as robbers sometimes do. In short, his crime has virtually nothing in common with the phantom-clown scenarios that have been floating around the noösphere since August. Yet eight seconds into the Detroit TV station WDIV's report on the robbery, the anchor calls the stick-up "just one of what seem to be a string of clown attacks." And almost two minutes in, a reporter declares that there's a "growing concern about the escalation of violence in these clown-related attacks," as though armed robberies were the next stage in some sort of spiral toward Armageddon: src="[...]

Loose Milk Crates: The Latest Enemy Standing Between Us and a Safe, Orderly Society

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 12:15:00 -0400

The dairy industry loses and must replace about 20 million milk crates per year, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, which has a whole website set up to warn against the theft and misuse of the plastic containers. They have an obvious and legitimate interest in trying to stop criminal enterprises that snatch these containers by the truckload and take them to recycling centers for the cash. Police in southern Florida broke up a ring in April that had stolen more than $1.5 million worth of crates. Crates are all stamped with the name of the dairy that owns them and it's illegal under various state laws for individuals to keep them in their possession, laws of which few Americans are likely aware. Though these laws are ostensibly for the purpose of fighting theft rings, they're also handy tools for police to harass poor undesirables and anybody who has to scrounge whatever they find to get by. So Timothy Troller of Auburndale, Florida, ended up in a jail cell entirely because he had a milk crate attached to his bicycle. Did he steal the crate? Probably not. Troller said he found it on the side of the road. The Polk County Sheriff's Department doesn't care. From WFLA: "You're possessing something that is stolen from a business, whether it's as small as a milk crate, or a shopping cart," Polk County Sheriff's Office Spokesperson, Carrie Horstman said. "He was charged with possessing stolen property. He may pay a fine or spend a few days in jail." "Deputies are actually out there proactively looking for things that don't look right; looking for suspicious things. If they see somebody riding a bicycle at 10 o'clock at night they may have a conversation with them. They are looking for people who are doing even the smallest crime, because, what we've learned is, those who will go out an steal a milk crate, for example, are the same people who are probably breaking into cars, breaking into your house," Horstman said. Troller's family does note that he has a criminal record, which is supposed to justify such terrible treatment, the way Horstman talks about it. Horstman represents the kind of police attitude that makes it harder and harder for those who have criminal pasts to ever recover. Stealing a milk crate is the gateway drug to breaking into somebody's house. If it makes Troller feel any better, he's not the only poor schmo who has had this law used against him for being in the possession of a single milk crate, not for being part of some organized criminal recycling enterprise. Last year, also in Florida, a 30-year-old homeless man was arrested after being found sitting outside a grocery store on a milk crate begging for money. Police said at the time the charge of possessing a milk crate was used "whenever appropriate." A news story noted he was held without bail. And the harassment of those who sit on milk crates was also part of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to clean up the city. Back in 2003, as part of the city's Operation Impact, a young man in the Bronx was handed a summons when police found him sitting on a milk crate in public. An administrative judge told the New York Daily News at the time that she had never heard of such a law against "unauthorized use" of a milk crate herself. Even the police union back at the time complained that they were being pushed to write these citations as a way of bringing in money for the city. Read more about Troller's predicament and watch the news segment here.[...]

Withdrawing from the Crime-Control System

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:35:00 -0400

If you think there's a good chance the police will beat you up, you're less likely to call the cops. Sometimes, this reluctance manifests itself not just in an individual but across an entire community. Sociologists and criminologists call this phenomenon legal cynicism—a basic lack of confidence in the criminal justice system's fairness, competence, responsiveness, and all-around legitimacy. Where legal cynicism flourishes, the theory goes, people tend to withdraw from the formal crime-control system; and in the U.S., legal cynicism is most likely to flourish in low-income minority neighborhoods. A trio of sociologists has just found an ingenious way to measure this effect. In a new study for the American Sociological Review, Matthew Desmond of Harvard, Andrew Papachristos of Yale, and David Kirk of Oxford note that research on this subject usually relies on surveys and interviews, methods that can reveal a lot about people's attitudes but "are less reliable when it comes to measuring interactions with the police." So instead they selected a high-profile example of abusive police behavior—the 2004 beating of Frank Jude, a black Milwaukee man assaulted by a group of white officers—and then located and counted the city's 911 calls after news of the beatdown broke. Controlling for various variables, they found a small, brief decline in calls in predominantly white neighborhoods and a "large and durable" decline in predominantly black neighborhoods, with the latter lasting more than a year. They then examined Milwaukee's 911 calls following a 2007 police assault on another unarmed black man, Danyall Simpson; that too produced a decline. The authors also wondered whether nationally reported incidents in other cities could produce the same result. Here the results were mixed. 911 calls went down in Milwaukee, especially in black neighborhoods, after the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell in Queens. But the 2009 death of Oscar Grant in Oakland did not produce the same result. These results have interesting implications for the debate over the so-called Ferguson effect. Usually that phrase refers to the idea that increased scrutiny has made cops wary about policing proactively, leading to increases in crime. But as I noted here after the FBI released last year's crime statistics, there is a rival theory that focuses not on the supply of policing but the demand for it. Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, thinks legal cynicism may help explain several cities' recent spikes in homicides. "Lack of confidence in the police among African-Americans predates the recent police killings in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York and elsewhere," he wrote earlier this year. "But it is likely to be activated by such incidents, transforming longstanding latent grievances into an acute legitimacy crisis." When people don't trust the police, they are less likely to cooperate with them—and more likely to turn to do-it-yourself alternatives to policing, such as the violent resolution of disputes. (It is certainly possible to think of alternatives to calling 911 that do not entail doling out rough justice. And it is wonderful when they flourish. But they require work, trust, and time to be effective, just like a police department does.) Desmond, Papachristos, and Kirk's work lends theoretical support to Rosenfeld's theory, though obviously they're not looking at the same time period. It also has implications for another question raised by 2015's crime numbers: Why did homicides rise so much more than violent crime in general? (According to the FBI, violent crimes increased 3.1 percent last year. Homicides went up 10.8 percent.) Since murder is the most serious crime around—and since it's easier to ignore an assault than to hide a dead body—killings are reported much more consistently than other offenses. It is entirely pos[...]

Trump's Phony Crime Crisis

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Donald Trump, who is modeling himself after Richard Nixon, used the phrase "law and order" seven times during his debate with Hillary Clinton on Monday night. He said blacks and Latinos in America's inner cities "are living in hell because it's so dangerous" and that "some really bad things" are happening in "so many different places." FBI numbers released the day of the debate refute Trump's portrait of a nation besieged by violent criminals. While murders did rise by 11 percent in 2015, that increase was driven mainly by a small number of cities, and the violent crime rate is still much lower than it was in the early 1990s—lower, in fact, than in all but two years since 1971. The homicide rate in 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000, half the rate in 1991. The violent crime rate was 372.6 per 100,000 last year, up 3.1 percent from 2014 but still half the 1991 rate. The property crime rate, which fell 3.4 percent last year, was twice as high in 1991. Of the country's 100 largest cities, 25 saw significant increases in homicides last year, and just seven of them—Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.—accounted for half of the national increase. It's not clear whether violence will continue to rise in those cities, let alone whether it signals a broader trend. Homicides are down so far this year in Baltimore and Washington, for instance, after rising in 2015. While the jump in the murder rate should not be lightly dismissed, it hardly shows that the nation is experiencing "a moment of crisis" caused by "violence in our streets" and "chaos in our communities," as Trump claimed at the Republican National Convention in July, or that "crime is out of control, and rapidly getting worse," as he declared on Twitter around the same time. Judging from the FBI's statistics, crime is less "out of control" than it has been in all but a handful of years during the last half-century. Nor does Trump's favored solution, "stop and frisk," make sense even in the cities where violence is on the rise. Promiscuous use of that tactic, which involves detaining and patting down pedestrians who strike police as suspicious, causes understandable resentment among the young black and Latino men who bear the brunt of it, and there's little evidence that it curtails violent crime. Trump credited the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program with reducing the number of homicides in that city from 2,245 in 1990 to 540 in 2005. Yet homicides continued to fall even after the program was sharply curtailed in 2012, and they are down again so far this year after rising in 2015. Meanwhile, the annual number of stops has fallen by 97 percent from the 2011 peak of more than 685,000. Trump does not seem to care about the reason stop-and-frisk encounters fell so dramatically in New York. They were challenged on constitutional grounds, and a federal judge ultimately concluded that police were routinely violating the Fourth Amendment by stopping and frisking people without reasonable suspicion. Trump nevertheless thinks a similar program would do wonders in violence-plagued Chicago, apparently not realizing police there already tried that. In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois reports, "Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City's stop and frisk practice." As in New York, stops in Chicago overwhelmingly targeted blacks and often lacked a constitutional basis. Stops in Chicago are down sharply this year in response to criticism and new legislation, but that happened after the city's 2015 increase in homicides. Even if the local police tactics Trump advocates were constitutional and effective, he would have no power as president to implement them. When he promises that "safety will be restored" once he takes office, he offers false[...]

Maybe Donald Trump Is the Real Ferguson Effect

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:10:00 -0400

Today the FBI released its report on crime rates in 2015. While property crime continued to decline, violent crime went up 3.1 percent since the previous year, and the most serious violent crime—murder—jumped 10.8 percent. Some of you are probably scratching your head and saying, "Hold on. We've been hearing about a murder spike in 2015 for ages now. Last week we were already talking about preliminary numbers for 2016. We're only getting the 2015 figures now?" Yes, we are. The wheels of justice, or at least of justice-related statistics, turn slowly. The numbers took so long to drip out, in fact, that there is now a well-established formula for writers who want to reassure readers that they shouldn't panic about crime: • Point out that a lot of the increase is coming from a small group of cities. Much of the country actually saw their homicide numbers go down last year, but certain cities—Baltimore and Chicago, most notoriously—saw big leaps. So while the national numbers are climbing, that doesn't mean they represent a nationwide surge. • Note that crime is close to an all-time low. The U.S. has seen a very long decline in both violent and property crime; in 2014, we enjoyed the lowest homicide rate since 1963. Even after that 10.8 percent jump, last year had the sixth lowest homicide rate of the last half-century. A decade ago, 2015's numbers would have seemed shockingly low. • Remind everyone that we don't know whether this is a blip or a new trend. We've seen brief bumps upward in that long decline before; we've seen them spark fears of a new crime wave too. But year-to-year fluctuations are inevitable. It's too early to assume the long decline is over. All three of these arguments are accurate. I've made all three at various moments myself. Given how sensationalized crime coverage can be, it's vital to keep them in mind. But at the risk of reducing the reassurance, I have to point out a little switch you may have missed a third of the way through that list. Point #1 qualifies those rising numbers by noting that the problem is largely a product of a few unlucky cities. Points #2 and 3 then return to talking about the national numbers, local conditions forgotten. If you live in Baltimore, you live in a city where crime is nowhere near an all-time low—indeed, 2015 was the worst year on record for Baltimore homicides. That number has come back down a bit in 2016. (The city's homicide rate has dropped 7 percent compared to this time last year.) But it still has a long way to fall. There's a big debate about whether these stats reflect a "Ferguson effect." The term alludes to the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the intense conflicts that then followed: protests, riots, a heavily militarized police crackdown. Beyond that, what exactly the phrase means is up to the speaker. For the conservative commentator Heather Mac Donald, who popularized the term, the idea is that "the intense agitation against American police departments" produced a "nationwide crime wave." A more moderate version of the concept holds that, even if nothing national is happening, a fear of criticism led many officers to pull back from policing. Either way, the usual aim is to blame the movement against police abuses for the increases in crime. But those aren't the only ways the term is used. A few months ago, the criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, a prominent critic of Mac Donald's position, released a report suggesting that some of the crime increases might be traced to Ferguson after all. This prompted headlines like The Guardian's "Is the 'Ferguson effect' real? Researcher has second thoughts." But once you read past the headlines to the actual articles, it became clear that Rosenfeld was offering a very different theory than Mac Donald's. The "ultimate cause of violence i[...]

Trump Calls for More ‘Stop and Frisk’ of Citizens While Stumping for the Black Vote

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 16:55:00 -0400

Tonight Fox News will be airing a town hall meeting put on by Donald Trump in Cleveland, where he is purportedly attempting to appeal to African-American voters, who are currently swinging toward Hillary Clinton in massive poll numbers.

At one point Trump was asked about black-on-black crime and violence, which was apparently his cue to declare his support for New York City's "stop-and-frisk" program. NBC reporter Alexandra Jaffe posted an image that transcribed what he actually said:


The mayor he's praising is, of course, Rudy Giuliani, who is now part of the Trump circle. Reuters notes that Trump's praise didn't exactly win over at least one minority member of the crowd, given that the technique was used largely on minorities with absolutely no evidence or suspicion they were involved in any sort of crime:

[Geoff] Betts, a distributor of hair products, said he is registered to vote as an independent and that he attended the town hall because he was curious about what Trump would say to try to win over black voters. He said he thinks police unfairly discriminate against black citizens and he is against stop-and-frisk.

"We are victims," he said, adding he walked out of the town hall while it was still under way.

"I just couldn't take it anymore, I had to go," he said. "I don't think that Donald Trump gets it."

Besides being an obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment protections of citizens to be free from unwarranted and unreasonable searches, no "stop and frisk" is not what caused crime to go down in New York City, and abandoning the practice didn't cause crime to go up. As Anthony Fisher noted in August, even the panicky New York Daily News has come around to finally realize that "stop and frisk" was not a tool of effective policing.

It should also go without saying that the president of the United States does not have any sort of authority to permit officers to engage in "stop-and-frisk" policing, not that such a distinction will matter whatsoever in this race.

Read more from Reason on the terrible, ineffective use of "stop-and-frisk" policing (and its end) here.

Report: Driven By Chicago, Murder Rate Will Rise Again, But No 'Wave'

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 14:01:00 -0400

The U.S. murder rate is expected to increase again this year, jumping 13 percent over the previous year, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice released Monday. However, the increase is largely due to the spike in murders in Chicago, while crime overall will only rise slightly, the report said. Just how much violent crime has been rising, and whether it signals the end of the historically low crime rates that have prevailed over the last couple of decades, has become an intense election-year debate. Donald Trump has made fighting violent crime a key part of his stump speech, warning crowds that crime and lawlessness are "out of control." "Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration's rollback of criminal enforcement," Trump said in his July speech to accept the Republican nomination for president. "Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America's fifty largest cities. That's the largest increase in 25 years." However, the Brennan Center, updating its findings from earlier this year on the 30 largest cities in the U.S., found that Los Angeles and Chicago are the major drivers of the increase in violent crime. While the U.S. murder rate is expected to climb by more than 30 percent from 2014 to 2016, half of that increase is due to Chicago alone. "[T]here is not a nationwide crime wave, or rising violence across American cities," the report concluded. "Warnings of a coming crime wave may be provocative, but they are not supported by the evidence." Murder in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., which contributed to the uptick in murders in 2015, is expected to drop this year. Violent crime is expected to rise by 5.5 percent nationally, and crime overall will increase by 1.3 percent, but 12 cities will see a drop in crime, the report said. The only city to see back-to-back increases in murder is Chicago. Criminal justice reform groups have cautioned that it's far too early to declare a trend over a one or two-year shift in crime, and they seized on the latest findings. Ronald Serpas, the former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department and the chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, said in a statement Monday that "irresponsible claims that crime is out of control are not backed up by the facts, as new data analyses show." However, not everyone agreed with the Brennan Center's optimistic view that "the average person in a large urban area is safer walking on the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years." Douglas Berman, a professor at the Moritz College of Law who blogs at Sentencing Law and Policy, noted that the increases could not be discounted: [W]ith all due respect to the work of the fine folks at the Brennan Center, I am troubled that this report seems presented in a way that tries to downplay a number of disconcerting numbers. For starters, a 1+% increase in overall crime is a slight increase, not crime "remaining the same." Moreover, I do not think it fair to assert that crime "remains at an all-time low" just after reporting it is going up a little bit. Similarly, a 5+% increase in violent crime strikes me as a notable increase, not just a "slight" one. And finally, the fact that murder is projected to be up another 13+% in 2016 after a significant spike up in 2015 does, at least in my view, lend credence to at least the claim that the US in now in the midst of a "new nationwide [homicide] crime wave." The FBI is expected to release its nationwide crime data for 2015 on Sept. 26, the morning of the first presidential debate.[...]

Brickbat: Close Enough for Police Work

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Maria Elena Hernandez is out $2,000 to a bail bond company and $1,470 for a mandatory jail medical exam after being arrested by California Department of Insurance officers for insurance fraud. The woman cops were looking for gave her name as Maria Mercedes Hernandez. It took the cops more than two months to figure out they had the wrong woman even though they had a photograph of the woman they were looking for.

More Detroit Public School Principals Have Been Charged With Crimes in 2016 Than All the Charter School CEOs in John Oliver's Rant

Tue, 30 Aug 2016 11:40:00 -0400

During one part of his blistering but ill-informed takedown of charter schools, HBO's John Oliver zeroed in on what he called a track record of financial abuses by charter school executives. After detailing how the CEOs of charter schools in Florida and Pennsylvania had recently been convicted of embezzling school funds to enrich themselves, Oliver stressed that the two incidents were not outliers. "In Philadelphia alone, at least 10 executives or top administrators had pled guilty in the last decade to charges like fraud, misuse of funds or obstruction of justice," he said. The point—or at least of the points—Oliver was trying to make is one that charter school opponents have been pressing for years: Charter schools, even when run as nonprofits, are conduits for greedy capitalists to siphon dollars from the public education system into their own pockets. Oliver is right that there have been some crony capitalists and outright crooks who have been caught using the charter school system to line their own pockets, and those people absolutely deserve to be punished for the damage they've done to public finances and to students' lives. As a matter of policy, though, we have to ask whether those abuses cancel out all the good charter schools have done for kids and for the public education system as a whole (Reason's Nick Gillespie has a detailed look at all that). If you think it does, then you'd have to apply the same standard to the traditional public school system—something that few charter critics seem willing to do. You'd have to consider, for example, that the decade's worth of crimes detailed in Oliver's piece on charter schools are roughly equal to what's happened just this year in the Detroit Public Schools system. In March, federal prosecutors filed charges against 13 administrators in the Detroit Public Schools for taking bribes and kick-backs as part of a $2.7 million scam. For 13 years, a school supplies vending company run by Norman Shy was submitting fraudulent invoices to the DPS, causing the school system to pay for paper, pencils and other goods that were never delivered to the classrooms, prosecutors said. One of the people charged was Clara Flowers, a former principal who is now an assistant superintendent for the entire district. Shy allegedly paid more than $900,000 in the form of checks, cash and prepaid gift cards to the 13 current and former principals who signed off on fraudulent invoices. While the scam was running, there were persistent stories in the Detroit media about schools running low on supplies and teachers being forced to dip into their own paychecks to cover basic classroom needs. That's a noble thing for any educator to do, but it would be nice if they weren't forced to do it because their principals were helping a vendor get rich off taxpayer money "To enrich oneself at the expense of school children is bad enough, but to misapply public funds intended to educate kids in a district where overall needs are so deep, funding sources are so strained, and the need for better education is so crucial, is reprehensible and an insult to those educators working every day to make a better future for our children," said David P. Gelios, special agent in charge of the bure FBI's Detroit Division. As Oliver might put it: "You can say 'that's an isolated incident,' but it isn't." In June, the former director of grant development for the Detroit Public Schools pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges after she was caught pocketing more than $1.2 million that was supposed to be used for tutoring services. Over the course of seven years, Carolyn Starkey-Darden created multiple fake companies and submitted phony invoices that included false test scores[...]

Brickbat: Taking a Bullet

Mon, 29 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A judge sentenced former Delaware County, Indiana, sheriff's deputy Arlan Johnson to six months home confinement after Johnson pleaded guilty to stealing $8,550 in ammunition from the sheriff's office and selling it.