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“Badly Misleading And Dangerous”: About Those Rising Murder Rates: Not So Fast

Are the increases in murders in major cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York City indicative of a broader trend in American cities? That’s the conclusion encouraged by a front-page New York Times article, Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities. It’s a scary story, conjuring images of the high-crime 1990s and fueling speculation about an ostensible “Ferguson Effect” — the unsubstantiated notion that, as The Times put it, “less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals.” This is badly misleading and, at a time when criminal justice reform is making notable bipartisan advances, it’s also dangerous.

Of course, The Times isn’t an academic journal, and its story wasn’t meant to be a rigorous analysis of a big database; it was a glimpse into a current conversation with some new numbers. Still, it’s worth taking a closer look at those numbers.

My own analysis of publically available homicide statistics for a broader selection of cities yields conclusions that are rather different from those stated or implied in the Times article. The differences are related to how cities were selected and the way the data were interpreted.

City Selection

It is not clear how the cities examined by the Times were chosen. The article included ten cities with populations ranging from over 8 million (New York) to just over 317,000 (St. Louis). But there are 60 U.S. cities with estimated 2014 populations in that range. The Times included only four of the 20 most populous U.S. cities. The authors do not explain how those cities were chosen, leaving readers to assume that the findings presented are representative of a broader increase in homicides across U.S. cities. That does not appear to be the case.

In just a few hours, I was able to locate publically available data to support similar analyses for 16 of the 20 most populous cities, and the results, summarized below, suggest a much less pervasive increase than one might infer from the Times analysis.

Interpretation of Statistics

First, not all of the increases cited by the Times are statistically reliable; that is, some of them are small increases, or are based on small numbers of cases, such that the observed increases could have occurred by chance alone. Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data, only three experienced statistically reliable increases. Only one of the top-20 cities included in the Times’ sample, Chicago, experienced an increase that was statistically significant. Five of the smaller cities included by the Times did experience statistically reliable increases, but what of the other 35 cities with populations in that range?

Even where a statistically reliable increase has been experienced, a single year-to-year increase does not necessarily imply a meaningful trend. Often, such changes fall within the range of normal year-to-year fluctuations. For example, I was able to obtain historical data on year-to-year changes in homicide counts for Chicago, the only top-20 city in the Times analysis that had a statistically significant increase from 2014 to 2015. From 2009 to 2010, homicides increased 5.1 percent. The next year, however, there was a 13.1 percent decrease. The year after that, a 28.5 percent increase, and then decreases of 16.4 and 3.4 percent in 2013 and 2014, before homicides climbed back up 11.3 percent in 2015. Looked at over a longer time period, the numbers do not demonstrate a stable trend.

Thus, neither the Times analysis nor my own yields compelling evidence that there has been a pervasive increase in homicides that is substantively meaningful. It seems premature to be discussing broad explanations and long-term solutions for what may not be a broad or long-term phenomenon. And yet the spike in a few cities has already prompted speculation that the numbers reflect the increased availability of guns, or the demoralization of police.

Of course, the lack of compelling evidence of a broad-based increase does not prove that no such increase is occurring. Trends in homicide rates (and crime rates generally) are extremely important topics that warrant further investigation. But before we begin to speculate about causes and potential remedies, we need a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and location of increases in homicide rates that actually depart from normal fluctuations. This suggests a need for analyses that span several years, for as many medium- and large-sized jurisdictions as possible. It would also be useful to undertake such analyses for related crimes, such as non-fatal shootings, non-fatal stabbings, and aggravated assaults, since the difference between those and homicides may often be a matter of random luck, the type of weapon readily available, or the distance to the nearest emergency room.

Only then will we be in a position to undertake rigorous efforts to explain the problem and explore potential remedies.

 

By: Bruce Frederick, Senior Research Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice, The Marshall Project, Brennan Center for Justice, September 4, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Homocide, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Battle Cry Among Some In The Academy”: My Police Academy Teaches The ‘War On Cops’ Myth

The trumpets of the thin blue line and right-wing news sources have been sounding, piping out warnings of a “War on Police.” You may have heard it on talk radio, seen it on Fox News or even read it in the New York Post, but now the rhetoric of charlatans has reached me in class at my police academy in a Northern red state.

The War on Cops is a grossly inaccurate response to recent police killings which are on track for another year that will rival the safest on record. Gunfire deaths by police officers are down 27 percent this year, according to the Officer Down memorial page, and police killings in general are at a 20-year low, given current numbers for 2015. Police deaths in Barack Obama’s presidency are lower than the past four administrations, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Not a single iota of evidence supports a War on Police, but it has become a battle cry among some in the academy.

Over 80 percent of police departments in the United States are facing issues with low recruitment numbers. As an Iraq War veteran I sought to solidify my chance of employment working in law enforcement by attending a local police academy. I enjoyed serving my country as military police and will do such now as a sworn police officer back home.

What are they telling us in a post-Michael Brown academy? The culture of police brutality is infrequently addressed, but what is continually mentioned is the notion that there is a War on Police. By whom? Depends on whom you ask.

Some instructors blame the Obama administration, which has provided extra funding to police departments to hire Iraq War veterans such as myself. Others, citing news organizations and politicians, try to pin it on the Black Lives Matter movement.

How are they attempting to substantiate this? By highlighting a few high-profile police killings in the past few months, especially the tragic, execution-style death of a Texas sheriff at a gas station. Many activists tried to tie the accused murderer, Shannon Miles, to the Black Lives Matter movement in the immediate aftermath as a motive. He had no ties to the movement.

Miles, however, had been previously declared mentally incompetent.

“The Obama administration and Eric Holder are undermining the police. We have officers dying left and right and he’s dicking off in Alaska,” says one of my instructors, referring to the president’s trip to Alaska last week.

Our instructor is likely trying to warn us to take heed of the dangers of the job, and not expect to be thanked by politicians for doing it. But he has made the government and the people we’re meant to serve out to be boogeymen in the process.

Bad guys have been shooting cops for years, but this is neither a new nor growing phenomenon. A whole generation has grown up knowing the phrase “fuck the police” as a song lyric, a response to the mass incarceration culture spawned from a War on Drugs that numbers show disproportionately and unfairly targets black Americans.

I understand as a law enforcement professional—and as someone capable of fairly reading mountains of data—that the Drug War has been unfairly used as a tool of oppression against the black community. It is why the American public overall has shown they have less confidence in police in recent times.

But there is no War on Police. This Us vs. Them mentality still prevails even in fresh academy cadets. Perhaps some of these people will become future jackbooted, truncheon-wielding oppressors. Or perhaps they will encounter the reality that betrays the fear they are taught.

 

By: Clayton Jenkins, writing under a pseudonym, is an Iraq War veteran training to become a Police Officer; The Daily Beast, September 14, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Deaths, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Racism, Violence And The Politics Of Resentment”: It Shouldn’t Be Hard To Recognize Two Truths

We have a choice to make.

We can look at violence and racism as scourges that all of us must join together to fight. Or we can turn the issues of crime and policing into fodder for racial and political division.

In principle, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize two truths.

Too many young African Americans have been killed in confrontations with police when lethal force should not have been used. We should mourn their deaths and demand justice. Black Lives Matter turned into a social movement because there is legitimate anger over the reality that — to be very personal about it — I do not have to worry about my son being shot by the police in the way an African American parent does.

At the same time, too many of our police officers are killed while doing their jobs. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 1,466 men and women in law enforcement died in the line of duty over the past decade. We should mourn their deaths, appreciate the dangers they face and honor their courage.

Now I’ll admit: It’s easy for me to type these words on a computer screen. Circumstances are more complicated for those on either side of confrontations over the obligations of our police officers. Things get said (or, often, shouted) that call forth a reaction from the other side. A few demonstrators can scream vile slogans that can be used to taint a whole movement. Rage escalates.

Moreover, there are substantive disagreements over what needs to be done. Those trying to stop unjust police killings want to establish new rules and practices that many rank-and-file officers resist, arguing that the various measures could prevent them from doing their jobs. This resistance, in turn, only heightens mistrust of the police among their critics.

But politicians and, yes, even political commentators have an obligation: to try to make things better, not worse. There is always a choice between the politics of resentment and the politics of remedy. Resentment is easier.

And so it was this week that the murder of Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth inspired Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to say on Monday: “Whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all.” For good measure, the next day, Cruz condemned President Obama’s “silence” on Goforth’s murder.

The problem? For starters, Obama was not silent. He called the slain officer’s widow on Monday and issued a statement saying he had told Kathleen Goforth “that Michelle and I would keep her and her family in our prayers. I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that the police show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety.” Obama has made statements of this sort over and over. Vilification this is not.

Over at Fox News, the campaign against Black Lives Matter has become fierce. Bill O’Reilly called the organization a “hate group” and declared: “I’m going to put them out of business.”

Let’s take five steps back. The movement for police reform was not the invention of some leftist claque. It was a response to real and genuinely tragic events. Silencing protesters won’t make anything better.

And some potential solutions don’t even make the political agenda. The easy availability of guns on U.S. streets is a threat to the police and to African Americans in our most violent neighborhoods. Why are those who seek reasonable gun regulations regularly blocked by interests far more powerful than those who demonstrate in our streets?

On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy — who himself would be fatally shot exactly two months later — said this to the Cleveland City Club:

“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded.”

How much more pain must we endure before we recognize that these words are still true?

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 2, 2015

September 5, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Law Enforcement, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up”: GOP Candidates Blame Obama For Police Shootings, Cite No Evidence

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch yesterday “strongly condemned shootings of law enforcement officers in Texas and Illinois and issued an unequivocal message of support for police.” The comments came on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) arguing that “the entire Obama administration” has shown “hostility [towards] law enforcement.”

Cruz, of course, backed up his argument by pointing to … nothing. Soon after, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) appeared on Fox News and said the White House’s support for law enforcement has been “ambiguous,” which contributes to violence and lawlessness. To support the contention, the scandal-plagued Republican also pointed to … nothing.

Taking an even less subtle approach, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) published a piece on a far-right blog yesterday, reflecting on “a serious problem.”

In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.

Look, eventually we’re going to reach a put-up-or-shut-up moment. We talked yesterday about how offensive it is when politicians exploit the deaths of police officers for partisan gain, but as the number of GOP candidates connecting the White House to the slayings grows, it becomes all the more important for Republican officials to do one specific thing:

Back up their ugly claims with some shred of proof.

Of course, at this point, I can imagine some conservative readers yelling at their computer screens. “Oh yeah, smart guy? What about you? Where’s your evidence that the president has offered unambiguous support for law enforcement?”

It’s not an unreasonable point, but it’s also surprisingly easy to spend a little time online and find all kinds of examples. About a month ago, Obama told the NAACP’s annual convention, “Our communities are safer thanks to brave police officers and hard-working prosecutors who put those violent criminals in jail.” In May, he said, “To be a police officer takes a special kind of courage…. It takes a special kind of courage to run towards danger, to be a person that residents turn to when they’re most desperate.”

Here was the president in May at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service:

“Your jobs are inherently dangerous. The reminders are too common. Just a few days ago, two police officers were killed in the line of duty in Mississippi. A week before that, an officer was killed in the line of duty in Queens. A few months before that, two of his fellow officers in the NYPD were killed as well.  We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty that you’ve chosen. We can offer you the support you need to be safer. We can make the communities you care about and protect safer as well. We can make sure that you have the resources you need to do your job. We can do everything we have to do to combat the poverty that plagues too many communities in which you have to serve.  We can work harder, as a nation, to heal the rifts that still exist in some places between law enforcement and the people you risk your lives to protect. 

 “We owe it to all of you who wear the badge with honor. And we owe it to your fellow officers who gave their last full measure of devotion.  Most of all, we can say thank you. We can say we appreciate you and we’re grateful for the work that you do each and every day. And we can thank the families who bear the burden alongside you.”

In March, reflecting on the crisis in Ferguson, Obama said, “The overwhelming number of law enforcement officers have a really hard, dangerous job, and they do it well and they do it fairly, and they do it heroically. And I strongly believe that. And the overwhelming majority of police departments across the country are really thinking hard about how do we make sure that we are protecting and serving everybody equally. And we need to honor those folks, and we need to respect them, and not just assume that they’ve got ill will or they’re doing a bad job.”

Even in this year’s State of the Union address, the president added, “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.  And surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

The list goes on and on. There are so many examples like these – the ones noted above are just from 2015 – spanning Obama’s entire presidency. Over and over again, he’s voiced support and gratitude towards Americans in law enforcement.

Ted Cruz said this week that the police feel under “assault from the president,” which the far-right senator considers “fundamentally wrong.”

It is fundamentally wrong, but not for the reasons Cruz thinks.

The underlying allegation is no mild rebuke. Republican officials, some seeking the nation’s highest office, are publicly accusing the president of the United States, not only of hostility towards law enforcement, but also of contributing to a dynamic in which officers are being killed. That’s a serious accusation, which requires substantiation.

If GOP officials can’t back it up, they ought to move on to some other kind of nonsense.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Officers, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“We Deserve Good Policing”: Legal Or Not, ‘Warrior Policing Mentality’ Leads To Deadly Outcomes

When I first heard about the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland in Texas after she apparently tried to get out of the way of a police vehicle and failed to signal a lane change, I immediately thought of the University of South Carolina law professor (and ex-cop) Seth Stoughton’s distinction between the “warrior” and “guardian” models of policing, as explained here at TMS a while back.

So I was pleased to see that TPM recruited Stoughton to watch the daschcam video of the encounter between Texas trooper Brian Encinia and Bland and offer his commentary.

He concludes that Encinio did nothing illegal–but also avoided several opportunities to de-escalate the situation, pretty clearly because he thought it was important to have Bland acknowledge his authority. And so an encounter that might have been brief and harmless–it seems Encinio intended to give Bland a mere warning until she started acting uppity–turned confrontational, violent, and eventually, for Bland, lethal.

Concludes Stoughton:

When Encinia ordered Bland to exit her vehicle, she refused. “I don’t have to step out of my car.” Rather than handling the remainder of the stop with her sitting in the car, or explaining why he wanted her to step out of the car, or attempting to obtain her cooperation, or calmly explaining the law, Encinia simply invoked his legal authority, shouting at one point, “I gave you a lawful order.” He was right. It was lawful. And when Bland did not obey, she was refusing a lawful order, a crime under Texas law. Her arrest, like the confrontations that led up to it, may have been lawful, but it was entirely avoidable had Encinia chosen a different approach.

We all deserve more than legal policing. We deserve good policing.

Now it’s entirely possible Encinio was strictly following his training, which, as Stoughton has noted in the past, is often based on the “warrior model” notion that every citizen is a potential cop-killer and every encounter a potential shoot-out, making it incumbent on the officer to “stay in charge” from the first moment. But if this isn’t a situation where bad policing can be blamed on a “bad cop,” it’s all the more reason to examine our policies to make sure certain Americans don’t have to assume–as Sandra Bland seemed to fear, accurately–that minor traffic offenses can turn deadly.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 24, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Shootings, Sandra Bland | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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