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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

“Crime, Fear, And The Republicans”: Moving Toward The Traditional Toxic Brew Of Race, Ethnicity And White Middle Class Insecurity

From Nixon to Reagan to the first President Bush, Republican campaigns were run like campaigns for sheriff. Nixon ran against unprecedented lawlessness and promised law and order to the silent majority. Reagan remained consistent in his view that “the jungle is waiting to take over. The man with the badge holds it back.” And George H.W. Bush rode the menacing image of Willie Horton, the furloughed rapist, to victory over Michael Dukakis. Then, in 1992, Bill Clinton took time out from his chaotic comeback in New Hampshire to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally disabled man who had shot out most of his frontal lobe.

Clinton not only took the crime monkey off the back of the Democratic party, he also enacted draconian legislation that has been a key driver in making the United States by far the most heavily incarcerated society in the world: 2.2 million men and women behind bars, disproportionately African-American, Latino, addicted and mentally ill, at an estimated annual cost of $73 billion. Yet over the last quarter century, violent crime rates have been falling, dramatically.

Of course, it can be argued that the decline is the product of mass incarceration, but a recent study by the Brennan Center shows that the effect of increased incarceration on crime rates since 1990 has been limited, and has been non-existent since 2000. Although the Times recently reported “a startling rise in murders after years of declines,” Bruce Frederick, analyzing the statistics for the Marshall Project, found that only 3 of 20 cities have a “statistically reliable increase” in homicide rates.

In an age of hemorrhaging costs and declining crime, fiscally responsible Republicans have begun to make common cause with Democrats to start to shrink the prison-industrial complex. The Brennan Center recently published a collection of essays entitled “Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice Reform.” In his contribution, Rand Paul called for investigation of racial disparities in sentencing and argued against imprisonment for non-violent drug offenders, who make up the largest single group behind bars. Ted Cruz decried mandatory minimum sentences, which vests too much power in prosecutors. Marco Rubio declared there were too many federal crimes that were too poorly defined, and too poorly disclosed. Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee all called for compassion for drug offenders and showed interest in drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration.

Then along came Trump, blowing the old Republican dog whistle on race and crime. Ronald Reagan’s “jungle” was encroaching again, this time from the south. Mexicans are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Doubling down when the statistics showed otherwise, Trump said “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” but reiterated that Mexicans coming here “are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” His website section on issues does not address crime, or indeed any other issue, except one — immigration.

The conservative National Review sees the potential here for a Republican renaissance on fear of crime. In a recent paean to Nixonian nostalgia, “Revive Law and Order Conservatism,” Stephen Eide writes, “So long as the New York Times and anti-cop activist groups continue with their provocations, we can be reasonably confident that more violent unrest is to come. The spectacle of chaos descending on cities long dominated by Democrats obviously plays to the GOP’s advantage.”

He decries conservative attitudes on crime as “notably softer now than they have been in many decades.” Acknowledging that “New York City’s murders hit a 50-year low,” he observes, “there were still more than three times as many as in London, which has about the same population.” Surely that could have nothing to do with robust Second Amendment rights, another cornerstone of the Republican platform. Eide counsels Republicans that a key to victory in 2016 is to “emphasize that we still have a serious crime problem.”

Republican candidates are taking note. On Hot Air, a conservative web site, Scott Walker properly lamented a recent spate of tragic police shootings but blamed them on President Obama. “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.” And Chris Christie threw Bill de Blasio under the bus as well, “It’s the liberal policies in [New York] that have led to the lawlessness that’s been encouraged by the president of the United States,” he said. “And I’m telling you, people in this country are getting more and more fed up.”

Republicans are increasingly positioning the issue as a rift between Black Lives Matter and police unions, between Sanctuary Cities and thousand mile anti-rapist walls. The constructive discourse in recent months about the crushing costs of incarceration, the waste of mandatory minimum sentences, the twin crises of mental health and addiction in prison, the endless cost and delay in enforcing the death penalty has all but ended. In its place, Republicans are moving toward the traditional toxic brew of race, ethnicity, white middle class insecurity and panic about crime.

Get ready for the return of Willie Horton.

 

By: Eric Lewis, Chairman of Reprieve US, a Human Rights Organization; The Marshall Project, Brennan Center for Justice, September 15, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Criminal Justice Reform, GOP Presidential Candidates, Race and Ethnicity, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Our Current Investments In Justice System Are Unwise”: Criminal Justice Reform Ignores Victims Of Crime. That Makes No Sense

When policymakers think of the people who comprise the victims’ rights movement, young people of color from low-income communities may not be the first group that leaps to mind. But the facts suggest these survivors should be.

My organization conducted two years of research and found that one in five Californians experience crime – but its impact is concentrated and unequal. The majority of crime victims live in lower-income communities and repeat victimization is even more concentrated (echoing research on victimization in the entire US). When it comes to violent crime, those most likely to be repeatedly victimized are young people of color, especially African-American and Latino males.

Two out of three crime survivors reported being victimized more than once in the last five years. Many repeat victims have long histories of suffering multiple types of crimes, such as sexual exploitation, abuse or community violence. Worse still, only a small number of survivors receive any help, despite often experiencing severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of crime.

Young people of color from low-income communities bear an unconscionably disproportionate burden of violence and crime – and are victimized at staggering rates while also the least likely to get help to recover from trauma. Most frequently victimized, least often supported. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

Beyond lacking access to recovery support, most crime victims also disagree with the direction criminal justice policymaking has taken over the last few decades of prison expansion. While the traditional approach to victims’ rights has focused on toughening punishments for people convicted of crime and strengthening the rights of victims during criminal proceedings, our research shows that most survivors of crime think that our current investments in justice system are unwise. Two out of three California victims surveyed believe bloated prisons either make inmates better at committing crimes or have no impact on crime at all. Most survivors want greater investments into rehabilitation, mental health treatment and prevention over bigger prisons and jails.

Listening to crime victims can tell us a lot how we should reform our safety and justice systems. We must embrace survivors as unexpected advocates for justice reform. It’s time to stop pretending that building more prisons protects survivors – it doesn’t.

Procedural rights for victims are critical, and accountability for people who commit crime is an essential component of an effective criminal justice system. Yet, many victims never even get to a courtroom. National statistics reveal that over half of violent crime goes unreported, eliminating any possibility of a prosecution. And even when violent crimes are reported, less than half result in an arrest. So focusing only on criminal proceedings leaves out the experiences and needs of the majority of crime survivors.

Packed prisons and extreme sentencing for the fraction of crimes that result in a conviction also depletes the very resources needed to improve victim protection and community safety. We need to rethink what investments can serve and protect as many victims as possible, including the communities most impacted by crime. We should pay special attention to the needs of those at greatest risk of being repeatedly victimized, such as youth of color.

When victims go without trauma recovery support, they risk being victimized again and falling through the cracks in life: dropping out of school, suffering health problems, self-medicating to the point of addiction and even turning to crime themselves.

David Guizar knows this well: growing up in South Central Los Angeles, his older brother – and father figure – was shot and killed when David was 10. He never learned what happened, nor did his family learn about or access any services that exist for survivors of violent crime.

David felt lost after his was family broken, and he filled the void with alcohol and drugs for decades, finally getting sober in 2006. Then, in 2012, another one of David’s brothers was killed when a stranger tried to enter a family wedding.

“After our family’s losses, we never heard about existing supports for survivors of crime, which would have made a big difference in our ability to recover,” said Guizar. “California clearly has the money – the state spends $10 billion per year on a prison system to respond to crime – but I and other survivors want lawmakers to know that we can invest these resources in smarter ways to help survivors both recover from and prevent crime.”

Instead of continuing to create harsh penalties that, in turn, create more prisons as our response to crime, we should invest in mental health care and trauma-informed services for anyone traumatized by violence, as well as safe places to go when crisis erupts, family support programs and economic recovery assistance for victims. We also need to improve the relationship between police, prosecutors and the communities they serve, so that victims trust – and can safely cooperate with – law enforcement to solve more crimes.

Despite the prevalence of pro-victim rhetoric during the prison-building era, few policymakers have asked themselves who experiences crime, who is most vulnerable to repeat crime or what survivors need to recover and avoid future harm. Most crime victims have never been at the center of attention of criminal justice policies, nor have their experiences and needs been considered as penal codes and prison populations mushroomed over the past three decades.

But the evidence suggests that when you ask the people most affected, survivors are less interested in spending tax dollars to fill more prisons and instead want to prioritize investments that will actually prevent crime in the first place. It is time for policymakers to finally listen – and put the perspectives of those most vulnerable to harm at the center of policies.

 

By: Lenore Anderson, The Guardian, May 21, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Crime Victims, Criminal Justice System, Mental Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hey, America… All Of You, C’mon Down”: Hurry On Down To Florida Before South Beach Is Underwater

“I have a message today to the people of New York, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania and others: Move to Florida!”

Such was the sunny welcome put forth by Gov. Rick Scott at his second inaugural last week in Tallahassee, FL.

Quit your jobs, pack up your families and get down here as fast as you can. Twenty million people aren’t enough — Florida needs more!

I was thinking the same thing the other day on I-95, when I glanced in the rearview mirror and actually saw about eight feet of air between my bumper and the tanker truck behind me.

The first thing that sprang to mind was: Hey, another car could fit in there!

Not a regular-sized car, true, but maybe one of those adorable little Smart cars that you sometimes see on the streets of Manhattan or Chicago. It was a revelation.

Probably 99 out of 100 drivers in Florida would say our traffic already sucks, with a little imagination and no concern for the quality of life, there’s always room for more.

So you go, Gov. Scott! Keep on spreading the word.

The thought again popped into my head as I passed a middle school where every classroom has about 30 students, which most teachers will tell you are too many.

Know what? That school didn’t seem so crowded, at least from the outside.

The county had trucked in rows of windowless portable classrooms and painted them the same earthtone color as the main school building, so they looked hardly anything like warehouse storage.

Also, there was plenty of space for more portables at the east end of the soccer field.

So, everybody, listen to Gov. Scott! Bring your kids down to Florida and, by God, we’ll find a way to shoehorn the little imps into one of our schools.

And don’t be spooked by the fact that we spend less per pupil on education than 47 other states, because we make up for it in so many other ways.

Low taxes, for example. The governor loves to brag about Florida’s low taxes.

You might think it’s a sore subject among Floridians, this being the time of year when many of us are staring at our property-tax bills and wondering why they keep going up, up, up.

It’s because irresponsibly jamming so many humans together requires somebody (and it’s never the developers!) to pay for the roads, bridges, sewers, fire stations, extra police officers and so on. That somebody who pays is us.

So what’s Gov. Scott really talking about when he says our state has low taxes?

Get ready, future Floridans! Here’s the big celebrated tax break that the governor and the Legislature gave to all residents last year:

They cut the cost of our vehicle license tags by an average of $25. That’s not a typo, folks. Twenty-five whole buckeroos.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with all of it. Treasury bonds? High-cap stocks?

If a double-digit cut in auto-tag fees isn’t enough to bring caravans of U-Hauls streaming into the Sunshine State, then I don’t know what will.

The other morning I was driving through the Everglades thinking: Isn’t this swamp water finally clean enough? Really, how much urban runoff could a few million more people possibly dump?

We’ve probably got enough fish, wildlife and wading birds to last one more generation. What we really need are more subdivisions full of humans flushing toilets.

Aside from water shortages, saltwater intrusion, sink holes, red tides and the ludicrous cost of windstorm insurance, one thing that might keep newcomers away is fear.

Please don’t judge by what you read in the papers or see on TV, or by the latest FBI stats, which show Florida has more violent crimes per capita than New York, Illinois, California or Pennsylvania — all the places Gov. Scott is urging people to flee.

True, all types of criminals love it down here because of the climate. But while our prisons have been wretchedly overcrowded, additional cell space has become available under Scott’s administration due to a surge of untimely (and unexplained) inmate deaths.

So don’t be scared of Florida. Hurry on down before South Beach is underwater. We’re desperate for more people. We love sitting in traffic. We love standing in line.

Promised the governor: “Over the next four years, I will be traveling to your states personally, to recruit you here.”

Go get ‘em, you crazy Martian goofball!

Lie all you want about low taxes, and don’t say a word about the pythons.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Florida, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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