Recently in Policing Category

Heather Mac Donald is, as usual, here to set the record straight in a commentary featured by the Marshall Project titled Black and Unarmed: Behind the Numbers.  In it, she examines the Washington Post's data on fatal police shootings compiled over the last year, warning that some people are taking the Post's recently completed 2015 database as "evidence that the police are gunning down unarmed blacks out of implicit bias."  This assumption, based on data that is significantly lacking in facts and detail, doesn't tell the whole story.

Such misleading data is, no doubt, fueling the rage of the Black Lives Matter protest movement by omitting the many critical specifics behind the data that would surely silence its self-created pandemonium.  The WaPo's data fails to "convey highly-charged policing situations" and misinforms its readers by failing to recognize that many of the cases "are more complicated and morally ambiguous than a simple 'unarmed' classification would lead the reader to believe."

The facts speak for themselves:  All cops are not racists.  Fatal shooting incidents involving unarmed black men are very, very rarely the result of racial bias.  If one comes away from this piece continuing to maintain that belief, while persisting to ignore the routine civilian violence claiming black lives on a daily basis across the U.S., then they are not advocating for truth, but rather, a false narrative.

An Avoidable Tragedy

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"Activists," academics, and others in the "I'm-smarter-than-you-are" crowd tell us that when the cops are routinely denounced as thugs, when a big city mayor says that rioters throwing bricks and bottles at them  must be given "space to destroy," and when that same city's state's attorney holds a political rally news conference at which she lifts murder charges against the police like a head on a pole, there will be no effect on crime.

The "Ferguson Effect" Is Real

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For those of you who would rather watch Heather Mac Donald than read her, Mary Kissel of WSJ has this video interview.
...was the line handed out by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  And I suppose that's true, at least until one looks at the data, which USA Today did in this story, titled, "Providence one of many US police forces feeling Ferguson aftershocks."  It notes:

In the past 16 months, the so-called "Ferguson Effect" has become a staple in the American vernacular. Yet very few agree on what exactly that means and what it may portend for the future relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Actually, we have seen a relationship.  Murder is spiking across the country after more than two decades of sharp decline.  If people want to convince themselves that the incidence of murder has nothing to do with the frequency and aggressiveness of police work, they are free to do so  --  and, for political ends, they will.

In Chicago, now roiled by the police shooting of a black teenager, Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested earlier this year that the national backlash against allegations of police brutality following Ferguson had caused police to disengage, resulting in recent spikes in violent crime. FBI Director James Comey drew the ire of the White House in October when, like Emanuel, he proposed that recent surges in violence may be explained by "a chill wind that has blown through law enforcement.'' Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, meanwhile, recently lamented that local law enforcement had all but been abandoned by the federal government, which has mounted more than 20 investigations of local police operations since 2009, with the most critical examination prompted by the shooting of black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson.

My friend and former colleague Chuck Rosenberg, now head of the DEA, has said the same thing.

The debate about whether there is a Ferguson Effect is just so much politically-engineered hot air.  When important power centers like the White House, DOJ's Civil Rights Division, and Al Sharpton's National Action Network are relentlessly portraying cops as racist bullies, if not Nazis, the police are going to feel the intimidation that's intended for them.  This is not rocket science.

What To Do When Murder Is Spiking?

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The thing to do is reduce the police force to its smallest size in a decade.

This is the upside-down thinking of the nation's capital, Washington, DC.  The Washington Post has the story:

The number of D.C. police officers in the District has fallen below 3,800, its lowest level in a decade, breaking a threshold that top District officials once warned would be dangerously thin in a city that continues to grow.

This a perfect match to the other sort of thinking going on in DC, to wit, that the thing to do when heroin usage and overdose deaths are spiking is to reduce the penalties for heroin dealers.  That, however (plus reducing penalties for other wonderful drugs like meth), is the main thing sentencing reform, and particularly the SRCA, is about.

If there is some definition for this other than insanity, I'd love to hear it.

P.S.  As you will see in the Post story, the increase in the DC murder rate since 2012 has been shocking.  There were 13.9 murder victims per 100,000 population in 2012, compared to 23.7 today.  That is a 70% increase in three years.  As Kent has noted, perhaps the Brennan Center and other pro-criminal groups will be able to tell us why this just isn't all that bad.
Here's a follow-up on my Boxing Day post.  That big city murder increase dismissed as a mere 11% in a single year in the Brennan Center's preliminary figures turns out to be 14.6% in the final figures, according to this press release.  That is nearly one in seven.  And what could cause this?

The preliminary report examined five cities with particularly high murder rates -- Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and St. Louis -- and found these cities also had significantly lower incomes, higher poverty rates, higher unemployment, and falling populations than the national average.
"There are none so blind as those who will not see."  These are also cities where the police are under severe attack.

Spinning the Murder Surge

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Heather MacDonald has this op-ed in the WSJ exposing the Brennan Center's attempts to paper over the rise in murders and the "Ferguson effect."  An 11% rise in homicides in a single year is a horrifying spike, but MacDonald notes how the Brennan Center soft-pedals it, and several media outlets join in a subjective classification of the rise as "slight" etc. without giving their readers the benefit of the actual number.

The puzzle is why these progressives are so intent on denying that such depolicing is occurring and that it is affecting public safety.

   The answer lies in the enduring commitment of antipolice progressives to the "root causes" theory of crime. The Brennan Center study closes by hypothesizing that lower incomes, higher poverty rates, falling populations and high unemployment are driving the rising murder rates in Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans and St. Louis. But those aspects of urban life haven't dramatically worsened over the past year and a half. What has changed is the climate for law enforcement.
The fact that spin from an ideologically driven organization like the Brennan Center has gotten as much credence as it has in the press is a symptom of a major problem in American society.  There is a gross imbalance in the number and funding of nonprofit organizations interested in crime issues.  The Manhattan Institute (where MacDonald works) and CJLF are outnumbered and outspent by the Brennan Center, the Marshall Project, the Urban Institute, the Pew organizations, the Death Penalty Information Center, and on and on.  [Hint:  If an organization is named for one of the two most pro-criminal Supreme Court Justices in American history, it is not a neutral source of information.]  The capacity of these organizations to pump out reports that seem to support the leftist agenda but do not hold up to examination exceeds the capacity of organizations of contrary viewpoints to make and publicize the examinations.

In addition, both the press and academia are populated by people whose spectrum of viewpoints is shifted at least one sigma left of the American median, if not two.  Assertions that fit with the general set of assumptions of the left simply do not get as much scrutiny as those that run contrary to those assumptions.

This combination of factors produces a dangerous situation where spin goes insufficiently challenged.  If such spin leads to wrong policies in matters of life and death, the potential consequences are grave indeed.

Minorities' Trust in Police Nearly Doubles

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I am not necessarily an optimist by nature, but news today from Gallup put a smile on my face.  For the same reason, it will doubtless bring frowns to those who've been insisting that, in order to gain the confidence of minorities, the police must bow their heads in shame and quit arresting crooks.  This is how today's Gallup story leads off:

After dipping to 48% in 2014 amid a national firestorm over police treatment of young black men, the rating Americans give the honesty and ethical standards of police has rebounded to 56%. This is more consistent with the 54% to 58% ratings Gallup found between 2010 and 2013....Four in 10 nonwhites now rate the ethical standards of police as very high or high -- a sharp increase from the 23% who held this view in 2014.

This is particularly encouraging because the anti-police propaganda has, if anything, accelerated in 2015 with, for example, the continuing, aggressive mendacity of the Black Lives Matter movement, as chronicled here.

I might add that trust in police is two and a half times the trust in lawyers, which, at 21%, might hopefully make attorneys more open to re-examining their "client-always-first, truth-always-second" ethos.  With that as their ethical "standard," how much trust do they think they deserve?

Finally, I am grateful that Gallup did not poll trust in law professors.

UPDATE: I wrote this before I saw Kent's post, but I'm leaving it up because it takes a slightly different slant. I also do not entirely agree with Kent's observation about trust in lawyers not being as bad as you might think.   When only one in five people thinks well of the legal profession, what you have is a profession that needs to change the way it does business. 
The recent spate of police-bashing apparently has not made a long-term impact on Americans' opinions of police officers.  Lydia Saad has this report for Gallup with the above title:

After dipping to 48% in 2014 amid a national firestorm over police treatment of young black men, the rating Americans give the honesty and ethical standards of police has rebounded to 56%. This is more consistent with the 54% to 58% ratings Gallup found between 2010 and 2013.

Four in 10 nonwhites now rate the ethical standards of police as very high or high -- a sharp increase from the 23% who held this view in 2014. A steep drop in nonwhites' ratings of the police in 2014 was the sole cause of the profession's overall ratings dip last year. While nonwhites' attitudes have not rebounded to their pre-2014 levels, the slight increase in whites' positive views of the police this year, from 59% to 64%, coupled with the rise in nonwhites' ratings, pushes the overall percentage back to the "normal" range seen in recent years.
Gallup's long-term trend graph shows that the 56% number is higher than at any time in the first 23 years they asked the question, 1977-2000.  This opinion of the police started off a dismal 37% in 1977, climbed slowly with a couple setbacks until 2000, then spiked after 9/11.

Among the professions, nurses are still tops in the public's ethics esteem.  Lawyers don't do as badly as you might think, a tad below the middle.

How Often Do the Police Use Force?

To watch the media's endless replay of bodycam or smart phone recordings, you would think the police get up in the morning eager to see who they can bully, slug, menace, grab, punch, push, throw to the ground or otherwise brutalize.  I recall one episode recently in which a school security officer In Columbia, SC, was shown, in the words of Reason Magazine, as he "tackled a girl who was sitting in her desk, dragged her across the room, pinned her, and arrested her."  The Reason article included a tape of the episode, which was re-played in the accompanying news segment not fewer than eighteen times.

Q:  Why does it get re-played eighteen times?

A:  To create the impression that this kind of thing goes on endlessly.

Q:  How often does it actually go on, when we look at data rather than anecdote?

A:  Next to never.

Q:  How do we know that?

A:  From this DOJ study, quietly released three weeks ago, which states, inter alia, "[A]n annual average of 44 million U.S. residents age 16 or older had one or more face-to-face contacts with police from 2002 to 2011, and an estimated 1.6 percent experienced the threat or use of nonfatal force during the most recent contact."

Or put differently, 98.4% did not.  And this tracks the experience (1) as perceived unfiltered by the citizen, not as understood by the officer, and (2) it includes threats (i.e., words) in addition to actual force.

I regret to report that this sort of grossly misleading use of anecdote has become routine in public debate.

So Much for the FBI's Independence

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As Kent and I have noted, FBI Director Jim Comey has said that a "chill wind" of acerbic and visceral criticism of the police has very likely been a factor in less aggressive police work, coincident (to say the least) with a spike in murder and other violent crime over the last several months.

The White House, which is indebted up to its ears to Al Sharpton's and similar liberal get-out-the-vote organizations, was having none of it.  Mr. Comey is not toeing the party line. This will not do. Thus, as the New York Times reports, in a little noticed item (emphasis added):

White House officials were irritated as they saw it as an effort to undermine their criminal justice reform efforts. They later said publicly that there was no evidence to back up Mr. Comey's claim about the rise in violence. On Thursday, the president met with Mr. Comey in the Oval Office to discuss his views. The White House declined to describe the conversation.

Just as liberals used to believe in withholding judgment until due process had had its chance (compare, e.g., their presumptive conviction-in-the-press of Officer Darren Wilson for the supposed racist murder of Michael Brown), they also used to believe that the White House should keep hands off the FBI, lest political influence seep into areas where it has no place  --  and, indeed, where the whiff of tyranny is not far behind (compare, e.g., anything written about Richard Nixon).

Yes, well, that was then.

The WSJ has reprinted an excerpt from a speech by FBI Director James Comey on October 23.  The whole speech is on the FBI site and not copyrighted, so I will just copy the whole excerpt here.

Part of being clear-eyed about reality requires all of us to stare--and stare hard--at what is happening in this country this year. And to ask ourselves what's going on.

Because something deeply disturbing is happening all across America.

I have spoken of 2014 in this speech because something has changed in 2015. Far more people are being killed in America's cities this year than in many years. And let's be clear: far more people of color are being killed in America's cities this year.

And it's not the cops doing the killing.

I occasionally read liberal criminal law blogs to see which aspect of Amerika, a/k/a the Great Satan, deconstructionist legal thinking is criticizing at the moment.  A defense-oriented blog called Simple Justice recently had this entry to admonish FBI Director Comey for his "chill wind" remarks I blogged about here.

The point of the entry was that, as Comey of all people should know, the police should expect and receive thorough public scrutiny, since they are bound by the Constitution, law and basic notions of decency.  (Of course, if there is any fair-minded person who disagrees with that, I haven't heard about it).  

The more difficult question arises when scrutiny becomes bansheeism, and criticism of police behavior adopts an impenetrable presumption of malice, as it did, for example, in the Ferguson shooting.  It simply made no difference that, upon actual investigation, it became clear that Officer Darren Wilson defended himself with the same legal force almost anyone would have used in the same circumstances.  He was a cop, he was white, his assailant was black, and that was that.  The loudest reincarnation of the Cops-are-Nazis movement was hatched from a pack of lies.  But that's their story and they're sticking to it.  If you dissent, you're a racist.

I was thus interested in a comment to the Simple Justice entry which states (edited for diction):


[A]dditional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.  If the cops have become hesitant to do their jobs in the wake of people being mad when they find out cops are being violent thugs, then that suggests, to me at least, that the cops don't think they can do their jobs without being violent thugs.

And if that is the case, maybe higher crime is the price we pay for cops not being violent thugs. Frankly, I'm OK with that.

What to make of this?

Thoroughly Justified Homicides by Police

 Amy Brittain has this story in the Washington Post.  It's bottom line should not be news -- everyone should know this.

To identify trends among fatal shootings by police, The Post studied whether the individuals killed were unarmed or armed with weapons and reviewed the actions they took in the immediate moments before police shot them. The Post has compiled a database of all fatal shootings nationwide by officers in the line of duty in 2015.

[The story describes the case of bank robber Steven Snyder and Trooper Trevor Casper, who shot and killed each other, Snyder firing first.]

But only a small number of the shootings -- roughly 5 percent -- occurred under the kind of circumstances that raise doubt and draw public outcry, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The vast majority of individuals shot and killed by police officers were, like Snyder, armed with guns and killed after attacking police officers or civilians or making other direct threats.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, said The Post's findings confirm what police officers already know.
Why doesn't everyone already know that?

The Common Denominator in Crime Reduction

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Jeremy Gormer and Annie Sweeney have this article in the Chicago Tribune titled "A tale of 3 cities: LA and NYC outpace Chicago in curbing violence," showing the correlation between immersive policing strategies employed in New York City and Los Angeles -- both past and present -- and the reduction in violence the two cities have experienced and maintained despite national crime spikes.  While each city's criminal problems are uniquely their own and different tactics are utilized by their respective police departments to address those problems, one commonality is glaringly obvious among them all:  An involved, hands-on police presence in the community equates to less violence.  John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor David Kennedy confirms this:

Everything we know about procedural justice and legitimacy says that when communities -- including offenders and potential offenders -- respect the police more and trust the police more, violent crimes go down.

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