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Arizona Study Update

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I've been too busy to post yesterday and today, between CJLF's board meeting and tight briefing deadlines, but here are a couple of links to update the January 29 post on illegal immigrants and crime. 

Alex Nowrasteh has this article at Cato claiming that John "Lott made a small but fatal error that undermines his finding."

Lott, as you might expect, disagrees.  He has this update at Crime Prevention Resource Center's blog.  Scroll down to "Responses to new comments" to get the pertinent part.

Figuring out who is right between a critique and a response takes more time than I have at present, so I'm just posting the links for those who are interested.

The easy way, of course, is to declare the truth of the one that supports your position.  A study supporting your side is "definitive."  One supporting the other side is "debunked."  There is plenty of that flying around.

It's Worse Than You Thought, Much Worse

Complacency about crime is the petri dish of the movement to reduce accountability (read: sentences) for criminals. Complacency is fed by repetition of the (truthful, as far as it goes) assertion that crime has fallen dramatically in the last quarter century.  Typically absent from this assertion, however are two key facts:  First, violent crime, and murder in particular, has surged over the last three years over what it was at the end of 2014; and second, that three of the most significant causes of reduced crime (more police, more proactive policing, and increased use of incarceration) are exactly the programs the complacency peddlers hope to reverse.

Nostalgia for the bad old days of more crime seems odd to me, but there you have it.

One thing advocates of more humbled policing and softer sentencing will sometimes admit, however, constitutes a startling rebuttal to their pitch for complacency.  It is this:  The crime figures upon which complacency is based are false.  This is so because, to quote verbatim the words of the Pew Research Center (a left-leaning think tank), "Most crimes are not reported to police, and most reported crimes are not solved."

You read that right.  The figures we routinely see about crime (e.g., from the UCR, which I also have frequently cited) don't tell even half the story of how prevalent crime is.  And I might add that, even among the minority of crimes that are both reported  and solved, only a fraction get prosecuted. Worse still, of that number, the actual crime is seldom charged.  Instead, what gets taken to court is a dumbed-down version the prosecutor has agreed to in order to obtain a plea bargain defense counsel will accept.

Remember this, then, the next time you see a headline like, "Statistics say crime is way down."  The headline may well be true for what is says.  It's what it doesn't say that will cost you your wallet (or a great deal more).

Illegal Immigrants and Crime

One of the problems in doing research on crime is that most research is constrained to the variables that our national crime statisticians have chosen to collect.  Often the variables of interest to a researcher are not collected, and those that are collected are a poor proxy.

On the question of immigration and crime, we often hear the statistic that the crime rate among immigrants is lower than the rate among native-born Americans.  That statistic is virtually irrelevant for those whose primary interest is illegal immigration.  Can we simply assume that legal and illegal immigrants are the same in this regard?  That would be a huge and dubious assumption, yet it is implicit in arguments we hear all the time.

John Lott has this study at SSRN using data from Arizona, which does track the immigration status, including legality, of its prisoners.  Here is the abstract:
Prof. Joseph M. Bessette has this article with the above title in the Catholic World Report.  The article is partly a Catholic theological argument, but it is also an empirical argument on deterrence.

Examples such as these powerfully refute the claim that the death penalty never deters. Though many large-scale empirical studies have purported to find a substantial deterrent effect (as we detail in our book), others have challenged these findings, and among quantitative social scientists the issue remains unresolved. But this should not surprise us at a time when executions per year (51 between 2000 and 2015) are dwarfed by homicides per year (15,600 during the same period). Even if each execution saved 5-10 lives (a midrange for the studies that reported deterrence), the total number of lives saved would amount to only a few percent of all homicides. It is simply not likely that social scientists could discern such a statistically small effect, especially when year-to-year changes in homicides are driven by a host of social conditions independent of punishment practices: drug use, gang wars, economic conditions, immigration patterns, etc. Yet, even a small deterrent effect (say in the range of 2-3) would have saved several thousand lives from the nation's 1,465 executions since 1977. And of course if the death penalty does deter, it would save more lives if it were used more often.
Thanks to Dudley Sharp for the link.
After crunching the numbers on yesterday's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report from the FBI, I found pretty much the same thing I have been finding for the last several years.  In California, where "let 'em all loose" mania is more severe than in the country as a whole, crime trends are less favorable than in the country as a whole.  This should not surprise anyone.


For cities over 100,000 population which reported for both first half 2016 and first half 2017, California cities had a 0.41% increase in violent crimes while U.S. cities outside California had a 1.16% drop.  In property crimes, California cities had a 1.07% increase while non-California cities had a 1.09% drop.

These differences are less stark than I found two years ago, but the effects are cumulative.  California's leaders continue to pursue their delusion that criminals are actually nice people who can be let out without consequence, and regular folks pay the price.
The FBI released its Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report for the first half of 2017 today.  The press release is here.

Among violent crimes, murders are up while rapes and robberies are down, and aggravated assault is essentially unchanged.

Among property crimes, burglary continues its decline of recent years while auto theft continues to climb.

Sociological Gobbledygook

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"Although some people have urged that this Court should amend the Constitution by interpretation to keep it abreast of modern ideas, I have never believed that lifetime judges in our system have any such legislative power."  -- Justice Hugo Black, concurring in McGautha v. California (1971).

Yesterday in the reapportionment case, Chief Justice Roberts expressed a similar sentiment on transcript page 40.

[T]he whole point is you're taking these issues away from democracy and you're throwing them into the courts pursuant to, and it may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe as sociological gobbledygook.
No, Mr. Chief Justice, it's not your educational background.  I call it "sociobabble," a variation on the "psychobabble" theme, but "sociological gobbledygook" will do nicely.
On many contentious social issues, including crime, there is often reason to suspect that researchers are partisans who decide what position they want first and then design a study to provide support for that result.  In the history of the "harder" sciences, there are many examples of researchers being dragged by their data to results they found distasteful, but that is not seen as often in the "softer" ones.

It is refreshing then, to see this article in the WaPo by Leah Libresco.  She studied gun control at FiveThirtyEight, and her research changed her mind.

Crime and Temperature

Sometimes research confirms what "everybody knows."  Frank Otto has this article at Drexel Now reporting research finding that violent crimes and disorderly conduct are positively correlated with temperature.

The research, conducted by Leah Schinasi, PhD, assistant research professor, and Ghassan Hamra, PhD, assistant professor, both of Drexel's Dornsife School of Public Health, was published in the Journal of Urban Health and used a decade's worth of crime data in Philadelphia (from 2006 until 2015) to find that rates of violent crime and disorderly conduct increased when daily temperatures are higher.
How do changes in sentencing among the various states correlate with changes in their crime rates?  I did some quickie calculations on yesterday's crime stats to find out.

Yesterday, as noted earlier, the FBI released Crime in the United States -- 2016.  This is the official compilation of crimes known to the police nationwide.  Crimes committed but not reported are another issue.  Table 2 reports crimes both as numbers and rate for the states and regions for 2015, 2016, and the percent change.  I extracted the percent change numbers for the states, though the FBI's spreadsheet format didn't make it easy.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics annually reports Prisoners in the United States.  The latest such report, for 2015, gives us the change in the number of prisoners from 2014-2015.  So, with a one-year lag, how do state-by-state prisoner changes correlate with crime changes?

My quickie spreadsheet calculation shows a coefficient of correlation between violent crime rate and prisoner change of -0.27.  For property crime it is -0.31.  If we use numbers of crimes instead of rates, the correlations are a tad stronger.

A negative correlation means that the two variables tend to move in opposite directions.  As number of prisoners goes down, crimes tend to go up.  That is just what persons of sense would expect.

This is not proof, of course.  Correlation is not causation, as we have noted here many times.  I haven't yet done the further analysis required to state the magic "p factor" required by respectable publications to even report a correlation.  Compare this post.  I will do that when I get back to the office and have better tools.  There is also the usual caveat about relying too much on one year's data, and a few others could be thrown in.  Even so, these correlations are strong enough that I thought readers would find them interesting.
David Neumark, professor of economics and director of the Economic Self-Sufficiency Policy Research Institute at the University of California, Irvine, has this op-ed in the WSJ regarding the empirical research on the effects of boosting the minimum wage.  The particular issue is, of course, off-topic for the blog, and CJLF takes no position on it.  The tone of the debate, though, is all too familiar to those of us who study studies in criminal law:

Does the minimum wage destroy jobs? The debate over that question often reduces to dueling economic studies. One side cites analyses showing that employers respond to a wage floor by cutting hours or jobs. The other side pulls out studies saying the minimum wage is a free lunch for workers. To really understand what's going on, you need to get under the hood.

The key challenge in estimating the effects of a rising minimum wage is identifying a good control group. Generally economists want to find a set of workers who weren't subject to the policy change, but who otherwise experienced similar economic trends. Still, that leaves a lot of leeway for choice.

There are two big differences between physical and social science.  You can run an experiment with quadrillions of subatomic particles and carefully control the conditions, so that you have two otherwise truly identical groups with the variable you are measuring as the only difference.  Humans object to being controlled like that, and you can't have that many of them.

The other big difference is that if you are studying the spin of quarks you won't get demonstrators outside your office and half of your colleagues signing letters against you if you come up with the "wrong" answer.  Some of the greatest moments in the history of science have been experiments that showed that what "everybody knows" is not actually true.

It's the Culture, Stupid


Last month, law professors Amy Wax of U. Penn. and Larry Alexander of U. San Diego published this op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Their thesis was that the breakdown of "the basic cultural precepts that reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s" was "implicated" in a host of modern maladies, including crime:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
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That [late 40s - mid 60s] culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

This would seem to be self-evident and ought not be controversial.  But Wax and Alexander work in the Bizarro World of contemporary academia.

Neighborhood Crime Rates

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Like increasing the resolution on a camera, going to finer-grained data gives us a sharper picture of crime, seeing things that we don't see from coarse-grained data.

"Well the south side of Chicago is the baddest part of town," Jim Croce told us musically in '73.  It still is.  Rafael Mangual of the Manhattan Institute has this article in the City Journal.

What this analysis shows is that, in many American cities, a substantial number of residents live through what can only be described as a homicide epidemic. And, despite assurances to the contrary, nowhere is that epidemic more pronounced than in Sub-Chicago, which happens to be 88 percent black and Latino. If we're serious about improving life in places like South and West Chicago, we must confront the uncomfortable truths about crime concentration in U.S. cities. Step one is recognizing that while most of the country is relatively free from such violence, a portion of the country lives in the urban equivalent of a killing field. These Americans don't need to be told that crime is down nationwide; they need protection.

Crime in California, 2016

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Last summer, we reported that the annual Crime in California report showed that crime in the formerly golden state was up across the board.  This year's report, which is 2016 data due to the reporting lag, is more mixed but still not good news, as noted in today's News Scan.

Violent crime rates* rose across the board, 4.1% percent overall.  See Table 2 on page 11 of the PDF file.  The 2015-2016 interval is the first time in recent years that we have had a one-year change number with a consistent definition of rape (see footnote 1), and that figure is up a worrisome 6.4%.

Property crime rates have bounced around since 2011, the last year that was mostly before the major California sentencing changes.  Last year the overall property crime rate was up 6.6% percent from the year before, and this year it is down 2.9% from last year.  Overall, property crime rates have been pretty flat since 2011, with a -1.9% change overall.  National property crime rates have dropped steadily over the 2011-2015 period.  We should have national 2016 numbers in a couple of months.
Andy Kessler has this article with the above title in the WSJ.

Hands down, the two most dangerous words in the English language today are "studies show."

The world is inundated with the manipulation of flighty studies to prove some larger point about mankind in the name of behavioral science. Pop psychologists have churned out mountains of books proving some intuitive point that turns out to be wrong. It's "sciencey," with a whiff of (false) authenticity.
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