Posted 6/26/20

DON’T “DIVEST” – INVEST!

Stripping money from the police is foolish.
So is ignoring the plight of poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
 

Cap in hand

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. George Floyd’s legacy has reached Oregon. After admitting that being white has unfairly worked to his advantage, Mayor Ted Wheeler pledged to take funds from the police and other city departments and use them to invest in economically disadvantaged areas. He also urged a rethinking of law enforcement’s role and warned that some police units would lose funding. Among them is the department’s violence reduction team, which has been in operation since 2019. According to one of its operatives, the squad investigated 426 shootings last year. Among these were a number of inter-gang battles involving multiple shooters.

     Portland also got a new chief, Jack Lovell. A veteran African-American officer, he pledged to “better align” public and officer views of how policing ought be done. With thirty-six homicides in 2019 and
an unprecedented wave” of twenty-three shootings during the first ten days of 2020, he clearly faces a tough task. Still, outgoing chief Jamie Resch (a white female) described him as “the exact right person at the exact right moment.” She hopes that his influence as well as the redirected funds will help stem the violence that besets Portland’s poor areas.

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

     Where does Portland stand, violence wise? According to the UCR, its 2018 crime rate, 5.2/1,000, is about on par with New York City. While that’s considerably Portland 2019 crimeshigher than the U.S. overall (3.7), it’s nonetheless much better than the 7.2 posted by  Minneapolis, that other city we’ll talk about. Still, as essays in our “Neighborhoods” section have repeatedly argued, when it comes to crime it’s not really about cities: it’s about places within cities. And Portland (pop. 654,741) has plenty of those, with ninety-four neighborhoods in seven districts. Using neighborhoods as the unit of analysis, let’s compare!

     Our information came from three sources. For crime, we turned to 2019 police data (see right). In that year Portland reported 59,917 criminal incidents. All but 1,754 were coded for neighborhood. Eliminating neighborhoods with low population counts or those whose Census data was unavailable left 87 neighborhoods with a total population of 611,124. We coded each neighborhood for population and percent in poverty using 2017 Census estimates assembled by the Portland Monthly, and for race using 2010 Census figures reported by the City of Portland.

     Correlation analysis was applied to examine relationships between poverty, crime rates (no. of crimes per 1,000 pop.) and the percent of black and white residents. The below table displays the Pearson “r” that quantifies the relationships. This statistic ranges from -1 to +1. Zero depicts no relationship; -1 a perfect “negative” relationship (as one variable goes up, the other goes
down, in lockstep), and +1 a perfect “positive” relationship (both variables go up and down in lockstep.)

Portland correl
  • Poverty and crime (first row): Moderately strong, statistically significant positive correlations between poverty and crime, meaning they tend to go up and down together. (Two asterisks mean that the probability the statistic was generated by chance is less than one in a hundred.)
     
  • Poverty and race (first column): Moderate positive relationship between blacks and poverty, also statistically significant (one asterisk means the probability the statistic was generated by chance is less than five in one-hundred.) And a moderately strong, statistically meaningful negative relationship between whites and poverty. Clearly, blacks are somewhat more likely to live in poor areas, and whites are moderately less likely to do so.
     
  • Race and crime: No relationship.

     Using total crime rate (TT rate), this table compares the ten most peaceful neighborhoods (top) with the ten most seriously stricken by crime (bottom).

Portland 10L10H small


Blacks comprise a very small proportion of the city’s population (5.8 percent, according to a
2019 Census estimate) and only a tiny slice of the economically better-off neighborhoods. Here are the correlations if we only consider the twenty neighborhoods at crime’s polar extremes:

Portland 10L10H correl


As one would expect, whites are far less likely to live in the poorest areas (-.657**, seventh row). And check out the magnitude of those r‘s on the first row. When we cull out the criminally middle-of-the-
road places, the statistical relationship between crime and poverty becomes truly formidable.


     So what about that city whose police department is in the nation’s crosshairs? We mean, of course, Minneapolis, where a never-to-be-forgotten video depicts an experienced cop dispassionately (and, ultimately, fatally) pressing his knees against a helpless man’s neck. From “Open Minneapolis,” an official website, we downloaded violent crime information (MPD UCR codes 1, 3, 4 and 5) for the one-year period ending June 3, 2020. Three other sources – Minnesota Compass, “Niche” and City-Data.com –  were used to code each neighborhood for median family income, racial distribution and violent crime rate Minn correlper 1,000 population. After some culling our dataset comprised 85 Minneapolis neighborhoods where 3,749 violent crimes had taken place.

     We again used correlation analysis. The table on the left depicts the pertinent relationships. As one would expect, crimes of violence have a meaningful, statistically significant negative relationship with income – as one goes up, the other goes down. Check out those strong, statistically significant relationships between race and income. Again, they’re in the anticipated directions: positive for whites (both go up and down together) and negative for blacks (as one goes up the other goes down.) Here are the  graphs:
 

Minn corr graphs


Each “dot” is a neighborhood. Catch the pronounced slope of those trend lines! But who needs r statistics and graphs? Check out another comparo between neighborhoods at crime’s extremes. For Minneapolis it’s between the four least violent neighborhoods and the four most:

Minn comparo


Keeping in mind that population sizes differ, the data tells an obvious and very compelling story. Look at the income column. Check out the behavior that accompanies each entry. Then imagine policing the neighborhoods in the lower tier.

     Indeed, imagine policing Minneapolis. A story in the Star-Tribune about a recent shooting that left one dead and eleven wounded goes on to mention a “surge” of violence that followed the killing of George Floyd, with more than ninety shot in less than thirty days. Considering that twenty-six Minneapolitans have been murdered so far this year (last year’s toll to date was a relatively “measly” fifteen) police chief Medaria Arradondo’s lament about a “public health crisis” seems hardly an exaggeration.


     According to 2019 Census estimates, 14.9 percent of Portland’s 654,701 inhabitants live in poverty. With 429,606 residents, Minneapolis has a poverty rate of 19.9 percent, fully one-third worse. That difference is clearly reflected in our analysis. And as we alluded to, in the cities’ UCR crime rates. Here’s a six-way comparo:

Portland viol cr comparo small


     What to do? As our “neighborhoods” section has harped on for years, what we really need is a “Marshall Plan” for America’s chronically poor neighborhoods. Unless we make major efforts – job training, employment and social counseling, drug and alcohol rehab, childcare, tutoring, affordable housing, and so on – their residents will forever remain locked in crime’s embrace.

     So where’s that investment going to come from? President Trump’s re-election promise of
a new deal for black America” has long faded into obscurity. Municipal budgets and politics being what they are, poor neighborhoods are essentially left to fend for themselves. Yes, there have been some valiant private efforts. Portland’s “unprecedented wave” of gunplay is being tackled by “We Are the Caution,” a Facebook campaign that addresses the misuse of social media to foment violence. It’s the brainchild of two former gang members who created “Men Building Men,” a nonprofit that seeks to steer young men away from the streets.

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     In the meantime, loose talk about “defunding” the police continues. Portland seems in a far better position to yank money from the cops than Minneapolis. Yet that 2014-2018 uptick in violence, as well as its more recent experiences, give cause for alarm. Even so, latest word is that its police budget of about $240 million, which had been set for a small increase, will instead be slashed by $15 million.

     But violence-stricken Minneapolis has an even better idea: “dismantle” the police altogether. A brainchild of the city council, the plan proposes to have unarmed social service teams do what’s needed. That approach (it’ll supposedly take a year to finalize the details) is opposed by the mayor, who would rather “reform” the cops. Ditto, the business community, which worries about the chaos that would engulf a badge-free city. Skepticism has even been voiced by some of the affluent, progressively-oriented residents of the city’s “Powderhorn Park” area, who reacted to the killing of George Floyd by pledging to never again call the police.

     Then, sure enough, “stuff” began to happen.

UPDATES

6/27/20  As hooliganism, violence and gunplay worsen in Minneapolis, residents complain they’re seeing a far less robust police response. A local activist faults the city council’s move to dismantle the agency for discouraging citizens from reporting crime and for emboldening lawlessness.

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Neighborhoods     George Floyd     Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job     Gold Badges     Place Matters

Repeat After Us: “City” is Meaningless     Scapegoat (I)     De-escalation     Is Trump Right?

Does Race Matter? (I)  (II)    Making Sausage



Posted 5/25/20

BUT IS IT REALLY “SATAN”?

A Sheriff’s lament reflects the hopelessness of urban decay

Devil

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “Satan has taken over Bogalusa, and it’s time we take it back.” Louisiana Sheriff Randy Seal’s memorable words came on May 18, two days after more than five-hundred local residents staged an outdoor memorial service in Bogalusa, a distressed city of about 12,000 seventy miles north of New Orleans. According to authorities, citizens assembled at a major intersection (in violation of COVID-19 restrictions) to mourn the passing of a local resident, Dominique James, 29. Suddenly a vehicle drove by, and a barrage of gunfire rang out. Thirteen were struck by bullets, apparently none fatally.

     “I am burying my son and I just think it was heartless for someone to come through and just ring out gunshots,” said his grieving mother, Rena Robertson. Her laments carried special resonance, as her son had recently gone missing, and it took an air search to find his vehicle parked deep in the woods. Dominique’s murdered remains lay inside.

     Our next stop was the UCR. And the story it told was depressingly familiar. In 2018, the most recent year with full data, Bogalusa, pop. 11,730, reported 124 violent crimes. That yields a miserable per/1,000 rate of 10.6, about twice Louisiana’s 5.4 and close to three times the national 3.7. Looking back, 2018 was actually a pretty good year for the town. Its 2010 rate was 14.5; in 2015, it was 13.3. (p.s. the UCR lists rates per 100,000.)

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

     As its readers know, Police Issues is very much of the mind that crime and economic conditions are two sides of the same coin. So our very next stop was the Census. No surprise there. In 2018, a depressing 40.1 percent of Bogalusa’s citizens lived in poverty. To compare, it was 11.8 percent for the U.S. and 18.6 percent for Louisiana.

     Well, maybe Bogalusa is special. Maybe it’s not poverty that underlies its struggle with violence. Perhaps it really is the Devil! (Normally we prefer to look at neighborhoods, whose inhabitants are exposed to similar doses of the influencers that propel crime. That’s the thought that underlies our “Neighborhoods” section. But we lack a ready source of within-city crime and economic data for these burg’s, so must stick with their overall statistics.) Including Bogalusa, Louisiana has 21 cities with populations of 10,000-20,000. The graphs below depict, for each, percent of residents in poverty from the 2018 Census, and violent and property crime rates per 1,000 pop. from the 2018 UCR. (Violent crimes include murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.)

Louisiana cities with populations between 10,000-20,000 (n=21)

Overall


     To be sure, there are plenty of ups and downs. Yet one trend is difficult to miss: as poverty goes up, so does crime. To double-check here are the corresponding “scattergrams”:

Louisiana cities scatt viol small


Louisiana cities scatt prop small


With a few exceptions – De Ridder, Minden and Eunice for violent crime, and De Ridder, Minden and Abbeville for property crime – poverty is strongly associated with both types of offending. That relationship is evident by the magnitude of the “r” statistics. (It’s on a scale of minus one to plus one. Either extreme denotes a lock-step association; zero, none.) Both coefficients (.72 and .67) demonstrate a strong “positive” relationship, meaning that poverty moves up and down pretty much in sync with violent crime as well as property crime. As for the two asterisks, that means the results are statistically “significant,” with a probability of less than 1/100 that they were produced by chance. (For a more thorough discussion of such things check out “Scapegoat (Part I)” and “Human Renewal.”)

     Of course, the adequacy of policing can also affect crime. We collected UCR police employee data for each town. As expected, there was a statistically significant association between population size and the number of sworn officers (r=.59*). But that doesn’t necessaily mean that needs were being met. This table compares the four least violent towns (mean/1,000 rate, 1.1) with the four most violent (mean/1,000 rate, 15.8):

Louisiana cities table smallest


For all 21 cities, sworn staffing ranged from 1.67 to 5.7 per 1,000 pop. But the differences between these two groups was slight. The least violent places – Youngsville, De Ridder, Mandeville and Minden – averaged 2.4 officers/1,000 citizens, while the high-violence places – Bogalusa, Bastrop, Crowley and Opelousas – averaged 2.85/1,000. (Comparing the top four/bottom four for property crime produces only two differences. De Ridder, the second least-violent city, deteriorates to seventh place, while Bogalusa, which is only three steps from being the most violent, improves a bit to fourteenth.)

     Mandeville looks peaceful. Let’s contrast it with two burg’s that seem much less so:

  • Bogalusa is close in both population and police staffing. It’s also nearly five times poorer and has nearly eight times the number of violent crimes.
     
  • Opelousas has nearly four-thousand more residents. But it only has three more cops – that is, one per shift. Its poverty rate is also more than five times worse. With that we’d expect more violence. But more than twenty times as much? Yikes.

     Clearly, Bogalusa and Opelousas (and Bastrop, and Crowley) could use more cops. Only problem is: who’ll pay for them? “Why, like other small Louisiana towns, Bogalusa is slowly dying” is the title of a July 5, 2019 story in the New Orleans Advocate. According to the well-written piece, it really is all about economics. “The only thing left here is that mill” said a long-time resident who once worked at the city’s remaining industrial plant, a large paper mill. But automation displaced most of its workers, and good jobs remain scarce. A block away, a once-booming retail strip “is now a rundown row of storefronts, many of them abandoned, with papered-over windows.”

     But something important escapes notice. While the town’s poverty load and abysmal finances (Alabama placed it under “fiscal administration”) get prominent billing, violence draws absolutely no mention. Indeed, the word “crime” comes up only once, in the context of the gunning down of a black sheriff’s deputy by white extremists fifty-five years earlier. Yet as its inhabitants well know, armed violence is no stranger to Bogalusa. Less than a year has passed since that infamous two-week period in July 2019 when the community experienced eleven shootings and six wounded in fifteen days. Police chief Kendall Bullen (he’s still on the job) managed the chaos with an understaffed force and truculent survivors. “A lot of the victims are not cooperating.” he said. “They don’t want to give us information.”

     Of course, it takes a lot more than cops to effectively counter crime. Poverty, and the crime-generating factors that go along with poverty, have beset Bogalusa for many years. It may be impolitic to mention, but consider that the memorial service’s honoree, 29-year old Dominique Audrell James, is likely one and the same as “Dominique A. James,” a 23-year old Bogalusan who was booked into jail in early 2014 for “distribution of schedule II drugs and criminal conspiracy.”

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      We’ve long argued that urban violence is best tackled through intensive, geographically focused campaigns of socioeconomic renewal. For example, there’s Jobs-Plus, a national program that provides residents of housing developments with everything from job training and placement to rent assistance. Or a local variant, Birmingham’s (Ala.) “Promise Initiative,” a city-run program that connects high-school juniors and seniors with apprenticeships so they can learn vital skills. Graduating seniors can also get tuition assistance to attend two and four-year colleges.

     Sadly, such things seem absent from the current political debate. Other than preaching, we’ve actually mailed several letters (really, in envelopes) to politicians recommending that Presidential campaigns connect with, say, Birmingham’s mayor to get better informed about the needs of places like, say, Bogalusa, Bastrop, Crowley and Opelousas. How can America’s many struggling communities be transformed? Really, whoever our next President turns out to be, getting that done should be her “job #1.”

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Posted 2/29/20

PLACE MATTERS

Desperate to avoid controversy, politicians avoid the obvious

Place new post

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Let’s begin with a memorable quote:

    Ninety-five percent of your murders – murderers and murder victims – fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male; minorities 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city….

     Mind you, that’s not Police Issues’ point of view. It is (was?) Michael Bloomberg’s. A video of his speech at the Aspen Institute’s 2015 annual get-together for the well-to-do and connected depicts the former Wall Street magnate, three-term NYC Mayor (2002-2013) and self-funded Presidential wannabe saying lots of things he would one day regret.

     Well, that’s politics! Still, are “ninety-five percent” of the Big Apple’s murders – and murderersreally cut from the same cloth? We’ve looked into crime in Gotham in some detail. “Be Careful What You Brag About” (Part II) compared ten low-poverty and ten high-poverty NYPD precincts. As one might expect, their murder and robbery rates were very much different, and in the anticipated direction. New York City’s high-crime areas, we concluded, “aren’t in the Big Apple” – they’re part of that other, disadvantaged America where our nation’s minorities disproportionately reside.

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

     Nothing’s come up since then to change our minds. According to the most recent Census estimate, New York City’s poverty rate is 18.9%. But there are huge differences within. Twenty-nine percent of the residents of the Bronx, the least prosperous of the city’s five boroughs, are poor. Might that affect murder?

NYC Pov Mur 19 small

 
     New York City reported 310 murders for 2019. Seventy-nine – about one in four – took place in the Bronx. With a population slightly over 1.4 million, the city’s most poverty-stricken area also posted its worst murder rate, 5.49 per 100,000. Every other borough – Brooklyn (pop. 2.6 million, 100 murders), Manhattan (pop. 1.6 million, 50 murders), Queens (pop. 2.3 million, 69 murders), and Staten Island (pop. 470,000, 12 murders) – followed in lock-step fashion. As poverty receded, so did homicide.

     Poverty influences crimes other than murder. Using precinct populations and NYPD’s recently posted 2019 data for seven major crimes (murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle) we computed murder, robbery and felony assault rates for 73 of the city’s 77 police districts (precincts 14, 22, 41 and 121 were omitted for methodological reasons.) Correlation analysis (the “r” statistic) was then applied to assess the relationship between each of these crimes and poverty.

NYC MurRobbFAss 19 small


     Each dot represents a precinct. As one might expect, murder, robbery and felony assault had positive, statistically significant (i.e., meaningful) relationships with poverty. By “positive” we mean that the rates – say, poverty and murder – went up and down together. By “significant” we mean that the statistical procedure generated two asterisks, indicating a probability of less than one in one-hundred that a coefficient, such as .51, was produced by chance. As for the magnitude of the coefficients, r’s can range from zero (no relationship) to one (strongest relationship.) In practice, those produced are indeed substantial.

     What about the other index offenses? Check out these graphs:

NYC Maj Cr Gd Lar 19 small


Perhaps surprisingly, there’s virtually no relationship between poverty and the aggregate measure, the major crime rate. Here’s why. Grand Larceny was by far the category’s most frequent offense. Its relationship with poverty was also strongly negative, meaning that as poverty went up, grand larceny went down. That makes sense. “Grand” larcenies require a loss of $1,000 or more, making them far more commonplace in economically better-off places. New York City’s profusion of grand larcenies countered the effects of violent crime, making its rate a misleading indicator of the relationship between crime and place.

      So what did we learn? Citywide scores can seriously mislead. New York City, whose leaders habitually brag about low crime, posted a 2018 murder rate of 3.5/100,000 pop., handily beating the nation’s 5.0 and, by substantial margins, virtually every other city of size. Indeed, when one considers Detroit’s jaw-popping murder rate of 38.9, or Chicago’s merely miserable 20.7, even the Bronx looks good. “Location, Location, Location” offered Los Angeles as another example of self-proclaimed success in the war against crime. After all, its 2015 murder rate was “only” 7.3 (N=279). Yet there were some startling exceptions within. Such as the bedraggled Florence neighborhood (Zip 90003, poverty rate 33.1%). With a population of 49,001, its eighteen homicides that year produced a murder rate of 36.7, five times the citywide figure. Still, neither Florence nor the Bronx managed to spoil their parents’ triumph. Los Angeles and New York simply have so many prosperous residents that their aggregate poverty rates remain fetchingly low.

     Of course, protective factors likely matter. With nearly eight and one-half million residents and an astounding 28,069 persons per square mile, the “Big Apple” is by far the largest and most densely populated of the nation’s fifty major cities. Los Angeles, the runner-up in population, has half as many residents. Its density of 8,360, while on the high end nationally, is but a fraction of Manhattan’s astonishing 69,467 inhabitants per square mile. How did the prosperous burg get there? By ensconcing its well-to-do residents in pricey, access-controlled high-rises. Bingo! Instant security, and likely one of the reasons why the borough’s crime rates are low.

     When it comes to crime, place isn’t just critical for New York and Los Angeles. In “Human Renewal” we wrote about the far smaller community of South Bend, Indiana (pop. 103,869). Coincidentally, its former mayor, Pete Buttigieg, is also a Presidential candidate. South Bend police posted data for 346 “criminally assaulted shootings” between 2015-2018. (If the link isn’t working we’ll happily share our copy.) Using Census population and poverty figures, we computed a shooting rate for each of South Bend’s ten Zip codes, then ran correlation analysis. Sure enough, the relationship between poverty and shootings was strong and positive (r=.68*). More poverty, more violence.

     No matter. None of the Presidential candidates – nor, with a single exception (see below) any other politician of note – is talking about neighborhoods. Our favorite remedy, a “Marshall Plan” for America’s downtrodden places, isn’t on the radar. (We’ve been pushing for it since, um, 2008. Click here.) Perhaps they worry that focusing on place would bring in potentially controversial issues like race and ethnicity.

     But we’re not running for office. Let’s return to the loser in New York City’s poverty/murder sweepstakes: the Bronx. According to the most recent Census estimate, blacks comprise thirty-six percent of its residents. Lamentably, more than one in four (26.7%) blacks who reside in the downtrodden borough live in poverty. And the consequences seem all too predictable.

Bronx mur freq pct small


According to NYPD’s “Supplementary Homicide Report” for 1998, ninety-one of that year’s 295 murders took place in the Bronx. Race and ethnicity were known for 88 victims and 72 assailants. These graphs (frequencies on the left, percentages on the right) depict the grim racial and ethnic distribution. Citywide, about one-third of New York City’s residents are white. Yet according to the 2018 report, whites figured as either victim or suspect in less than one in ten homicides.

     Place, and the money it takes to live in a nice place, really, really matter.

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     For a breath of fresh air, let’s consider the views of a political figure who tells it like it really is. We’re talking about the Hon. Randall Woodfin, Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. Conveying the view that a community “is only as strong as its lowest quality-of-life neighborhood,” his recent “State of the City” speech set out Birmingham’s obstacles in a memorable (and remarkably candid) fashion:

    In a city of 99 neighborhoods, 88 of them are majority black and 11 are majority white. Those 11 neighborhoods are the safest. Those 11 neighborhoods have the highest income, highest home property value. And in those other 88 neighborhoods that make up the fourth-blackest city in America, there’s a 29% poverty rate. You dig deeper into that for single families, it’s 43%. They don’t have vehicles. The property value hasn’t increased, unemployment is higher, and there’s too much crime.

Mayor Woodfin’s solution, a multifaceted “neighborhood revitalization program,” seems highly promising. Grab a ballot. We’re writing him in!

UPDATES

6/29/20  Through June 21 there have been 295 murders and 1,250 shootings in Chicago, compared with 235 and 902 in 2019. These incidents are mostly happening in the city’s crime-scarred districts, including Harrison, Austin, Ogden and Lawndale. A recent weekend’s toll was at least 106 shot and 14 killed. On “a bloody Saturday,” June 27, eight were shot and killed including three children. One, twenty months old, was struck by a bullet as his mother drove in the Englewood neighborhood.

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Don’t “Divest” - Invest!     A Conflicted Mission     Can the Urban Ship be Steered?

A Recipe for Disaster     Human Renewal     Be Careful (I)  (II)     Location, Location, Location

Too Much of a Good Thing?     A Tale of Three Cities     Neighborhoods



Posted 2/9/20

MUST THE DOOR REVOLVE?

Bail and sentencing reform come. Then stuff happens.

    For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Must the door that feeds jails and prisons forever revolve? Can we unplug the thing without causing even more pain? Let’s start with three recent horror stories:

  • Last November, Charles Goforth, a 56-year old Chicago-area man, shot and wounded his girlfriend. He was soon arrested in Missouri. But a magistrate released him on an $8,000 cash bond and Goforth went home to his wife. On January 30 he revisited his victim, who was recuperating at home, and shot her dead.
     
  • “I can’t believe they let me out” said Gerof Woodberry, 42. New York City cops arrested him on January 10 for “stealing or attempting to steal” from four (count ‘em, four!) banks. Thanks to a new state law that abolishes bail for non-violent crimes, he was released two days later. Woodberry, who had served prison sentences in South Carolina for five strong-arm robberies, promptly robbed two banks in four days. He’s now in Federal custody, where the rules are different.
     
  • On October 13 two small children found their mother’s lifeless body on the bedroom floor of their New York City apartment. She had been beaten to death. It took two months for police to arrest her alleged murderer, Asun Thomas, 46. He had been living in a halfway house since being paroled in 2016 after doing sixteen years of a 20-year term for manslaughter.

     We realize that Goforth, Woodberry and Thomas can’t be used to represent the universe of persons who are released pending trial or after serving a term of incarceration. They’re an “accidental” sample compiled from stories that caught your blogger’s eye while perusing The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, something he does most mornings. (And yes, he’s got subscriptions. You should, too!)

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

     Recidivism is a weighty subject. DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics has been studying it for some time. In 2018 it published data about recidivism for a sample of 401,288 convicted felons who were released in 2005 after serving prison terms in thirty States. During their first nine years of freedom the former inmates compiled an average of five arrests each. Nearly half (44 percent) were arrested during the first year, and sixty-eight percent during the first three years. By the end of the ninth year a full eighty-three percent had been arrested at least once. As for type of crime, Table 7 of the report indicates that regardless of the crime for which they were originally confined – violent, property, public order or drug-related – about four in ten were arrested at least once, post-release, for a crime of violence.

     Research on Federal prisoners also paints a gloomy picture. A study of 25,431 Federal convicts released in 2005 indicates that within eight years half (49.3 percent) were arrested on new charges. Nearly one-third of the sample (31.7 percent) suffered another conviction, and nearly one-quarter (24.6 percent) were re-incarcerated. Since these were former Federal inmates, a majority of the original convictions were for drug trafficking. But about one-quarter (23.3 percent) of the post-release arrests were for assault.

     Are there ways to help former inmates avoid reoffending? NIJ’s “Corrections & Reentry” webpage features reviews of 136 “programs” (approaches tailored to specific places) and thirty “practices” (methods used at multiple sites.) Each was rated as either “no effect,” “promising” or “effective.”

     A “program” in Massachusetts’ capital city, the “Boston Reentry Initiative,” actually begins while offenders are still locked up. Meant for gang members and others at high risk of committing a violent crime, the voluntary effort – inmates must ask to join – offers everything from assistance in getting a driver’s license to help with substance abuse, housing and job training. After release there’s a day center; each former offender also gets a “case manager” who provides one-on-one help for up to eighteen months. BRI’s “promising” rating is based on an academic study that concluded participants were significantly less likely than non-participants to be arrested post-release. During their first three years back on the street, arrests for any crime befell 77.8 percent of the BRI cohort and 87.7 percent of a non-BRI control group. Arrests for violent crimes followed the same pattern (27.8 and 39.2 percent, respectively.)

     Several efforts in NIJ’s “practices” category also seemed pertinent:

  • Pretrial Interventions for Ensuring Appearance in Court” evaluated three approaches for combatting failure-to-appear and re-arrest: court notifications (reminders), cash and appearance bonds, and pretrial supervision, ranging from electronic monitoring to placement in a halfway house. Of these, only pretrial supervision demonstrated a statistically significant reduction on failures to appear (this effect, which led to a “promising” rating, was nonetheless considered “small.”) None of the methods, however, reduced rearrests.
     
  • Day Reporting Centers” (aka “community resource centers” or “attendance centers”) offer non-residential services to parolees and probationers, including supervision, drug abuse treatment and job training and placement. A 2019 meta-evaluation of nine such efforts found that none was more effective in preventing recidivism than conventional probation and parole.
     
  • Noncustodial Employment Programs for Ex-Offenders” offer job training, career counseling and educational services in settings such as halfway houses and group homes. Assistance is hands-on and can include resume preparation and coaching for job interviews. Alas, a review of ten programs concluded that their participants were just as likely to be re-arrested or convicted or commit a release violation as probationers and parolees who didn’t take part.

     Glancing at the scorecards, we noticed that only a measly eight percent of practices and five percent of programs got NIJ’s “effective” nod. Even then, there seems to be pitifully little to brag about. Consider the well-regarded Boston program. While the difference between clients’ 77.8 percent re-arrest rate and the comparison group’s 87.7 percent rate may be statistically significant, its real-world implications are less than compelling. Even so, the program’s academic evaluators seemed highly impressed. Here are their journal article’s (“Controlling Violent Offenders Released to the Community: An Evaluation of the Boston Reentry Initiative”) final words:

    ...these findings suggest that individualized treatment plans, facilitated by mentors and supported by a network of criminal justice, social service, and community-based organizations, can positively affect gang-involved offenders returning to high-risk communities. Effective gang violence prevention policy should focus on developing programs that facilitate prosocial transitions for gang-involved inmates after release from incarceration.

     As bad old “police science and administration” (your blogger’s undergrad major) gave way to the modern disciplines of criminal justice and criminology, university programs began looking on policing – indeed, all forms of social control – far more skeptically. Consider, for example, a recent lead story in John Jay college’s The Crime Report, “Why Re-Arrest Doesn’t Mean You’re a Failure.” Its source, an extensive essay by Professor Cecelia M. Klingele in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, argues that re-arrest is a poor proxy of recidivism, as it fails to consider positive “life changes” and unspecified “nuances” that would yield a more accurate assessment of desistance from crime. (And, one might assume, a far more upbeat one as well.)

     While fine-tuning our measurement tools might yield some benefits, all this newfangled sophistication threatens to distract us from the reason we bothered in the first place. Whether recidivism stands at 77.8 or 87.7 percent, it’s flesh-and-blood people who pay the price. Powerful real-world examples of the human costs of crime, such as those that kicked off this essay, feed the fire of advocacy groups positioned well to the right of The Crime Report. Say, The Manhattan Institute. Its recent missive, “Issues 2020: Mass Decarceration Will Increase Violent Crime,” uses arrest, sentencing and reoffending data to argue that “given the extremely high rates of recidivism,” backing off on imprisonment can only lead to more suffering.

     Consider the story of Shomari Legghette. Thanks to his early release from prison, the four-time loser with convictions for armed robbery, guns, drugs and assault was running loose on Chicago’s streets. On February 13, 2019 he was approached by officers who wanted to question him about some recent gunplay. Legghette ran off, and when confronted by police commander Paul Bauer, who happened to be nearby, the forty-four year old chronic offender pulled a gun and repeatedly fired, incflicting fatal wounds. (For an account of Leggett’s troubled life – in his own words, no less – click here.)

     Full stop. Let’s look at some numbers. This graph uses LAPD’s UCR data to depict the city’s violent crime trend from 2010 thru 2018, the latest full year available:


The Blame Game” mentions three key easings during this period: a 2011 act (AB 109, the “Public Safety Realignment Act”) that shifted confinement and supervision of “non-serious, non-violent” felons from state prisons and parole agents to county jails and probation officers; Proposition 47, a 2014 measure that reduced many felonies to misdemeanors; and, two years later, Proposition 57, which reduced sentences and facilitated early parole.

     What caused the sharp, post-2013 uptick? Cops, prosecutors and the state peace officer’s association would say: “all three.” Their angst isn’t purely based on numbers. Consider, for example, Michael Mejia. After doing three years for robbery, the 26-year old Southern California resident was arrested for grand theft auto and served another two years. After his release he committed a string of violations. In the old days Mejia would have been returned to prison, but thanks to A.B. 109 he merely landed in county jail, and for brief periods, at that. On February 20, 2017 Mejia gunned down his cousin and stole a car. He then shot and killed veteran Whittier, Calif. police officer Keith Boyer and seriously wounded his partner.

     Whittier’s grieving chief and the L.A. County Sheriff laid blame on California’s legal retrenchments. Sheriff Jim McDonnell complained that his jails had become a “default state prison” and that thanks to the letup, “we’re putting people back on the street that aren’t ready to be back on the street.”

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     Not everyone sees it that way. According to the liberally-inclined Public Policy Institute of California, the uptick in violence was already in progress when Proposition 47, which it supports, came to be. That view was supported by researchers at UCI’s School of Social Ecology, who found no difference when comparing 2015 crime rates between California and “synthetic” equivalent states with like demographics but no changes in the laws. (Yes, that’s 2015 only.) Punching back, a conservative Oakland-based group, the Independent Institute, pointed out that property crimes such as car burglaries also surged after Prop. 47 took effect. In June 2018, the Public Policy Institute partly conceded. Yes, early releases may have somewhat increased offending, but only of the “property” kind. As for the spike in violence, that’s an artifact of changes in crime defining and reporting. And don’t fret, they added: recidivism is on the way down.

    We’ll wait while the blues and the reds duke it out. And keep an ear to what’s happening in New York. On January 1st. a bail reform law went into effect, eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and “non-violent” felonies, including some robberies and burglaries. That’s led to the release of many arrestees pending trial and, as the New York Times recently reported, is putting authorities “on edge”:

    A few liberal prosecutors, including the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, have embraced the changes, pointing to states that saw lower crime rates after they eliminated cash bail. But many prosecutors and police officials worry that some defendants released under the new rules will continue to commit crimes....

     Really.

UPDATES

4/23/20 Released without bail because of the pandemic, some California jail inmates who were being held pending trial have been quickly rearrested on new crimes. Rocky Lee Music, 32, an ex-con, allegedly committed a carjacking twenty minutes after his release from a jail where he was being held for car theft. Owen Aguilar, 27, who was being held for criminal threats, was arrested on multiple counts of arson a few days after his release. Kristopher Sylvester, 34, was let go twice. Two weeks after his release from jail, where he was being held on multiple counts of burglary, he and three buds were arrested for a string of car thefts. All four had substantial records, and all were let go.

4/17/20  To lessen the COVID-19 strain on its jails, on March 19 Hillsborough County, Fla. released 164 inmates who were booked on non-violent offenses. Among them was Joseph Edward Williams, a 26-year old ex-con arrested six days earlier for heroin possession. Williams has an extensive arrest record and convictions on burglary and gun charges. One day after his release he allegedly shot and killed a man. Williams is now back in jail. He faces charges of murder, resisting arrest and ex-con with a gun.

4/15/20  Two days ago Maryland’s chief appellate judge issued an “administrative order” directing juvenile court judges to avoid detaining juveniles, and to consider others for release, when consistent with public safety. Arguing against any mass release, the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center pointed out that what public defenders call “technical violations” may actually reflect dangerous behavior.

4/3/20  Ohio prisons hold 39,000 inmates. Pressed to grant early releases because of COVID-19, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine recommends that courts let thirty-eight non-violent offenders go. Of these, 23 are pregnant or delivered babies while serving time, and each of the others is over age sixty and within sixty days of release. “What we’re doing is trying to be very careful, very respectful of the local courts, very respectful of the victims, very respectful of public safety. That’s why we set a pretty strict — or very strict — criteria about who we would even think about.” Additional releases would be “methodically” considered, and public safety would come first.

3/27/20  An NIJ-funded meta-analysis concludes that “focused intervention” programs that go beyond what’s usually offered to ex-offenders can significantly reduce recidivism. Among these are cognitive-behavioral therapy, structured group counseling and drug court. NIJ practices page

3/11/20  A new academic study contradicts earlier findings by Chicago’s court system that bail reforms which increased the number of persons released before trial did not lead to more crime. Researchers instead found that after the 2017 loosening, the proportion of releasees charged with new crimes increased by 45 percent, and with new violent crimes by 33 percent. They also confirmed the Tribune findings reported below (see 2/13/20 update).

2/14/20  Fearful that official opposition to the State’s recent bail reforms may cause them to be dumped altogether, New York’s “progressives” are backing changes that would do away with cash bail but allow judges to keep dangerous accused in jail. Factors that would be considered for remand would include risk of non-appearance, criminal record and whether a crime resulted in death.

2/13/20  An extensive Chicago Tribune analysis of the effects of bail reforms implemented by the county’s chief judge, including the reduction and elimination of cash bail, concludes that claims it reduced violent crime are based on flawed data and a purposely narrow definition of a crime of violence. Twelve homicides were allegedly committed in Chicago during the first nine months of 2019 by persons released under the new rules.

2/11/20  In a speech to the Major Counties Sheriffs of America, AG William Barr warned that lax prosecution of repeat offenders by “progressive” D.A.’s who engage in “catch-and-release and revolving-door policies” (he mentioned San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago, and Baltimore) imperiled public safety and was causing increased crime and violence.

2/10/20  In 2017 Robert Williams, 43, was paroled for a 2002 attempted murder in which he shot a civilian during a carjacking then fired at police. Yesterday he ambushed two NYPD officers sitting in a van, then opened fire in a precinct house. Two officers were wounded. Williams, who was due to appear in court in connection with a recent arrest for obstructing police, was taken into custody.

2/10/20  A string of fatal vehicle-pedestrian accidents involving drivers with a history of moving violations is leading New York City authorities to consider get-tough measures against drivers who repeatedly rack up speeding and red-light camera tickets. Instead of simply being fined, recidivists could face mandatory driver education or have their vehicles impounded.

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