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Posted 12/6/21


California eased up on punishing theft. Did it increase crime? Embolden thieves?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Believe it or not, Jerry Brown got his start as a law-and-order type. In 1976, only a year into his first term as Governor, California’s former Secretary of State signed a bill replacing the state’s forgiving, indeterminate sentencing structure with tough-on-crime policies that prioritized punishment.

     Of course, considering the “crime wave” that beset the era, his move was likely inevitable. As were the  consequences. In time the state’s prisons became appallingly packed, creating insufferable conditions for inmates and guards alike. It took more than three decades, but in 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a 2009 ruling by a special three-judge panel ordering the release of more than thirty-thousand inmates.

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     At the time that the Supremes issued their slap-down, the Yale law school grad had just completed a four-year term as State Attorney General, and his second eight-year stint as Governor was underway. Despite his earlier leanings, Brown quickly fell in line with the new, less punitive approach, and during his term he would sign a host of measures reflecting California’s new normal. But we’ll begin our review with a law that was placed into effect by that famous “Red” politician whom Jerry Brown replaced.

  • Assembly Bill 2372. In September 2010, outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill raising the threshold for the felony crime of Grand Theft from $400 to $950. Most other thefts became misdemeanors.
  • Assembly Bill 109. In 2011, shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the prisoner cap, Governor Brown signed the “Public Safety Realignment Act.” Under its provisions, “non-serious, non-violent” offenders would serve their time in county jails instead of state prison. Generous good-time credits were thrown into the mix. During 2010-2012 California’s combined jail/prison population reportedly fell by more than twenty-thousand.
  • Proposition 47. Signed into law in November 2014, the enticingly (some would say, misleadingly) entitled “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” created the new offense of “shoplifting,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment. It applied to all thefts from businesses, including those planned in advance, as long as losses did not exceed $950. Since then “shoplifting” has kept most planned thefts from being charged, as was once customary, as felony burglary, as that requires entry with the intent to commit “grand or petit larceny or any felony.”
  • Proposition 57. Effective November 2016, the alluringly entitled “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act” allows non-violent felons to be considered for parole upon completion of the term for their main offense, regardless of other crimes for which they were convicted or any sentence enhancements that may have been imposed.

     Progressives have championed Jerry Brown’s legacy. Although the Los Angeles Times acknowledged in 2018 that there had been “spikes” in violent and property crime in the years following the enactment of AB 109 and Proposition 47, when the life-long servant finally, finally left public office it nonetheless applauded his decision to “change course.”

     Concerns about the potentially criminogenic effect of the Golden State’s new, go-easy approach have received considerable scrutiny, academic and otherwise. Before getting into the studies, though, we thought it best to present relevant data from the FBI. Our graphs depict property and violent crime rates per 100,000 population for California and the U.S. between 2010-2020.

     California and national crime trends seem mostly in sync. But there are a few exceptions. First, as to property crimes. Assembly Bill 109, the “prison cap,” slashed prison terms and transferred inmates to local custody and supervision. It went into effect in 2011. During the following year property crime spiked 6.8% (2583.8 to 2758.7). Proposition 47, which created the offense of “shoplifting,” became State law in late 2014. By the end of 2015 property crime was up 7.3% (2441.1 to 2618.3). Its largest component,  larceny-theft, increased 9.8 percent (1527.4 to 1677.1).

     Shifting our attention to violent crime, in 2014 California’s rate was at a decade-low 396.1. Three years later, following the enactment of Propositions 47 and 57, it reached a decade-high 449.3, an increase of 13.4 percent.

     How have experts interpreted these numbers? In “The Effects of Changing Felony Theft Thresholds” (2017) the Pew Charitable Trust reported that twenty four of thirty States that raised the felony theft threshold during 2010-2012 enjoyed lower property crime rates in 2015 (California, which passed AB 2372 in 2010, was one of six exceptions.) While the Trust conceded that rates in the twenty States that didn’t change their threshold wound up even lower, the difference was not considered “statistically significant.”

     Let’s skip forward to Proposition 47. Here are three prominent data-rich reports:

  • According to the Public Policy Institute of California, there is “some evidence” that Prop. 47 caused the 2014-2015 increase in larceny-theft. Rearrests and reconvictions for this crime also substantially declined (10.3 and 11.3 percent, respectively).
  • An NSF-funded study, “Impacts of California Proposition 47 on crime in Santa Monica, California,” found that thefts fitting the definition of “shoplifting” increased about fifteen percent in Santa Monica after the measure went into effect. Other crimes fell about nine percent. According to the authors, the surge could have been caused by the easing of punishment. Increased awareness might have also led to more reporting.
  • In “Can We Downsize Our Prisons and Jails Without Compromising Public Safety?”, two clearly reform-minded researchers conceded that larcenies and motor vehicle thefts seemed to increase after Prop. 47 went into effect. So they generated a statistical comparison group that estimated how many thefts would have occurred had the law not changed. They concluded that the difference between what actually happened and what would have happened was very small. So small, in fact, that releasing prisoners seems a perfectly safe approach.

     At present one can hardly turn to the media without being bombarded by breathless accounts of “smash and grab” thefts plaguing higher-end retailers, and particularly in California. In one of the most brazen heists, ninety suspects in twenty-five cars “stormed” a Northern California store last month, making off with “more than $100,000” worth of goods “in about a minute.”

     But the problem isn’t new. According to a notable “Red” media source, “brazen acts of petty theft and shoplifting” supposedly enabled and encouraged by Prop. 47 were being reported across California two years ago. Proposition 20, an initiative submitted to the state’s voters last year, promised to remedy things by lowering the bar for charging felony theft and doing away with early paroles, in effect reversing the easings brought on by Propositions 47 and 57.

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     Full stop. In the immediate post-Floyd era, justice and equity remain of grave concern. So much so, that even after retiring, former Governor Jerry Brown leaped back into the fray and called Proposition 20 a “prison spending scam.” And scam or not, it got trounced. But time has passed, and as a breathless article in the Washington Post just reported (it features video from hard-hit San Francisco), the chaos persists:

    Retail executives and security experts say the rise of such robberies — which have gone viral online and in some cases, spurred copycats — is the culmination of several factors, including a shortage of security guards, reluctance by police and prosecutors to pursue shoplifting offenses, and the growing use of social media as an organizational tool.

Evildoers are seemingly capitalizing on the less punitive atmosphere for their own selfish gain. What might happen should a “new and improved” Proposition 20 be introduced is anyone’s guess.

UPDATES (scroll)

4/18/24  In a concerted effort to tackle an epidemic of “flash robberies” by mobs of thieves, LAPD released a detailed series of images depicting hooded young persons swarming retailers on two occasions in March. They are described as “male Hispanics, five to six feet tall, 120 to 250 pounds, and appear to be between the ages of 15-25 years old.” Police cautioned that the thieves “used force and displayed a lack of regard for the safety of witnesses and victims.” They fled on bicycles.

4/10/24  Enacted in 2014, California Proposition 47 raised the threshold for felony theft to $950. That, say retailers, spurred on an epidemic of smash-and-grabs. A ballot initiative would address the issue by allowing felony charges for three-time repeat thieves and for strings of thefts where the total loss is at least $950. “The homelessness, drug addiction and theft reduction act” also targets the fentanyl crisis. Among (many) other things, drug treatment would be required for chronic users. Initiative 23-0017

4/3/24  “Bumper stickers, billboards and advertisements on public buses” warning criminals that they will be severely treated are three of the eye-catching elements of a campaign by Orange County, Calif. authorities as they combat a claimed epidemic of home invasions, burglaries, and “smash-and-grab” thefts. D.A. Todd Spitzer blames outsiders for committing the crimes, and State authorities for enacting legal easings that have made the consequences of being caught “far less than the reward.”

3/8/24  Faced by a steep rise in drug use and homelessness, progressively-minded San Francisco has (somewhat) retrenched. Police were prohibited from pursuing suspects except under the gravest circumstances. But with voters’ passage of Proposition E, they can do so when there is “reasonable suspicion that a person committed, is committing or is likely to commit a felony or violent misdemeanor.” Police will also be allowed to deploy drones and use facial recognition technology. But Proposition B, an expensive move to boost police staffing, was overwhelmingly rejected. Official digest

2/7/24  Oakland’s marked increase in violent crime and theft, which seem badly out of synch with other cities, has upset the local NAACP chapter. It urges tougher measures to protect vulnerable minority communities. “If there are no consequences for committing crime in Oakland, crime will continue to soar.” To help, Calif. Governor Kevin Newsom is sending 120 CHP officers. But he resists tinkering with the much-maligned Proposition 47, which eased criminal penalties. Some now blame that for more crime.

2/6/24  London Breed, San Francisco’s liberal Mayor, credits “strategic” policing with helping bring down crime in a city that was becoming beset by thievery. Black and immigrants residents of poor neighborhoods, she says, are nonetheless “pleading for more police,” and she urges approval of a March 5th. ballot measure that would grant them more means to fight crime, including the authority to use drones and surveillance cameras.

12/26/23  A raid by state officers on a Southern California warehouse and a make-up store yielded over a million dollars’ worth of cosmetics stolen from local retailers. Part of a task-force approach instituted by Governor Gavin Newsom in response to a sharp spike in retail theft, the seizure followed on the heels of an LAPD raid that yielded “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in goods purloined from L.A.-area businesses. These and other recoveries add fuel to a move by some lawmakers to undo Proposition 47, which recategorized all property crimes where the total loss is less than $950 as misdemeanors.

12/18/23  Last year, normally placid Vermont experienced a substantial uptick in shootings. And the violence has continued. Statewide, it’s suffered ten homicides since October. Burlington, where three Palestinian students were recently wounded in a hate attack, experienced sixteen “gunfire incidents” this year. In 2020 calls for defunding led the City Council to order police officer staffing reduced from 104 to 74. That move has since been moderated, but the city presently has 69 officers. Facing a scourge of public drug dealing and misbehavior, the city has hired security guards to help shoppers feel safe. (see 11/14/22 update)

9/27/23  Retail thefts, including large-scale assaults by organized bands of shoplifters (“flash mobs”), have made life difficult for chain stores.  Target, which reported a major increase in thefts involving threats or violence this year, is shuttering nine locations across the U.S. Walmart is following suit. Many retailers are trying to deal with the situation by removing desirable items from the shelves and placing them behind the counter. Self-checkout is also being limited. But according to an asset protection executive, “the situation is only becoming more dire.”

8/14/23  A “flash mob” of four dozen men and women wearing hoods hit a Nordstrom’s store in a Los Angeles-area shopping mall on Saturday afternoon. Quickly rummaging through the aisles, they grabbed $60,000-$100,000 worth of merchandise, then fled in vehicles without license plates. One week ago, a like number of thieves stormed a retailer in nearby Glendale, hauling off $300,000 in goods. “Smash-and-grabs”, mostly by smaller bands, have come to beset upper-end retailers throughout California. Video

7/21/23  Retail crime continues to beset Chicago. Solutions, though, seem out of reach. Kim Foxx, Chicago’s progressive D.A., eased up on offenders. And that, say her critics, led thievery from besieged stores to “skyrocket.” Not so in neighboring Oak Brook, whose cops and D.A. are reportedly enthusiastic crime-fighters and work closely with retail loss-prevention staff.

4/17/23  Hordes of shoplifters, many in organized gangs, beset New York City. A mere 327 repeat thieves were arrested six thousand times, a third of the total. They target select stores: 20% of episodes involve 18 department stores and seven pharmacies. Employees complain that shoplifters have become unusually aggressive. Retailers and many politicians, including the city’s mayor, blame the state’s 2020 bail reform, which eliminated cash bail and requires the release of non-dangerous offenders.

4/6/23  Reacting to the early-morning stabbing death of a tech executive in a tony part of San Francisco,  Twitter’s Elon Musk asked D.A. Brooke Jenkins, whether she is “taking stronger action to incarcerate repeat violent offenders” than former progressive D.A. Chesa Boudin, who was recalled last year. D.A. Jenkins, a a law-and-order type, assured that “we do not tolerate these horrific acts of violence in San Francisco.” And while violent crime in the city is somewhat down, homicide keeps rising.

3/8/23  When progressive Los Angeles D.A. George Gascon took office in 2020, he ordered a number of easings. Among them was that juveniles charged with serious and violent crimes not be transferred to adult court. Many deputies resisted. One was Shawn Randolph, a veteran D.A. who headed the juvenile division. So Gascon placed her elsewhere. She sued, alleging retaliation. A jury just awarded her $1.5 million. And more such suits are pending (see 2/24/23 update).

3/7/23  D.C.’s council is “withdrawing” a controversial measure that would have reduced the penalties for serious and violent crimes committed in the District. Its move comes after President Biden announced that he endorsed a Senate bill that torpedoes the easings. But the pot’s been stirred, so that prohibition remains likely to be enacted.

2/28/23  Taking up a cause championed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, “Red” members of Congress are scrambling to prevent forthcoming changes to the D.C criminal code. As things now stand, most mandatory minimums will soon be eliminated, and penalties for crimes including carjacking and robbery will be substantially reduced. But concerns about encouraging crime led thirty-one “Blues” in the House to approve a measure to nix the easings, and only one more “aye” in the Senate will send it to the Prez, who promised to sign it (see 2/16/23 update).

2/24/23  Four years ago a Los Angeles teen one-month shy of his 18th. birthday shot his girlfriend and her sister dead then set their apartment on fire. But prosecutors’ move to transfer the killer to adult court was cut short by progressive D.A. George Gascon, who forbid such transfers when he took office. Although he has apparently softened his stance, the passage of AB 2361, which requires evidence that minors are “not amenable to rehabilitation” as juveniles helped torpedoed more recent efforts at a transfer. And dismayed the victims’ families, who had been fervently hoping for the upgrade (see 3/8/23 update).

2/16/23  Concerns that proposed easings in the D.C. criminal code might send offenders the wrong message and make the District’s violent crime problem even worse led Mayor Muriel E. Bowser to suggest several revisions. Among these are retaining mandatory prison terms for convicted armed robbers who again get caught with a gun, restoring stiff terms for armed carjacking, which the revision halved, and eliminating a provision that treats residential burglary far more leniently should victims “sleep through.” (See 2/28/23 update)

2/3/23  Last Tuesday a 23-year old ex-con shot and killed a 24-year old police officer in the small, peaceful community of Selma, California. Officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr., who had two years on the job, encountered Nathaniel Dixon, 23, on a suspicious person call. Dixon quickly pulled a gun and shot the officer dead. Dixon had served a brief prison term for robbery. Once out he was repeatedly arrested on gun and drug charges. But thanks to a considerate plea deal and AB 109, he was released on probation.

1/23/23  With sixteen youths shot dead last year, twice 2021’s toll, and homicides at a near-20-year high, Washington D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser agreed that anxiety over crime is running high. Still, as she mentioned at a meeting with the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission, the homicide count during the crack epidemic was twice that number. But one of the group’s members complained that “children are picking up their first gun at 12.” Mayor Bowser later conceded that the woman’s remarks were indeed reflective of “what I hear in neighborhoods across the District of Columbia.”

1/18/23  Fearing that an easing would “send the wrong message” and spur more crime and violence in her besieged city, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had vetoed a bill that would “eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences.” Penalties for burglary and for violent crimes including carjacking and robbery would also be reduced. But the Council just overrode her veto, and the measure is expected to take effect. However, the move could be overriden by a joint action of Congress, a possible but unlikely scenario (see 11/14/22 update).

1/12/23  A recent “reaction essay” in Criminology and Public Policy challenged the findings of an article, published in a preceding issue, that reported crime increased in Philadelphia after a purposeful reduction in the prosecution of misdemeanors and felonies during 2015-2019. That stirred the original author to pen a rebuttal in which he criticizes the “reaction essay” as “imprecise and ideological” (see 7/25/22 update).

12/5/22  Adding to the discord in the L.A. D.A.’s office brought on by the election of George Gascon, a decades-long prosecutor is suing him after she was removed from a high-ranking position. Victoria Adams claims the move came as retaliation for objecting to a series of progressively-minded measures, including prohibitions on seeking sentence enhancements and trying juveniles as adults. Other assistant D.A.’s have also sued, and they and their colleagues have been openly criticizing their boss in the media.

11/14/22  In normally placid Burlington, Vermont, years passed without a shooting. After the George Floyd incident, the progressive city council reduced the size of the police force by twenty-five percent. Many officers became disenchanted and quit. Now violence has returned, and with a vengeance. Police have recorded twenty-five shootings this year, including four murders. Larcenies are also way up. Ditto hooliganism, drug sales and bike theft. Life in Burlington is not so placid anymore. (See 12/18/23 update)

11/14/22  With D.C. “awash in guns,” the Washington Post editorial board frets about the District’s near-certain approval of a measure that substantially lessens the punishment for firearms possession by persons convicted of violent crimes. If approved, the bill, which seeks to enhance the racial equity of the D.C. criminal code, would do away with a mandatory three-year minimum penalty and reduce the maximum from fifteen years to four. Penalties for other violent offenses would also be reduced (see 1/18/23 update).

10/27/22  Targeted for recall by anti-crime groups, Fairfax County, Va. D.A. Steve Descano uses data to show that he sought detention of violent offenders more often than courts allowed. His office policy, though, is to avoid prosecuting misdemeanors and to never seek cash bail, as it disadvantages the poor. Meanwhile his progressive counterpart in Philadelphia, D.A. Larry Krasner, faces impeachment for slacking off on prosecuting illegal gun possessors, of whom many have serious criminal histories.

10/19/22  Faisal Gill, a prime candidate for Los Angeles City Attorney, intends if elected to impose a 100-day “moratorium” on prosecuting misdemeanor crimes to give him time to decide what offenses merit being charged. That’s endeared him to civil rights activists but not to the police. Nor, apparently, to the normally liberally-inclined Los Angeles Times, which endorsed his opponent.

8/16/22  According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors working under progressive D.A. George Gascon are accepting as many felonies as always. But they’re filing only half as many misdemeanors - only 43 percent of what comes in - as his predecessor. Gascon and his supporters claim that’s not why violence has surged; instead, they attribute it to a substantial drop in homicide clearances by local police. Meanwhile a second attempt to force Gascon into a recall election has fizzled.

8/6/22  An academic study of prosecutions initiated in Florida in 2017 confirms that criminal cases adjudicated in jurisdictions with progressive chief prosecutors are less likely to yield prison sentences and felony convictions. Outcomes also seem more racially equitable. Whether lenient treatment leads to more crime, as many fear, was not assessed. However, the authors cite one study that suggests it does not.

7/25/22  “De-prosecution and death,” a new article in Criminology & Public Policy, reports that Philadelphia’s purposeful reduction in the prosecution of misdemeanors and felonies during 2015-2019  may have increased homicides by nearly 75 each year. During 2010-2014 homicides ranged from 246 to 331. They increased from 248 to 280 during 2014-2015 and closed out at 356 in 2019 (see 1/12/23 update).

7/23/22  In 2019 New York State eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. On July 21, during his campaign for New York Governor, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) was assaulted by a man wielding a pointed plastic object. David G. Jakubonis, 43, was tackled by bystanders and arrested for attempted assault. It’s considered a non-violent felony, and he was released without bail. This episode is now being cited as evidence that the “Blues” have gone unreasonably soft on crime. A day later Feds arrested Jakubonis for assaulting a Member of Congress, and he is being held without bail.

After serving six years of a 50-life term for robbery-murder, Andrew Cachu, 25, was released last year under the provisions of Prop. 57. Enacted in 2016, it requires that prosecutors who wish to apply adult sentencing to persons such as Cachu, who was 17 when he committed the crime,  justify it in a hearing. But progressive L.A. District Attorney George Gascon forbid it, and Cachu was freed. He is now charged with having a gun, possessing drugs for sale and fleeing from police.

7/16/22  When progressive Los Angeles D.A. George Gascon took office in 2020 he forbid prosecutors from seeking sentence enhancements based on prior convictions. His staff revolted, their union sued, and a State appeals court ordered him to rescind the directive, as State law trumped his policies. He did, but his lawyers have appealed to the California Supreme Court.

7/14/22  Starbucks announced that concerns about customer and employee safety, propelled by a series of “challenging incidents” involving drugs, mental illness and racism, was leading it to close six stores in Los Angeles, six in the Seattle area, two in Portland, and one each in Philadelphia and D.C. Employees will have an opportunity to transfer.

7/2/22  Prostitution remains illegal in California (P.C. 647, a misdemeanor). But a bill just signed by Governor Gavin Newsom strikes wording that criminalizes “loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.” According to the Governor, “it simply revokes provisions of the law that have led to disproportionate harassment of women and transgendered adults.” While progressives bemoan the toll that policing takes on “sex workers,” others worry that the easing will exacerbate human trafficking.

6/30/22  Justin Flores, a 35-year old Southern California man, had a long criminal record. But thanks to the D.A.’s intercession, his conviction last year for felon with a gun resulted in probation. And even as Flores continued misbehaving - a warrant was recently issued for domestic violence - probation officers failed to follow up in person. So they’re also catching blame for the violent deaths of two El Monte police officers earlier this month, shot dead by Flores when they responded to reports of an assault at a motel.

6/17/22  According to a deputy L.A. county prosecutor, Justin Flores, who murdered two El Monte police officers on June 14, had a prior felony conviction that should have counted as a “strike” when he was arrested for drug and gun offenses in 2020. But new, progressive D.A. George Gascon forbid using enhancements. In 2021 Flores pled no contest, and the lack of a “strike” enabled him to get probation instead of prison time. Flores was under probation supervision when he gunned down the officers. Judges later ruled that State sentencing laws overruled Gascon’s lenient policy, and he withdrew it.

6/7/22  Far fewer teens under eighteen are being sent to adult courts, even for serious crimes. That “historic” shift - referrals dropped from about 250,000 (8% of youths) to about 53,000 (2%) between 2010 and 2019 - is meant to prevent the harms of imprisonment. Community treatment options including counseling and peer mediation show considerable promise. But there have been some notable failures, and skeptics abound. One police chief called the new approach “arrest, release, repeat.”

5/4/22  According to the progressively-minded L.A. Times, most of progressive L.A. District Attorney George Gascon’s prosecutors back the current campaign to recall him from office. He earned their disapproval from the very start, when he barred them from seeking the death penalty or asking for sentence enhancements. And while Gascon has moderated some of his stances - prosecutors can again (with approval) ask judges to impose life terms for murder - one-hundred twenty have resigned, leaving their colleagues with insufferable caseloads.

4/27/22  In a rural area of Colorado, a progressive prosecutor came to office on a promise of no more “criminalization of poverty.” One and one-half years later, a string of dismissals and reduced charges for  serious and violent crimes has caused victims to complain, and the State A.G. is investigating. A recall campaign has been mounted. Alonzo Payne admits he’s made mistakes. But he defends his efforts. “I’m dismissing the case when it’s crap, and I’m not going to have somebody wait in jail just because I can.”

4/25/22  FBI Director Christopher Wray bemoans the lack of attention given to the killings of police officers. Seventy-three were feloniously killed in 2021, a 59 percent increase over the forty-six murdered in 2020 and a “20-year high.” Director Wray attributs the increase to a jump in violent crime, more criminal involvement by juveniles, a surge of gun trafficking across State lines, and an “alarming frequency of some of the worst of the worst getting back out on the streets.”

4/13/22  LAPD attributes a sharp increase in “follow-off” robberies to teams of South-L.A. gang members who assail persons they observe leaving luxury stores and steal jewelry and other valuables for resale to entrepreneurs. There were 165 such robberies in 2021 and 56 so far this year. A special task force has served nearly 300 search warrants and made dozens of arrests for robbery, gun possession and attempted murder. But officers are frustrated that arrestees are quickly released without bail. It took four arrests - most recently, for seven robberies - before one suspect was finally held without bond.

4/8/22  Brothers Dandrae Martin, 26 and Smiley Martin, 27 were arrested after an April 3 shootout between rival gang members in a crowded Sacramento entertainment district that killed six and wounded twelve, including innocent bystanders. Both were wounded, and Smiley remains hospitalized. Both are felons and face ex-con with gun charges. Smiley also faces a machinegun charge, as his gun was converted to fire full auto. Against prosecutor’s wishes - Smiley was a long-time gunslinger and considered very dangerous - he recently gained early release from a ten-year prison term. According to an AP investigation, his lenient treatment was enabled by California Prop. 57, which redefined crimes considered most dangerous and vastly expanded opportunities for good credits and early release.

3/26/22  California authorities arrested a group of nine persons for stealing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in name-brand clothing from major California retailers during the past year. Meanwhile, in tony Beverly Hills, masked burglars armed with a sledgehammer smashed through a jewelry store window during mid-afternoon and made off with $5 million worth of loot while amazed bystanders looked on.

3/2/22  “We can’t have a city where our drugstores and bodegas and restaurants are leaving because people are walking into the stores, taking whatever they want on the shelves and walking out.” New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ complaint about a post-pandemic wave of thievery is borne out by the numbers. While complaints of retail thefts in NYC increased 16 percent between 2019-2021, the proportion leading to arrest plunged from 48.5 percent to 28 percent. Blame is attributed to permissive bail laws, police preoccupation with crimes of violence, and the rise of an online marketplace for stolen goods.

2/17/22  After facing threats of recall over his progressive policies, George Gascon, L.A.’s liberally-minded D.A. tweaked his much-criticized decision to forbid prosecutors from trying juveniles as adults. Instead, he now requires that such moves be approved by a supervisor. That change, he says, is in response to a looming judicial decision on Proposition 57, whose provisions could be interpreted to force the mass release of juveniles who were convicted as adults, and even for the most serious crimes. Gascon subsequently announced he would again allow prosecutors, with his approval, to seek life  sentences, whose imposition he forbid when taking office.

2/16/22  A poll of California voters reveals that a clear majority is concerned that crime has increased, and 59 percent favor rescinding provisions in Prop. 47 that reduced penalties for many property crimes to misdemeanors. Legislators across the political spectrum have also introduced bills and proposed ballot measures that would restore felony/misdemeanor thresholds to former, more punitive levels.

1/4/22  Beset by smash-and-grab robberies and shopflifting, liberal-minded residents of normally placid San Francisco bemoan that their city has changed, and not for the better. According to SFPD data, larceny-theft increased 20.3 percent in 2021, and homicide is up 16.7 percent. Much of the problem is attributed to the city’s pronounced economic disparities, which were exacerbated by the pandemic.

12/30/21  An L.A. Times editorial ridicules the notion that Prop. 47 and bail reform may have increased crime. Instead, it points out that according to LAPD data, robbery and burglary have declined since 2019. That’s true for robbery, but only when compared to 2020 (it increased 5.3% this year.) Burglaries have come down somewhat, but Prop. 47 narrowed its application. Vehicle thefts are up 53.6% since 2019, and  other forms of theft increased this year. And the Times itself recently published a story about a murder allegedly committed by two persons who had been released after their arrest for serious crimes.

12/18/21  Responding to critics who demand that Proposition 47 be undone and the definition of felony theft revert to previous levels, Calif. Governor Kevin Newsom pledged $270 million to help police and prosecutors combat the “organized gangs” responsible for the rash in theft. Meanwhile progressive San Francisco Mayor London Breed has declared “a state or emergency” in the city’s notorious “tenderloin” district and pledged additional police funds to counter drug use, disorder and retail thievery.

12/10/21  Smash-and-grabs continue to beset Southern California retailers. And when it comes to guns, the consequences could be especially profound. In Garden Grove, masked thieves broke into a gun store during the early morning hours and got away with forty firearms. They sped off in a pair of BMW’s.

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Bail and Sentence Reform special topic

De-Prosecution? What’s That?     A Broken “System”     What’s Up? Violence. Where? Where Else?

Letting Go     The Blame Game     Rewarding the Naughty

Posted 10/25/21, edited 11/25/21


Violence besets poor neighborhoods. So why should the well-off care?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “In 2020, the United States witnessed a nearly 30% increase in the murder rate – which is the largest increase in the 60 years that the FBI has been keeping records. And 77% of those homicides were committed with a firearm.” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s October 6th. address to the Major Cities Chiefs Association actually began with the grim recap of a recent series of shootings of Federal law enforcement officers, including the killing of a DEA agent.

     Violent crime did increase in 2o2o, and in many places quite dramatically. This table displays poverty, violent crime (murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault) and homicide data for eight cities featured in recent Police Issues essays: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, and Portland. (In November we added a ninth, the District of Columbia.) They appear in order of percent of residents in poverty according to the 2019 ACS. Number of violent crimes and homicides in 2019 are from the UCR, and for 2020 they’re from the Crime Data Explorer (violence and homicide rates are both calculated per 100,000 pop.)

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Here’s the data in graphic form:

     While the magnitude of the increases varied from place to place, poorer places generally got the raw end of the deal: they often began with higher rates of violence, and increases – particularly, in homicide – were usually more pronounced:

     Elevated levels of violence persisted into 2021. For example:

  • Portland reported 40 homicides, 761 robberies and 6,671 assaults between January 1 and September 30, 2020. During the same period this year there were 63 homicides (a 58 percent increase), 816 robberies and 7,100 assaults. Police attribute the sharp increase in murder to budget cuts, a loss of officers and the disbandment of a specialized unit due to concerns about discriminatory policing.
  • New York City recorded 374 homicides, 9,980 robberies and 16,173 felony assaults from January 1 through October 10, 2020. During that period this year there were (again) 374 homicides, 9,976 robberies and 17,412 felony assaults.
  • Chicago reported  623 murders and 6,091 robberies from January 1 through October 13, 2020. During that period this year there were 639 murders and 5,760 robberies.
  • Los Angeles recorded 265 homicides, 6,233 robberies and 14,248 aggravated assaults from January 1 through October 9, 2020. This year’s corresponding toll came in at 307 homicides, 6,266 robberies and 15,548 aggravated assaults.
  • D.C. suffered 201 homicides in 2021 as of Nov. 23. That’s 11% more than during the same period in 2020, when there were 179. Even when compared with full years, it’s the greatest number of murders since 2003, when there were 248. It’s more than twice as many as in 2012, when there were 88 murders, and 42 percent more than in 2017, when the homicide count was 116.

     But our concern isn’t about differences between cities. Instead, it’s about disparities within. Best we can tell, the middle-class neighborhood where my wife and I reside has been free of violent crime, or any property crime of consequence, for, um, thirty years. Many of our readers can probably boast likewise. To be sure, drive a couple miles one way or the other and things can get gloomy. And that’s within the same city. Say that a Martian criminologist lands on our block and asks whether violence and economic conditions are linked on the Earth, as they are on its planet. How would we respond?

     Well, we could refer to our lead table and cite U.S. poverty and homicide rates. Or, say, New York City’s. Job done! But either response would mislead. As essays in our Neighborhoods special section have long argued, the risk of victimization depends on where. In the end, neighborhoods – the places where we live – are what really “counts” (see, most recently, “The Usual Victims”).

     Consider the Big Apple. New York City’s Furman Center collects poverty and “serious” crime data for each of the city’s “community districts” (i.e., neighborhoods). Serious violent crimes include “most types of assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, murder (including non-negligent manslaughter), rape,

and robbery.” Both vary widely among the city’s 59 districts. Poverty ranges between 4.1 and 40.3 percent, while in 2020 “serious violent crime” went between 0.7 and 12.4 per thousand population. We used the Center’s data to generate the scattergram (each “dot” represents a community district) and its accompanying table. They indicate that within New York City, violence and poverty increase and decrease pretty much in sync. This relationship is confirmed by a sizeable “r” statistic (its value can range from zero, meaning no relationship between variables, to one, a lock-step association.)

     “Fix Those Neighborhoods!” described large disparities in poverty and violence within New York City and Los Angeles in 2020. We contrasted the per/100,000 murder rates of the Big Apple’s wealthy Upper East Side (pop. 220,000, poverty 7.2%, murder rate 0.5) and its struggling Brownsville district (pop. 86,000, poverty 29.4%, murder rate 29.1). We also compared affluent West Los Angeles (pop. 228,000, poverty 11.3%, murder rate 1.8) with the impoverished 77th. Street area (pop. 175,000, poverty 30.7%, murder rate 27.4).

     Those inequalities persisted into this year. Between January 1 and October 17, 2021, NYPD’s well-off 19th. precinct, which covers the Upper East Side, posted two killings (one more than last year), yielding a murder rate of 0.9/100,000. In contrast, the 73rd. precinct, which handles Brownsville, logged fourteen homicides. While that’s better than the twenty-two killings it recorded at that point in 2020, its murder rate, 16.3, was still eighteen times higher than its wealthy competitor’s.

     Not much changed in Los Angeles, either. LAPD’s been screaming bloody (murder) about the city’s 2021 increase in homicide, which is greatly burdening its beleaguered detectives. What the newspaper article didn’t mention is that West L.A. doesn’t need their help: as of October 16, none of its 228,000 residents have been murdered this year. Not one. Meanwhile the economically distraught 77th. Street area (pop. 175,000) posted forty-four killings, yielding a rate of 25.1.

     “Don’t Divest – Invest!” compared Portland’s ten most prosperous neighborhoods with the ten most stricken by poverty. Using Portland Police Bureau crime data for 2021 (Jan. 1 through September 30), and neighborhood population and poverty figures from Portland Monthly, we compared crimes against person rates between the five most prosperous neighborhoods and the five least. Check out that table on the left. As one would expect, poverty and crime lined up most convincingly

     We could go on, but the point’s obvious. In our country’s many poverty-stricken neighborhoods, things are harkening back to the violence-ridden years of the crack epidemic. So why hasn’t America embarked on that “Marshall PlanPolice Issues keeps yakking about? As we’ve repeatedly implored, “a concerted effort to provide poverty-stricken individuals and families with child care, tutoring, educational opportunities, language skills, job training, summer jobs, apprenticeships, health services and – yes – adequate housing could yield vast benefits.”

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     Last December John Jay’s The Crime Report actually published one of our rants. They even entitled it “Memo to Joe Biden”! Alas, your faithful blogger never heard from the White House. We recently deduced the reason. According to the very “woke” The New York Times, unless President Biden’s “social safety net” bill is substantially shrunk it will go nowhere. With that in mind, Senator Joe Manchin (D – W.Va.) offered an obvious fix: “Limit access to every program in the ambitious measure to only those Americans who need it most.” Makes sense, right? Not to Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who represents a prosperous area of New Jersey. Instead of limiting child care benefits to families that earn no more than twice a state’s median income, her recent amendment extended the proposed benefit to nearly everyone. Why? Because of an apparently widespread concern among “Blues” that unless the upper-crust gets its cut, even the “wokest” voters might defect to the “Reds”.

     Hmm. Anyone still up for that “Marshall Plan”? Nah, we didn’t think so.

UPDATES (scroll)

7/9/24  More than one-hundred shot; nineteen killed. That’s Chicago’s tally for the Thursday-Sunday July 4th. weekend. About forty-five shootings occurred on Friday alone. Mayor Brandon Johnson attributed the toll to “generations of disinvestment.” Police Supt. Larry Snelling’s reaction was less nuanced. “What we really have to think about is the brazenness and the behavior of those who could walk into a home and see children and women and open fire.” But both called for a stern response. “There will be consequences....We will not let criminal activity ruin and harm our city” said Johnson.

7/8/24  A surge of gun violence over the July 4th. weekend left at least 33 dead across the U.S. More than one-third of the casualties were in Chicago, where at last count thirteen were killed. And in Detroit, an early-a.m. Sunday bloc party was convulsed by gunfire, killing two and wounding “more than a dozen.” But it’s not just the holidays. According to criminologists, “the gathering, the free time, the drinking” have always made summer months the most lethal. School’s out. With little else to do, teens easily come into conflict. Tempers also flare with the heat. That’s especially a problem in poorer areas, where “there’s nowhere to cool down and tensions rise.”

3/7/24  Philadelphia’s bus system has endured a shooting on each of the past four days. Today, Wednesday, the occupants of a passing car discharged “more than 30” rounds at high school students waiting at a bus stop. Eight teens were wounded, one critically. Shootings during the prior three days killed two adults and a 17-year old dead and left four persons wounded. No arrests have been made. Police blame persons who illegally carry weapons and use them to settle arguments.

1/9/24  In 1992, East Palo Alto, a Northern California city then populated by about 24,000 persons, had 42 murders. Its rate, 175/100K, was highest in the U.S. But things got better, and in 2023, America’s once-“murder capital” had...zero. Sharifa Wilson, who was Mayor, credits the improvement, in part, to investments in job creation. “We don’t raise our kids to be drug dealers. “By creating opportunities for them to work, that had an impact.” The poverty rate, then about 17%, has dropped to about 12%.

1/3/24  It’s not something to brag about. In 2023 our nation’s capital city - the District of Columbia - recorded 274 homicides. That’s an appalling thirty-percent increase from 2022, when there were 203 murders, and represents by far the worst toll in at least twenty years. Indeed, all the numbers were bad. Robberies jumped from 2,076 to 3,470, a startling sixty-seven percent. Overall, violent crime was up 39 percent. Serious property crime was also up - by 24 percent. That increase was largely “fueled” by car thefts. They surged from 3,756 to 6,829, a remarkable jump of eighty-two percentD.C crime stat’s

10/25/23  In his New York Times column, Paul Krugman, a distinguished university professor and winner of the Nobel prize in economics, writes of his befuddlement that although urban crime and violence have substantially receded, and few are personally victimized, fear of crime remains pervasive. His references, though, are to aggregate statistics, and he doesn’t address differences in crime rates between neighborhoods, nor - as an economist - of the deep link between crime and poverty.

10/24/23  Children living in poverty face serious educational challenges. A Harvard study that compared college admission test scores in 2011, 2013 and 2015 led economists to conclude that “children from rich and poor families receive vastly different educations, in and out of school, driven by differences in the amount of money and time their parents are able to invest.” Schools in poor neighborhoods have limited funding, but bringing underserved children to grade level is expensive. Overall, Black and Hispanic children are more affected, as they tend to live in poorer areas. Study

9/27/23  With two more murders occurring later that day, Washington, D.C.’s homicide count, which was 199 as of 12:00 am, September 26, has surpassed 200. That’s a 25-year high, and 28 percent worse than at this time last year, when there were 203 total murders. Officials are concerned that this year’s death count may approach 1997’s, when 303 were slain. Ans as usual, the burden has fallen most acutely “on Black residents in the District’s most underserved neighborhoods.” Police are reportedly taking a “tougher approach,” but with 3,328 officers, its force is the smallest in fifty years.

8/21/23  Although homicides are reportedly down in other major cities, D.C.’s are up 27 percent, with 166 so far this year versus 131 during the same period in 2022. According to a Major Cities Police Chiefs survey covering the first six months of each year, that’s the fifth-worst performance of its seventy members. Why D.C. homicides are up has been attributed to a lack of recovery from the pandemic. Two-thirds of the murders took place in the city’s poorest wards.

6/8/23  So far this year Washington D.C. has suffered an appalling 102 murders. That’s 19% greater than at this point last year and the most during the period in 20 years. (L.A., with more than five times the population, has had 106). Excepting burglary, which is down 9%, all other serious crime has also increased. Meanwhile officer staffing is at its lowest point in 50 years. Chief Benedict says that cops are focusing their efforts on high-crime areas, and that this approach is proving effective. D.C. crime data

6/1/23  Washington D.C. is plagued by armed robbers who are literally children. Days ago, an 11-year old was arrested for three street robberies. One of his victims remarked that the masked youth seemed to weigh all of ninety pounds. Charges were also recently levied against a 12-year old for nine “carjackings, robberies and assaults.” A local outreach worker remarked that older teens are having their young siblings accompany them on the streets. According to D.C. police a majority of the 43 persons arrested for carjacking in 2023 are juveniles in their mid-teens.

5/5/23  Violence-ridden Minneapolis is beset by three street gangs: the “Lows,” the “Highs”, and the “Bloods”. On May 3 DOJ unsealed indictments charging thirty members of the “Highs” and the “Bloods” with a RICO conspiracy to commit murder and robbery and to traffic in drugs. Fifteen additional members are charged with Federal gun and drug violations. A like indictment naming the “Lows” is anticipated.  DOJ news release

3/30/23  D.C.’s chief prosecutor is a U.S. Attorney. Despite public and political concerns about the district’s rise in crime, U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Grave’s office rejected prosecuting sixty-seven percent of arrestees in 2022, nearly twice the rate of rejection in 2015. But Graves said that most arrests for serious violent crimes are prosecuted. Declinations are mostly for gun and drug possession and misdemeanors. One reason is that the District must now pay outsiders for DNA, firearm and fingerprint analysis. Another is that officer bodycam footage often conflicts with what officers say.

2/27/23  Increases in crime and violence, and particularly their spread to higher-income neighborhoods, are leading politicians and would-be politicians in even the “Bluest” of cities to support more aggressive policing and criticize those who don’t. That’s true in Chicago, where the Mayoral campaign revolves around crime, in San Francisco, whose D.A. was recalled for going easy on criminals, in New York City, which is now led by an ex-cop, and in L.A., where curbing crime and homelessness are #1 on the agenda.

2/11/23  Beset by a sharp spike in crime, violence and homelessness that began during the pandemic, Portland’s normally progressively-minded inhabitants kicked out a city commissioner who favored cutting the police. Problem is, the metro area’s unhoused jumped from 4,000 to “at least 6,600” in three years. And last year’s homicide count - 97 - was nearly three times 2019’s “measly” 36.  But Portlanders are sharply divided over how to return the former boomtown to its treasured status as “a liberal utopia.

1/23/23  With sixteen youths shot dead last year, twice 2021’s toll, and homicides at a near-20-year high, Washington D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser agreed that anxiety over crime is running high. Still, as she mentioned at a meeting with the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission, the homicide count during the crack epidemic was twice that number. But one of the group’s members complained that “children are picking up their first gun at 12.” Mayor Bowser later conceded that the woman’s remarks were indeed reflective of “what I hear in neighborhoods across the District of Columbia.”

1/11/23  Spurred by the recent gunning down of a worker who stepped outside a restaurant to deliver a meal, a group of Washington D.C. activists formed an “anti-violence campaign.” Bright red posters bearing its logo, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, will be placed throughout the violence-beset Southeast region of the capital city. Posters bearing this logo will also line the route of the MLK Day Peace March and parade on January 17. Meanwhile police are hoping for witnesses or tips.

11/14/22  In normally placid Burlington, Vermont, years passed without a shooting. After the George Floyd incident, the progressive city council reduced the size of the police force by twenty-five percent. Many officers became disenchanted and quit. Now violence has returned, and with a vengeance. Police have recorded twenty-five shootings this year, including four murders. Larcenies are also way up. Ditto hooliganism, drug sales and bike theft. Life in Burlington is not so placid anymore.

11/7/22  Last night, in a Philadelphia area “notorious for drug use and gun violence,” several persons exited a car and opened fire near the entrance to a rapid transit line. More than forty shots were fired, wounding nine persons, five critically. So far there have been no arrests and the motive is unknown. It’s not Philadelphia’s first mass shooting this year. A recent episode left six wounded; an earlier shooting wounded eleven and killed three.

10/28/22  Portland business owners are vociferously complaining about crime. And that when it happens, “there is no accountability.” Their concerns reflect real numbers: a 7.8 percent rise in violent crime this year on top of a 27 percent increase the year before. It’s become the central issue of the Gubernatorial race in what’s been a “reliably Blue State” for forty years.

9/12/22 Minneapolis was once called “Murderapolis.” With 64 homicides so far this year, more than twice the toll of the pre-2020 era, and an unending wave of carjackings, that sobriquet again rings true. A new public/private task force, HEALS 2.0, urges special efforts to combat the violence and to hire the 300 cops the city’s short. Violence, and especially gun violence, also besets our nation’s capital. Murder in D.C is worse than in 2021, when killings reached a 20-year high. According to a local activist, “residents are scared...they are angry...we feel like we don’t have enough support.”

9/1/22  Columbus, Ohio resident Donovan Lewis, 20, had arrest warrants for “improper handling of a firearm, domestic violence, and assault” when police officers rousted him from bed during the early morning hours of August 30. And as the man raised his hand, gripping what turned out to be a vape pen, a “30-year veteran” of the force shot him dead. State officers are investigating.

8/9/22  Portland has suffered 800 shootings and 50 homicides this year and is on track to top 2021’s record-beating 89 murders. That would reportedly be the largest such increase for any city of like size. Gun violence is also besetting previously unaffected areas. But a “wave” of detectives retired in 2020 and there are 100 police vacancies, limiting the ability to respond. Philadelphia, which had a record number of murders in 2021, is feeling a like pinch. Ditto Los Angeles.

8/8/22  Violent crime continues to beset Chicago and D.C. Chicago suffered four fatal shootings overnight Friday. Thru July 31st. it’s recorded 379 murders. That’s better than 2021, when there were 452, but 30 percent worse than the 292 in 2019. But robberies, burglaries and thefts are each substantially worse than last year.  D.C. reports 128 murders thru August 5 versus 114 last year. Robberies are also up (1271 v. 1060.) That, says the Washington Post, reflects “an absence of hope.”

8/3/22  “Three dozen” residents of Washington D.C. were struck by gunfire in six days. Six died. Men armed with assault rifles twice “sprayed more than 90 bullets into parking lots,” killing two, and a shooter opened fire into a crowd gathered outside an apartment building, wounding six. D.C. has suffered 127 murders so far this year, eleven percent more than during the same period in 2021. But on a positive note, assaults with dangerous weapons are down eight percent.

7/14/22  Starbucks announced that concerns about customer and employee safety, propelled by a series of “challenging incidents” involving drugs, mental illness and racism, was leading it to close six stores in Los Angeles, six in the Seattle area, two in Portland, and one each in Philadelphia and D.C. Employees will have an opportunity to transfer.

7/6/22  According to a new University of Michigan study, four in ten American children born between 1999-2005 were raised in a household where at least one adult had been charged with a serious criminal offense. Nine percent of children were exposed to adults who had been imprisoned. Childrens’ exposure to adults with criminal records was far higher in lower-income, Black and Native American households. It was also strongly associated with developmental problems. Study

4/13/22  According to a new Pew poll, “crime, drugs, and public safety” are Philadelphia residents’ primary concern. At 44%, the proportion of respondents who feel safe in their neighborhoods is the lowest since 2009. And while the proportion who believe that police treat Blacks and Whites equally has dropped - for Blacks it’s only 32 percent - 69 percent of Black respondents (the largest proportion by race) believe there are too few police. That may be because 60 percent of Blacks (the largest proportion by race) also feel that gun violence has had a “major impact” on the quality of their neighborhood life.

2/21/22  Whiplash! That’s what D.C. police chief Robert Contee must have felt during his yearly review as activists slammed his agency’s “lagging effort” to embrace reform while the City Council berated its failure to tamp down violence. Murders soared from 166 in 2019 to 226 in 2021, an 18-year high, and a  “surge in carjackings” keeps drivers on edge. Meanwhile the force, which dropped in strength from 3,976 officers in 2013 to 3,766 in 2020, reportedly lost an additional 260 cops during the past year.

12/29/21  Philadelphia’s surge in violence - it’s had 555 murders this year, compared to 492 in 2020 and 352 in 2019 - has led some Black community leaders, including the former Mayor, to criticize D.A. Larry Krasner’s downplay of the violence that besets poor neighborhoods. Krasner, a White progressive who champions racial equity and an easing of policing, insists he’s been misunderstood. Around the U.S., increased crime and depleted officer ranks slammed the brakes on a Floyd-inspired movement to cut police funding. Cities who did, including L.A. and New York, have restored what was taken, and more.

12/21/21  DOJ is awarding $1.6 billion in grants to police, prosecutors and community organizations to support violence reduction programs, including evidence-based law enforcement strategies, crisis intervention for drug abusers and the mentally ill, and assistance for releasees transitioning to society.

12/14/21  A new academic study that analyzed the effects of “racial and economic segregation” in thirteen cities during the pandemic concluded that in 2020 gun violence, aggravated assault and homicide were at significantly higher levels in “marginalized” ZIP codes, and that the disparity between privileged and unprivileged areas had increased since 2018.

12/11/21  Chicago has recorded 756 murders this year through Dec. 5. That’s only 3.8% higher than the 727 reported for this period in 2020 but 37.6% more than in 2019. In response, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed a law that could steer tens of millions to community groups that provide services to the violence-prone, including job training and mental health support. Funding, though, isn’t guaranteed. Opponents criticize the progressive leader’s approach, which includes a law that will eventually eliminate cash bail, as failing citizens and being overly accommodating to criminals.

11/25/21   Gun violence in D.C. is soaring. But the District has 200 fewer officers than in 2020. According to the police union, the loss of cops and new rules that “impede” the fight against crime are the cause. But civil rights activists disagree.

11/3/21  In a text exchange with Chicago’s mayor, McDonald CEO Chris Kempczinski attributed the killing of Adam Toledo, as well as the shooting death of a child in one of the burger chain’s drive-thru lanes, to poor parenting. “With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say.” These words became public, and outrage came swiftly. An irate community leader said that the CEO “doesn’t know what it is to be poor. People like him look at our community like garbage and at the same time want to sell us their products.” Kempczinski has deeply apologized.

11/1/21  LAPD statistics paint a grim picture. So far this year 1,202 persons have been shot and 326 killed, versus 1,007 and 277 during the same period last year. A recent three-day span featured thirteen shootings, leaving sixteen wounded and three dead. All the shootings but two occurred in the city’s beset South and Central Bureaus. Housing projects are now girding for yearly gang gatherings known as “hood days.” Police will have “violence intervention workers” and “peace ambassadors” on hand.

10/28/21  On Sunday, October 25 veteran Compton pastor Reginald Moore, 65 was shot and killed while walking to his car after leading a Bible study session at church. His assailant’s identity and motive are as yet unknown. Pastor Moore had frequently spoken about the need for gang members to abandon violence. Only a month has passed since he attended the funeral of his 27-year old grandniece, Dominique Moore, who was gunned down in Watts. Her killer’s identity and motive are also unknown.

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Memo to Joe Biden: Focus on Neighborhood Safety (The Crime Report, Dec. 7, 2020)


Special topics:  Neighborhoods

See No Evil - Hear No Evil      Good News/Bad News   Fearful, Angry, Fuzzy-headed. And Armed.

Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (II)     Does Legal Pot Drive Violence?   Hard Times in “The Big Easy”

What’s Up? Violence. Where? Where Else?     Backing Off     Full Stop Ahead     The Usual Victims

Don’t “Divest” – Invest!     But is it Really Satan?     Place Matters    Can the Urban Ship be Steered?

Fix Those Neighborhoods!

Posted 5/3/21


Cops can’t correct what most needs fixing

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. It’s a heartbreaking sight, and no less so because we know how things turned out for the sixteen-year old.  Alas, little about Ma’Khia Bryant or her circumstances were likely known by the Columbus, Ohio officer who pulled up to the chaotic scene in response to a 9-1-1 call about someone aggressively wielding a knife. (For a video taken from across the street click here. For a stop-motion bodycam video click here.)

     Clearly, the cop had only moments to act. But as one might expect, he was promptly condemned. No less a figure than LeBron James quickly tweeted a sarcastic “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY.” Once body cam and bystander videos surfaced, though, their depiction of the speed at which events unfolded and the imminent threat to life somewhat muted the criticism. Taking the time to “de-escalate” could have been the same as doing nothing. Colleagues and citizens from across the racial spectrum have come to the star-crossed officer’s defense. Yet regardless of their (admittedly belated) support, consider how killing a young person must feel.

Click here for the complete collection of crime & punishment essays

     However justifiable, the shooting reignited chronic discontent. Only six years after Columbus resolved a DOJ patterns-and-practices inquiry into alleged police misconduct, its Mayor asked (and activists demanded) that the Feds launch another. We’re well aware that the present tenor is to blame poor outcomes on the cops, and only the cops. And we agree that there’s always something to gain by dispassionately analyzing their practices. We’ve done it ourselves. This time, though, let’s focus on something that’s beyond the power of even the most enlightened officers to change. We’re talking, of course, about place.

     We’ll start with Columbus. It has twenty-six regular ZIP codes. We collected their population and poverty rates from the Census, and computed the number of aggravated assaults using the LexisNexis community crime map, to which Columbus PD contributes. (2019 was chosen to avoid the influences of the pandemic.)

Check out the scattergram. Each ZIP code is represented by a dot. Note how poverty and aggravated assault (rate per 100,000 pop.) increase in nearly lock-step fashion. Their association, which yields a robust .79 “r” coefficient, reflects the powerful relationship between crime and economic conditions that we harp about in our Neighborhoods essays.

     To make the connection between poverty and violence even more evident we compared the five ZIP’s with the lowest aggravated assault rates with the five ZIP’s at the other end. Look at the their rates. Their contrast could hardly be greater. Ma’Khia Bryant lost her life in a different neighborhood, ZIP 43232. Its poverty and aggravated assault rates, which seem sizeable from an outsider’s perspective, fall about midway through the city’s distribution. But Ms. Bryant wasn’t raised there. Her mother lost custody of her four children long ago. About two years ago, after a stint with grandma didn’t work out, social services assigned Ms. Bryant and a younger sister to be fostered by a White couple. That’s where they were living when the tragedy happened.

     Minneapolis is another place that’s been long battered by poverty and episodes of policing gone wrong. Derek Chauvin isn’t the only MPD cop who’s been convicted of murder. Only two years ago then-MPD officer Mohammed Noor was found guilty of murdering a 9-1-1 caller whom he impulsively mistook as a threat. And there’s been some recent local competition. On Friday, April 11, as Chauvin’s trial closed its second week, a police officer employed by Brooklyn Center, an incorporated Minneapolis suburb of about 30,000, accidentally drew the wrong weapon. Although Kim Potter yelled “Taser” three times, the trigger she squeezed was that of her pistol. Daunte Wright, a Black 20-year old man, fell dead.

     Mr. Wright had been stopped for a license plate issue. But when officers tried to arrest him on a gun-related warrant, he bolted for his car. That’s when the 26-year year police veteran committed that rare but not unheard-of blunder. Honest mistake or not, the tragedy led Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to insist that her colleagues pass the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” (It seeks, among other things, to ban chokeholds and end qualified immunity for police.) Senator Klobuchar also offered some pointed remarks at Mr. Wright’s funeral. “True justice is not done as long as having expired tags means losing your life during a traffic stop,” she said.

     Ms. Potter and her chief both resigned. They were soon joined by the city manager. Instead of murder, though, the former cop was charged with 2nd. degree manslaughter. If convicted she faces “only” ten years.

     Let’s subject Minneapolis to the same looking-glass we used for Columbus. Minneapolis also contributes to the LexisNexis crime map. However, in 2019 it identified crime locations by neighborhood instead of ZIP code. There are eighty regular neighborhoods in the city. For each we obtained population and median household income data from the Statistical Atlas of the United States. We used the latter (/1000) instead of poverty rates. Here’s the scattergram:

Once again, the association between economic conditions and violence is crystal clear. As income increases aggravated assault rates literally plunge. (Thus the correlation statistic is negative, meaning that the “variables” move in opposite directions.) We also compared the five Minneapolis neighborhoods at both extremes of the aggravated-assault scale. Here are the results, with place names abbreviated:

Again, the link between poverty and violence is readily apparent. As we harped about in “Repeat After Us,” when it comes to assessing crime city names are meaningless. It’s really places that count.

     So what’s the takeaway? Given the vagaries of both officer and citizen temperament, counting on cops to de-escalate and do all the “right” things while working under the uncertain, often threatening conditions of the “real world” is a tall order. Think you can do better? Start off with inadequate resources and a lack of information. Add a heady portion of citizen non-compliance, substance abuse and personal issues. And by all means stir in some inappropriate behavior by colleagues and superiors who want to do things “their” way (remember, um, Chauvin?) Voila! You’ve cooked up the toxic brew that even well-meaning cops (and these are in the vast majority) consume each day. Enjoy!

     Law-abiding citizens who endure the everyday violence and gangsterism that accompanies poverty have been speaking out. In the aftermath of the police killing of Adam Toledo, a thirteen-year old resident of Chicago’s impoverished “Little Village” neighborhood (household median income $31.5K), a deeply-researched story in the Tribune featured the sentiments of residents who were fed up, and not just with the police:

  • Seventy-four year old sidewalk vendor: “We are tired of gang violence; it’s sad what happened with the young boy, but he had a gun with him and his friend had been shooting, so the officer responded to the threat.”
  • Thirty-eight year old man doing his laundry: “We can’t even go out safely because there are random shootings everywhere and you never know if a stray bullet might hit you.”
  • Fifty-nine year old grandmother (she tries to keep away from gang members and cops): “The only reason people are talking about (killings) now is that it was a police officer who shot and killed the kid.”

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     To be sure, the craft of policing can always improve. But poverty and the things that come with poverty can make even “routine” policing exasperating. As we recently noted in “Fix Those Neighborhoods!” and “Human Renewal,” making a real difference would require a concerted effort to provide needy areas with resources and services that might prevent the next Adam Toledo from running around with an armed gang-member at one in the morning. That calls for major investments in child care, tutoring, job training, apprenticeships, health care and housing. And yes, it would be expensive, and yes, residents of better-off areas might complain.

     But look at those faces. Ma’Khia Bryant, Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright were clearly troubled souls. Each could have used some quality social, educational and health supports far earlier in life. But here we are, in the supposedly enlightened twenty-first century, and we still ignore the profound, life-shattering consequences of being raised in poverty. And when cops dealing with these intractable issues misstep, as they sooner or later will, it’s once again time to levy discipline, crank up the rules and turn out those massive studies and reports.

     Sound familiar?

UPDATES (scroll)

12/22/22  Residents of a subsidized apartment complex in Minneapolis’ working-class Cedar-Riverside neighborhood blame an “explosion of Fentanyl” and a profusion of homeless encampments for break-ins and shootings that have made life unpleasant and all-too-often, treacherous. Despite hiring a security guard and adding more cameras, “I'm just not sure we're making up any ground,” says a property manager. “Every night there's something new.”

9/1/22  Columbus, Ohio resident Donovan Lewis, 20, had arrest warrants for “improper handling of a firearm, domestic violence, and assault” when police officers rousted him from bed during the early morning hours of August 30. And as the man raised his hand, gripping what turned out to be a vape pen, a “30-year veteran” of the force shot him dead. State officers are investigating.

6/23/22  Family members of Daunte Wright, who was shot and killed last year by a Brooklyn Center (MN) officer who mistakenly drew her gun instead of a Taser, are receiving a $3.25 million settlement. Ex-cop Kim Potter is serving a 16-month term of imprisonment for manslaughter (see 2/19/22 update.)

6/22/22  Shootings recently took the lives of two D.C. teens. One, fifteen, was packing a gun. He had twice been wounded by gunfire in the past. In a separate incident, a sixteen-year old who was recently arrested with a gun was also shot and killed. His mother said she asked he be put on GPS monitoring but was told that was only for dangerous persons. Mayor Bowser’s new “People of Promise” initiative seeks to identify D.C. residents who are “most at risk of committing or being victimized by violent crime” and  provide preventive services. These youths, the columnist feels, would have made excellent candidates.

5/2/22  In 2015 Illinois prohibited schools from fining students for misbehavior. So they turned to calling in the cops. Officers have been issuing “thousands of tickets” each year to students who get caught with drugs, engage in fights or damage property. Municipalities treat these as ordinance violations, and ticketed students must, as would any citizen, attend a hearing and pay a fine. That’s impacted struggling families, and the State’s education chief recently issued a plea for schools to quit summoning the police.

3/12/22  A grand jury declined to indict Nicholas Reardon, the Columbus police officer who shot and killed 16-year old Ma’Khia Bryant when she threatened a woman with a steak knife. According to special prosecutors, an “imminent threat of serious harm” justifies the use of lethal force. Bryant’s family criticized the officer, for not turning to less-lethal means, and the welfare system, for needlessly removing the girl from her family. Officer Reardon now faces a departmental inquiry.

2/19/22  Convicted last Dec. 23 by a jury of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Daunte Wright, former Brooklyn Center (MN) cop Kim Potter drew an exceptionally lenient sentence of 16 months imprisonment and 8 months of supervised release. Ms. Potter has been deeply remorseful, and the judge clearly believed her tearful explanation, that she inadvertently drew her pistol instead of the Taser she had intended to deploy. But the sentence sat poorly with Mr. Wright’s family, and their lawyer berated the judge for showing a “clear absence of compassion for the victim in this tragedy.”

11/29/21  Jury selection begins tomorrow in another potentially explosive Minneapolis area case: the prosecution of ex-Brooklyn Center cop Kim Potter for first-degree manslaughter in the April 2021 killing of Daunte Wright. After stopping the 20-year old Black man for a traffic infraction, Ms. Potter, who is White, discovered he had a gun possession warrant. But when she moved to arrest him, he tried to flee. Intending to stop him with her Taser, she mistakenly drew and fired her gun instead. Her defense is that she isn’t “culpably negligent” as the law requires because Mr. Wright “caused his death himself.”

9/3/21  Former Brooklyn Center (a Minneapolis suburb) officer Kim Potter, who claims she inadvertently drew her gun instead of a Taser, now faces the additional charge of first-degree manslaughter for killing Daunte Wright. That move, which requires proof of “recklessness,” increases the possible penalty to fifteen years. Her prosecution also shifted to the State. But Potter’s lawyer insists that proof is lacking. “This is so clearly an accident.”

8/10/21  Two highly-regarded violence interrupters, Dante “Tante” Barksdale and Kenyell “Benny” Wilson, were murdered in Baltimore this year. Both worked in its long-standing “Safe Streets” project, which seeks to reduce violence among Black men in high-crime areas. Coppin State Professor Johnny Rice II recommends a “collective, collaborative approach that does not vilify the Black community or law-enforcement” yet offers, among other things, “enhanced protection” for vital street workers.

7/13/21  At a White House meeting with political leaders and police chiefs, President Biden urged a multi-pronged approach against crime. It would include a crackdown on rogue gun dealers, hiring more cops, and funding community policing, housing, mental health and job training programs. “Support young people to pick up a paycheck instead of a pistol,” he implored. Memphis police chief C.J. Davis agrees. Noting that “Black and Brown communities are being terrorized from gun violence,” he’s convinced that more than policing is needed. “We have to find balance. We can’t continue to arrest crime away.”

Similar  sentiments were voiced in a major Chicago Tribune editorial about the violence-beset city. Community members emphasized addressing “root causes” including “poverty and inequity, low employment opportunities in under-resourced neighborhoods, high dropout rates in education, and the long-standing tension between law enforcement and the community.” One, who warned that defunding police is “stupid,” urged that cops could best be helped by paying everyone who works “a living wage.”

6/10/21  Advice columnist Amy Dickinson fired things up with a column that encouraged a victim of plant theft to call the cops on the boys responsible. “I cannot believe that you suggested this homeowner should call the police!,” replied another reader. “That advice could get those boys killed!” In response, Amy acknowledged that “many Americans...have lost their faith in the police. I admit to underestimating the magnitude of how afraid many people are of the police, who are supposed to protect them.”

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Memo to Joe Biden: Focus on Neighborhood Safety (The Crime Report, Dec. 7, 2020)


Special topics:  Neighborhoods

Massacres, in Slow-Mo     Is the “Cure” Worse Than the “Disease”?     Fix Those Neighborhoods!

Gold Badges     Human Renewal     Repeat After Us:     A Not-so-Magnificent Obsession

Three Shootings     A Tragedy, Yes

Posted 2/22/21


Violent crime is reportedly way up. But do we all suffer equally?

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. According to the the Los Angeles Times, 2020 was “a year like no other.” Murder, it breathlessly reported, hit “a decade high after years of sustained reductions,” and shootings soared nearly forty percent. But L.A.’s hardly alone. According to the Chicago Tribune, the toll in perennially lethal Cook County hit a historic high, with “more gun-related homicides in 2020 than any other year, surpassing the previous record set in 1994.” Even New York City, which habitually boasts about its low crime numbers, feels cause for alarm. A recent New York Times opinion piece, “The Homicide Spike is Real,” calls killings and shootings “the city’s second-biggest challenge” next to the pandemic. But when it comes to gunplay “the way forward is less clear, and the prospects for a better 2021 are much dimmer.”

     Check out the graph. Homicide in Chicago increased fifty-six percent in 2020, soaring from an already deplorable 492 killings to an eye-popping 769 (the per/100,000 rate jumped from 18.2 to 28.5). While perhaps less mind-bending, increases in Los Angeles (38 percent) and New York City (45 percent) were also pronounced. Indeed, violence surged in large cities and small.

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     So our first question is...why?

     Two major reasons have been offered: the pandemic, and police killings. These dreadful events have led to economic chaos and social unrest, impairing the functioning of the state and fracturing its connection with the citizens it ostensibly serves. Not only has the pandemic taken cops off the street, but their deployment’s been deeply affected as well. As the Washington Post noted, this “thinning” of ranks can have serious consequences:

    In many departments, police ranks were thinned significantly by the combined effect of officers being out sick and being assigned to manage unrest on the streets. And given the concerns about spreading the coronavirus, officers were going to fewer places and interacting with fewer people, allowing more opportunities for people to settle disputes themselves.

Chicago’s new police superintendent, David Brown, was brought in by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deal with the chaos. He attributes much of the increase in violence, to “extended periods of heightened civil unrest and looting” that were sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. It’s not just about Mr. Floyd. Noted criminologist Richard Rosenfeld believes that our legacy of lethal police-citizen encounters has actually damaged the state’s moral authority:

    During a period of widespread intense protest against police violence, it’s fair to suppose that police legitimacy deteriorates, especially in those communities that have always had a fraught relationship with police. That simply widens the space for so-called street justice to take hold, and my own view is that is a part of what we are seeing.

     Considering just their reaction to COVID-19 constraints, it’s clear that some citizens have become less willing to comply. Eager to avoid conflict, and with fewer officers to spare, many agencies have severely pared back on enforcement. Aggressive, focused approaches such as “hot spots policing” and “stop-and-frisk” seem threatened with extinction. LAPD Captain Paul Vernon, who runs his agency’s Compstat unit, feels that this purposeful pulling back has reduced gang members’ fear of being caught and led to more shootings and killings. What’s more, some cops may be reacting to the “new normal” by purposely slowing down. According to the New York Times, that’s exactly what happened in the Big Apple. If so, it’s not a new phenomenon. Three years ago in “Police Slowdowns” we wrote about the protracted slowdown that followed the arrest and prosecution of a handful of Baltimore’s finest after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray. (Ditto, Chicago and Minneapolis.)

     Whatever its causes, the decline in proactivity has serious implications. In his recent paper, “Explaining the Recent Homicide Spikes in U.S. Cities,” Professor Paul G. Cassell proposed the “Minneapolis Effect”:

    Specifically, law enforcement agencies have been forced to divert resources from normal policing to patrolling demonstrations. And even as the anti-police protests have abated, police officers have scaled back on proactive or officer-initiated law enforcement, such as street stops and other forms of policing designed to prevent firearms crimes.

     Of course, it’s not just about policing. Folks have suffered from the closing of schools, parks and libraries. Chicago P.D. Sgt. Jermain Harris, who works with youths, offers his take on what happens when community supports disappear:

    You take away the businesses, all the pieces of society that generally have eyes out, and you are left with young people, and a lot of young people, who don’t have resources or that level of support if they are left on their own.

     Well, it all seems plausible enough. Yet your blogger, and probably most who skim through our essays, lives in a middle-class area that seems just as peaceful as before the madness began. Other than the officer who lives a few houses down, cops are hardly ever around, and their absence is thought unremarkable. So that brings us to the second question: who suffers most?

     LAPD Chief Michel Moore knows. He recently pointed out that in L.A., the increase of violence has mostly affected areas long beset by gangs and gunplay:

    Nearly all of the loss of life and shooting victims are centered in the Black and brown communities. The lack of jobs and supportive services, a sense of hopelessness, easy access to firearms and ineffective parts of the criminal justice system have created a perfect storm to undermine public safety gains built over the last decade.

Chief Moore is referring to the same poor neighborhoods whose chronic problems with crime and violence are the stock-in-trade of our Neighborhoods special section. Bottom line: it’s not about cities but about the places within cities where people live.  Check out this graph. As we noted in “Mission Impossible?” there are even some relatively safe spots in...Chicago! For instance, Rogers Park, Chicago PD District 24. Its 2020 murder rate (thru 12/27) was more than a third lower than the Windy City’s overall. Yet in downtrodden Englewood, Chicago’s P.D.’s 7th. District, the already sky-high 2019 rate soared seventy percent.

     In “Location, Location, Location” we mentioned that Los Angeles has a number of relatively safe spaces. Say, Westwood. Populated by about fifty thousand of the (mostly) well-to-do, the prosperous community suffered one murder in 2019 and none in 2020. Alas, most L.A. residents aren’t nearly as fortunate. Consider the chronically troubled Florence area (pop. 46,610) of South L.A. With ten killings in 2019 and ten in 2020, its murder rate wound up more than twice that of the city as a whole.

Conditions in New York city also “depend.” Contrast, for example, the affluent Upper East Side’s (pop. 225,914) zero murders in 2019 and one in 2020 with bedraggled Brownsville’s (pop. 84, 525) eleven killings in 2019 and twenty-five in 2020. To be sure, Brownsville seems a less threatening place than L.A.’s Florence district or Chicago’s Englewood. Yet its contrast to the rest of the city within which its borders lie seems equally pronounced. It’s as though there are two cities: one comprises Rogers Park, Westwood and the Upper East Side, and the other is made up of Englewood, Florence and Brownsville.

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     This graph brings it all together using 2020 data. (To save space, Englewood’s sky-high murder rate runs off the top.) It’s no news to our readers that economic conditions and their correlates – here we use number of residents with four-year degrees – are deeply related to crime and violence. So what can be done? Prior posts in our “Neighborhoods” section have rooted for comprehensive approaches that offer residents of low-income communities job training, tutoring, child care and other critical services.

     Grab a quick look at “Place Matters.” Whether it comes from “neighborhood revitalization” programs such as promoted by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, or from that “Marshall Plan” we ceaselessly harp about, there’s no question – none – that a concerted effort to give needy neighborhoods a boost would greatly improve their socioeconomic health and reap fabulous human benefits. And, not-so-incidentally, keep their inhabitants from becoming the “usual victims” whose demise our posts persistently quantify.

     Violence is not an equal-opportunity threat. But of course we all knew that.

UPDATES (scroll)

7/5/24  As Founder of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), Tamar Manasseh has watched over her corner of Chicago’s violence-beset Englewood neighborhood for a decade. But her “unspoken agreement” with gangs to hold their fire while children are about recently broke down in a hail of bullets. With city officials ignoring requests to install speed bumps and surveillance cameras, and her alderman strangely silent, she’s ready to call MASK and its Peace Academy quits. Her recent comments to Block Club Chicago did spur some calls from the Mayor’s Office. But hope for real action remains dim.

4/17/24  Buffalo homicides, which reached a high of 70 in 2022, plunged to 38 the following year. What led to such a steep drop? According to a deep look by The Trace, it can be credited to a collaborative effort between government agencies, police, and, most importantly, non-profit groups and neighborhood organizations, which sought to “interrupt” violence and redirect youths to positive ends.

4/8/24  A New York City agency that operates independently of the police runs a program that includes “violence interrupters”, private citizens who monitor neighborhood youths to keep quarrels from turning violent. But many “interrupters” have criminal records and aren’t trusted by street cops. Two were recently arrested while trying to calm a citizen, and the officers’ forceful response was captured on video. Meetings between “interrupters” and police are planned to hopefully mend things.

2/12/24  Gun violence continues to beset Chicago’s impoverished “Little Village” neighborhood (i.e., South Lawndale). During the morning hours of February 10 police came across the body of a man who had been shot in the head and in the back. And early the very next morning an argument turned into a shooting that wounded five persons and left a 30-year old woman in critical condition. The as-yet unidentified gunman fled in a van.

10/2/23  Robbery crews beset Chicago. Masked and attired in dark clothes, gun-toting hoodlums, including many juveniles, accost pedestrians, shoppers and persons sitting in their cars, stealing cash and goods and taking their vehicles. Robbery is up 24 percent this year, and it’s striking with force at Blacks, Hispanics and residents of “disinvested” neighborhoods such as Humboldt Park. Some arrests are being made, but victims complain that a liberal agenda has led to “privileging the rights of perpetrators.”

8/2/23  Armed robbers shot and critically wounded a Chicago postal carrier as he delivered mail on Chicago’s northwest side. Mail carriers have been beset for at least a year by armed robbers “stealing packages, letters and master keys that open clusters of mailboxes”, and a union official recently said that his members are frightened “and some don’t even want to return back to work.”

2/23/23  According to a new study published in JAMA Open, “Comparing Risks of Firearm-Related Death and Injury Among Young Adult Males in Selected US Cities With Wartime Service in Iraq and Afghanistan,” those living in the most violent ZIP codes in Chicago and Philadelphia were at substantially higher risk of being shot dead than wartime service personnel. That did not hold true for the most violent Zip codes in Los Angeles and New York City.

2/11/23  Complaining that a severe shortage of law enforcement funding has left their reservation seriously under-policed and contributed to chronic crime and violence, South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian tribe has filed suit. Its 33 officers and eight criminal investigators are faced with more than one-hundred thousand emergency calls each year in an area “about the size of the state of Connecticut.” Among the many killings was the death of a six-year old, shot dead last May as “a barrage of bullets” pierced the walls of his home during a drive-by.

12/19/22  In an Atlanta apartment complex so riven by violence that it’s described as a “war zone,” two groups of armed teens turned a quarrel into a gunfight. By the time it was done, a 14-year old and a 16-year old were dead, and an 11-year old and two fifteen-year olds were wounded. Coming three weeks after a twelve-year old and a fifteen-year old were shot and killed near a local transit station, it spurred Mayor Andre Dickens to post a message of condolence that also expressed “anger in my soul.”

8/8/22  A mid-afternoon Shot-Spotter alert led officers in Chicago’s poor, violence-wracked Englewood area to a parked minivan. Nearby stood Alexander Podgorny, 29. He had a loaded handgun in his pockets. A loaded shotgun, a loaded AR-15 rifle, two handguns and writings containing “incoherent rants and references to mass shooting events” were in the front seat. A video from a nearby camera depicted a shotgun being fired into a park. Podgorny was arrested on weapons charges and a high bail was set.

6/6/22  On Sunday afternoon, June 5, a traffic stop in Chicago’s violence-beset Englewood district led to an exchange of gunfire, seriously wounding a police officer and leaving the driver in critical condition. Four days earlier, another Englewood traffic stop had also led to gunfire and an officer’s wounding. Local residents fear what Summer will bring.

5/18/22   Hundreds of prosecutors, law enforcement officials and leaders of community organizations gathered for a virtual, two-day “summit” about “reducing violence and “strengthening communities.” Called under auspices of DOJ’s Project Safe Neighborhoods, the meeting emphasizes the key role that local communities play in preventing violence and building trust. DOJ’s announcement mentioned a recent CDC report which indicates that gun murders jumped 35 percent during 2019-2020, and that high-poverty counties had 4 1/2 times the homicide rate of their wealthier cousins.

10/9/21  A detailed account of Chicago’s Humboldt Park shooting, and its aftermath, describes the struggle between Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who demands that participants be prosecuted, and Cook County Prosecutor Kim Foxx, who insists the evidence remains insufficient. While she articulates legal reasons for her reluctance, it’s thought that police misconduct and past wrongful convictions are playing a role.

10/5/21  In Chicago’s beset Humboldt Park neighborhood, two cars pull up to a house and exchange gunfire with its occupants. One person dies, others are wounded, and the cars flee. Police initially arrest all the participants. But not even those who were hurt talk. Although police saw part of what happened, officers aren’t certain who started the shootout, nor who truly fired in self-defense. Prosecutors reject the usual solution - to arrest everyone - and decline to file charges. That brings a heated objection from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is desperately searching for solutions to the violence that rocks her city.

9/28/21  According to the FBI’s new data release there were 21,570 murders in 2020. That produced a  rate of 6.5/100,000, 28.9 percent higher than 2019 (16,669 murders, rate 5.1) and the worst in at least twenty years. Aggravated assault also increased; its rate was up 11.7 percent. However, rape and robbery rates decreased 12.0 and 9.6 percent respectively. Property crime was also down; its rate decreased 8.1 percent. (Source: crime data annual reports/offenses known to law enforcement.)

9/20/21  A soul-stirring photo in the Washington Post depicts a serious-looking three-year old boy gesturing at the camera as he stands in front of a series of graves, a bottle of water in his hands. He’s visiting his father, who was shot and killed in January, and his uncle, whose life was claimed by gunfire in June. With 166 murders in 2019, 198 in 2020 and 153 as of Sept. 20 this year (versus 135 for this period last year) homicide in D.C. is reportedly “on pace to hit a 17-year high.”

9/7/21 “At least 66” persons were shot in Chicago during the Labor Day weekend, seven more than last year. Six were killed. Among them was a four-year old boy, who was struck as he sat in a chair getting his hair done. He and his parents were visiting from Louisiana. Police found 27 spent cartridges from a handgun and “mini rifle.” The shooting happened in Woodlawn, one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. Its Third police district recorded 27 murders in 2020 and 47 through August 31st. this year.

8/28/21  It’s not just Chicago’s neighborhoods. Its expressways have been increasingly beset by car-to-car gunfire, leaving innocents wounded and dead. There have been 159 such attacks so far this year. There were 128 in 2020, 52 in 2019 and 43 in 2018. This “extension of the gun violence that has ravaged the city’s disinvested South and West sides” is being addressed with a $12.5 million program to install license plate readers. Police hope that will improve the solution rates, which are reportedly poor.

8/16/21  According to a Los Angeles Times analysis, the jump in homicides during the pandemic has disproportionately affected Blacks and Latinos. Comparing 18-month periods before and after January 2020, murders of Black persons increased 114 percent, from 151 to 192. Murders of Latinos increased 46 percent, from 182 to 266, and of Whites five percent, from 38 to 40. According to UCLA professor Jorja Leap, the pronounced disparity in victimization “speaks to the two Los Angeleses.”

8/13/21  In Chicago’s violent Englewood neighborhood, a volley of bullets penetrate a home. Two sixteen-year old youths are struck; one, Cordell Bass, is killed. His mother and three nephews, ages 2, 5 and 6, escape injury. Bass’s mother, who said her son was under “house arrest” for a gun-related incident, thinks that he was killed by the same person who wounded her niece’s boyfriend some months earlier.

8/2/21  New York City gang members backed by scooter escorts opened fire in a Latino neighborhood, wounding ten, including three rival gangsters. Meanwhile gunfire in Chicago killed three and wounded nineteen in a single “overnight.” Chicago PD posted 105 homicides in July. That’s about the same as the 107 recorded in July 2020, but far worse than the month’s tolls in 2019 (44) and 2018 (64).

7/29/21  Data from the University of Chicago Crime Lab suggests that “historical structural racism and economic deprivation” have contributed to a widening gap in rates of homicide and deaths from disease between Chicago neighborhoods. Differences in murder rates between the safest districts (Lincoln, Rogers Park, Jefferson Park and Town Hall) and most violent (Harrison, Englewood, Austin and Gresham) increased from 13 times in 1991 to twenty-six times in 2020. According to the Census, the most dangerous districts are predominantly Black.

7/26/21  According to Washington D.C, police, over forty percent of gunfire occurs in a beset region that comprises only two percent of the District. Crime scene technicians found nearly 2,800 bullet casings within a square-mile stretch of that area in three years. Killings are so commonplace that a local mentor stopped going to funerals and now works with young people in Virginia: “I’m tired of praying over a person in a casket that I played pee-wee football with.” In 2020 murders in D.C. “reached a 16-year high,” leading its Democratic mayor, Muriel E. Bowser, to declare “a public health crisis.”

7/20/21  In the wake of unremitting gun violence - 61 were shot, with ten killed, during the most recent weekend - Chicago police aren’t waiting for the Feds to combat gun trafficking. A fifty-officer anti-gun trafficking team was just placed on the street. Its mission is to go after “unscrupulous” gun dealers, straw buyers, and other sources of the guns that beset the city. And they beseech the public to help.

7/19/21  Four girls, ages 12, 13, 14 and 15 were wounded in a Chicago-drive by. A 19-year old woman and a 25-year old man were also struck by bullets, but no one died. Two hours later an 8-year old was wounded in an unrelated shooting. They were among the twenty-two wounded and two shot and killed in Chicago “from Saturday night” (July 17) “into Sunday” (July 18).

7/18/21  With 102 murders in Washington D.C. so far this year, same as in 2020 and a sixteen-year high, the Nation’s capital reels from the death of its latest victim, a six-year old girl who was gunned down in a drive-by that wounded five others, including her mother. Meanwhile the city announced a new program, Building Blocks DC, “that concentrates police and health programs on the 151 blocks where gun violence is most common.” That’s probably of little comfort to the fans who hurriedly fled Nationals Park yesterday when a game between the home-town team and the San Diego Padres was suspended after  vehicles exchanged gunfire near a stadium entrance, wounding three.

7/13/21  At a White House meeting with political leaders and police chiefs, President Biden urged a multi-pronged approach against crime. It would include a crackdown on rogue gun dealers, hiring more cops, and funding community policing, housing, mental health and job training programs. “Support young people to pick up a paycheck instead of a pistol,” he implored. Memphis police chief C.J. Davis agrees. Noting that “Black and Brown communities are being terrorized from gun violence,” he’s convinced that more than policing is needed. “We have to find balance. We can’t continue to arrest crime away.”

Similar  sentiments were voiced in a major Chicago Tribune editorial about the violence-beset city. Community members emphasized addressing “root causes” including “poverty and inequity, low employment opportunities in under-resourced neighborhoods, high dropout rates in education, and the long-standing tension between law enforcement and the community.” One, who warned that defunding police is “stupid,” urged that cops could best be helped by paying everyone who works “a living wage.”

7/7/21  Declaring a “gun violence emergency” that particularly besets “poor, Black and Latino communities,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged $139 million to fund jobs and deploy violence interrupters in inner-city neighborhoods. Ditto Los Angeles, where most of the burden also falls on poor neighborhoods. “There too many guns in too many hands,” says LAPD Cpt. Stacy Spell. “Ghost guns,” he noted, are proliferating. As of June officers have seized 661. That’s close to last year’s total haul of 813.

7/6/21  Shootings and killings have soared in Los Angeles and Chicago this year. Los Angeles reported  sixteen deaths by gunfire during the July 4th. weekend. Sixteen also died in Chicago, where a stunning ninety-five were shot. In violence-beset Minneapolis, a lawsuit filed by residents of high-crime areas led a judge to order that police substantially increase staffing to comply with the city Charter.

6/29/21  With 800 persons shot in New York City this year, the most since 2002, even vaunted Times Square is getting dangerous. One day after a tourist was shot, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that officers will “flood” the landmark with officers so that visitors keep returning. “They have to be safe and they have to feel safe.” Meanwhile seventy-seven persons were shot in Chicago over the weekend; so far, seven have died. Six were shot in one incident; eleven were shot in another two hours later.

6/15/21  Major-city homicide rates surged by thirty percent in 2020. So far this year they’re up another twenty-four percent. Economic stressors, social unrest, more guns and fewer cops on the street get much of the blame. But the pandemic is credited with lowering rates of rape, robbery and theft, which are supposedly more matters of “opportunity.” Washington Post analysis.

6/12/21  A Chicago mother and her 14-year old son were about to relocate from the violence-ridden Lawndale neighborhood where the boy was having trouble with local toughs. But before they could move a shot-spotter alert brought police to a rear porch where the eight-grader lay dead from bullet wounds. He was one of twenty-two fatal gunshot victims under 17 this year; 141 have been shot.

6/8/21  During the June 4-7 weekend at least sixty persons were shot in Chicago, including eight in a single incident. Among the wounded were an 11-year old girl and a 15-year old boy. So far six have died. Police commissioner David Brown blamed this year’s lethal surge in gunplay on “gang cultures, revenge, retaliation and street justice.”

6/1/21  “It makes me angry because the crime they are seeing in Buckhead is the same crime we on the Southside have been dealing with for years.” That’s how an angry Atlantan reacted to a move by residents of a pricey residential area to form their own city because a recent spate of thefts and shootings have shattered Buckhead’s tranquility and made it feel just like one of Atlanta’s poor neighborhoods.

5/29/21  “Skyrocketing” violence has led Chicago Mayor Lightfoot and Chief Brown to implement “smart policing” strategies in sixteen high-crime neighborhoods. Police will provide extra resources for these areas and officers will coordinate their efforts with local groups and “violence interrupters.” Officers are strongly objecting to twelve-hour shifts and canceled days off, but with a 22 percent rise in homicides and nearly fifty persons shot last weekend alone, Chief Brown said there is little other choice.

5/26/21  An 86-year old resident of the violence-ridden Garfield Park area – it had the “highest homicide rate, lowest life expectancy” of any Chicago neighborhood in 2014 – is struggling to decide whether to leave her home of five decades. She was tending to her lawn when dozens of gunshots rang out, and one round grazed her foot. Her son has long urged the widowed grandma to move, but “everywhere I look there are memories; this is why I cherish the house.”

5/18/21  A “45-year old felon” has been charged with attempted murder after shooting and wounding two Chicago police officers who responded to reports of gunfire in the Lawndale neighborhood. They returned fire and shot Bruce Lua in the leg. Both officers have been released from the hospital. According to the Tribune, six Chicago officers have been shot in the last two months.

5/16/21  Soaring gunplay in Chicago’s poverty-stricken areas has left sixteen Chicago PD officers wounded during the past fifteen months. Two were shot early this morning, one critically. Their assailant, who opened fire for no explicable reason, was also wounded. That tragedy follows two days filled with gunfire, with five citizens dead and “at least fifteen” wounded.  In Los Angeles, “too many guns in too many hands” is cited as the reason why the city is experiencing a surge of violence, with 465 shootings and 115 murders thru May 4, 67 and 26 percent more than last year. New York City has also been beset by steep increases in shootings and murders. During the past month 170 citizens have been shot, the most during this period since 1997. Deaths by gunfire are also up, with 146 so far this year, compared to 115 in 2020.

4/24/21  Located in a neighborhood of “neglect” and “entrenched poverty,” a Knoxville high school has lost five students this year to gunfire. It started in January with the shooting death of a football player, and ended on April 12 with the police killing of a 17-year old who was wanted for domestic violence and reportedly fired at officers in a bathroom. During the confusion one officer reportedly wounded another.

4/11/21  A 21-year old man on probation for a gun crime opened fire in a violence-beset Chicago neighborhood as a vehicle passed by. Shot-spotter devices alerted police, and officers quickly appeared. The suspect bolted but was promptly arrested. His companion, 13-year old Adam Toledo, also ran off. He now had the gun. Officers say that the youth turned at them with the weapon, and they shot him dead.

3/21/21  Three Chicago officers have been shot within a week, two more since our last update six days ago. One, seriously wounded in the stomach, was off duty, sitting in his car at a traffic light. Two suspects are being sought. The other officer suffered a hand wound while responding to a call about gunshots. Her assailant was arrested. Chicago’s also beset by carjackings, many by small groups of thugs. There have been 370 so far this year, the most in at least two decades.

3/15/21  On September 14 gunfire broke out at a “pop-up” party in Chicago’s bedraggled South Side. By the time it was done fifteen were wounded and a 30-year old woman and a 39-year old man lay dead. Officers found four pistols and attribute the incident to gangs. Hours later a gunman drove by a police station in the South Side and opened fire, wounding a sergeant who had just stepped outside.

3/9/21  Lethal gunplay is way up in Los Angeles, with 64 murders and 267 shootings thru March 2 compared with 46 murders and 111 shootings during that period last year. While many killings continue to be attributed to gangs, armed robberies are taking place throughout the city. And in what an LAPD assistant chief called a “disturbing trend,” holdup victims are increasingly being shot.

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Memo to Joe Biden: Focus on Neighborhood Safety (The Crime Report, Dec. 7, 2020)


Special topic:  Neighborhoods

Massacres, in Slow-Mo   A Show-Stopper for Shot-Spotter?   What’s Up? Violence. Where? Where Else?

“Woke” up, America!     An American Tragedy     Regulate. Don’t Obfuscate!

Is the “Cure” Worse Than the “Disease”?     Four Weeks, Six Massacres     Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job

Should Police Treat the Whole Patient?     Don’t Divest – Invest!     Place Matters

Turning Cops Into Liars     Mission Impossible?     Repeat After Us     Police Slowdowns (I)  (II)

Be Careful  (I)  (II)     Location, Location, Location

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