Numbers that Go Crunch in the Night

Cop in the Hood explains that crime statistics and poverty are inversely proportional and thus pops the social structure bubble:

When I’m charming people at a cocktail parties with talk of rising crime and the role of police, the good people I talk to, rather than even considering the possibility that police matter and post-Ferguson protests might matter (in a negative way), inevitably try and shift the discussion to greater social issues: poverty, racism, and inequality, the so called “root cause” of crime.

The “root causes” position has long annoyed me. I care about those poverty, racism, and inequality, but in terms of effective crime-preventing policing today, the “root causes” are nothing but a distraction. It’s basically a defeatist way to say we can’t lower crime until we fix society. I’m all for fixing society, but I’m not willing to hold my breath till it happens. Also, the idea that the only way to impact crime is to address structural issues is consistently and demonstrably false.

Last year poverty went down and murder went up. In 2008, the economy tanked, and criminals barely noticed. Between 1965 and 1975, poverty is the US was way down; violent crime way up. In the 1990s, during New York’s great crime decline, the number of New Yorkers living in poverty increased 21 percent. Inflation adjusted household and family income declined. Unemployment approached 10 percent.

Don’t let news get in the way of narrative.

Wouldn’t Cops Support Gun Laws?

Peter Moskos explains gun legislation is meaningless for cops:

So then we just delve into the gun control debate with all the usual and predictable sides and lack of progress. Cops see danger coming from a small subset of criminals with guns, and not guns in general. Remember: police officers and all their friends are (for the most part) legal responsible gun owners. Cops want laws to focus on criminals and crimes, rather than guns. Collectively, most cops are incredibly pro-gun and equate the 2nd Amendment with freedom (just as you and I might do with the 1st Amendment). Inasmuch as gun laws are seen to infringe their rights while doing nothing to prevent criminals from shooting each other and shooting cops, cops aren’t going to support it.

Consider this: there are (almost) no shootings in Chicago or New York or Baltimore that involves a legally possessed handgun. We’ve already “controlled” these guns and made them illegal. So what would passing *more* restrictive gun laws do to stop this violence? Are we going to double-dog-dare make them illegal? They’re already illegal. We don’t prioritize the laws we do have.

How can we take guns out of the hands of criminals? (Or get criminals to use them less?) That’s the $64,000 question. Most gun-control laws are close to irrelevant here. Perhaps the only way to get guns out of the hands of criminals is to confiscate guns with strong gun control, Australian style. Many people, myself included, like this idea. But the majority of Americans and the current Supreme Court would not agree.

The basic ideological divide is that liberals see guns as the problem and conservatives see criminals as the problem. And nobody on either side has a good plan to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

There are three-hundred million guns in America; ten-million guns are manufactured every year! And yet only about 10,000 of these gun are used to murder somebody (plus suicides, of course). How many millions of guns would we have to confiscate before we prevented a single gun homicide? And how would we go about doing this?

Most proposed gun-control is pretty useless in actually preventing crime (as opposed to preventing a small number of gun sales.) And gun people see this as an ideological battle on gun-owners, so they won’t give in (even on so-called “common-sense” issues). The political reality is that there’s no way right now we could enact gun control so restrictive it would actually do any substantial good.

Cop in the Hood Smoh-Kin

Peter Moskos was on a roll yesterday.

First, he brought up the problem that police fired by one city sometimes acquire jobs in another city. The Department of Justice used to have a database to track cops who lost their jobs, but that’s too expensive:

The Justice Department, which gave the association about $200,000 to start the database in 2009, no longer funds it. The department declined to explain why it had dropped its support, but a spokesman said the goal was “ensuring that our nation’s law enforcement agencies have the necessary resources to identify the best qualified candidates to protect and serve communities.”

If Washington can put a transgender in a bathroom dot dot dot

Second, Moskos linked to a story about the growing rates of heroine additionaddiction and overdoses. He added the insight that the criminal justice system will not fix this (nor should it try):

There’s still the basic and false belief among too many people that somehow, somewhere, there are “programs” to help people. Or that the criminal justice system is a system with so single goal in mind. Like police arrest you, you do time, and you come out better for it. It’s not true. And it never has been true. Sure, sometimes there’s a program here or a grant-funded thing there, but basically, no. There’s nothing. It doesn’t matter what the problem is — crime, drugs, mental illness, poverty (or all of the above) — when somebody calls 911, police will show up. But then what? A lot of people need help. But it’s not the kind of help police officers can give. Especially when police departments themselves need help.

Last, he recognized the growing interest in American hillbillies and pondered why murder rates among poor whites in Columbiana County, Ohio don’t reach the level of urban blacks in places like Baltimore. It’s not the economy, stupid, but the culture (and we’re not talking Shakespeare or Beethoven):

Baltimore City has more unemployment (7.4 percent vs. 5.3 percent). Yeah, sure. And there’s more poverty and extreme poverty in Baltimore. I’m not saying that doesn’t matter. But deep down, no. Poverty is a red herring. Culture matters. Columbiana County’s unemployment could be 20 percent and the murder rate would still be lower that Baltimore City.

There’s something else going on. The nexus of violence is not poverty and racism but public drug dealing and drug prohibition. I suspect addicts in Columbiana County buy their heroin from friends and family and coworkers. Not from Yo-Boys on the corner. Push drug dealers inside and violence plummets. But when police try and do that in Baltimore, the DOJ complains about systemic racism.

Turns out Bunny‘s problem wasn’t creating Hamsterdam but not moving drug dealers inside to the vacant houses.

If Department of Justice Had only Watched “The Wire”

Peter Moskos continues to dissect the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department. It sounds just like the HBO series:

The system has several key deficiencies. First, BPD sets thresholds of activity that trigger “alerts” to supervisors about potentially problematic conduct that are too high. Because of these high thresholds, BPD supervisors often are not made aware of troubling behavioral patterns until after officers commit egregious misconduct. Second, even where alerts are triggered, we found that BPD supervisors do not consistently take appropriate action to counsel the officer, consider additional training, or otherwise intervene in a way that will correct the behavior before an adverse event occurs. Third, critical information is omitted or expunged from the EIS that could help address officer training or support needs or help prevent future misconduct.

It is clear that the Department has been unable to interrupt serious patterns of misconduct. Our investigation found that numerous officers had recurring patterns of misconduct that were not adequately addressed. Similarly, we note that, in the past five years, 25 BPD officers were separately sued four or more times for Fourth Amendment violations.

Minus the sex, of course:

Officers suffer from being supplied with outdated, broken, or in some cases, no equipment. As one officer noted to the Fraternal Order of Police in a focus group, “How am I supposed to pull someone over for having a taillight out when my car has two?”

Officers have no computers in their cars, forcing them to return to the district station to type reports, and even those computers are often not working…. Taking officers off the street to type reports at the district takes away from time that could be spent on law enforcement or community building activities. It also creates inefficiencies for officers who often must write reports on paper in the field while their memories of incidents are fresh, and then type the same information into computer databases after arriving at the district station at the end of their shift.

Will A Revival Save Us?

In hopes of understanding my own blindness about race relations in America and what I (me me I I me me) might do to make the nation and me less racist, I listened to Thabiti Anyabwile’s discussion with Carmen Fowler LaBerge. Here’s what I learned. First, I need to acknowledge that whites have treated blacks badly:

We need to acknowledge the ways in which the church has intentionally, historically refused to be the Body of God along the lines of race. Whether it from Virginia’s enactment of laws that if a slave became a Christian did not mean they would be freed from slavery, to the segregation of congregations in the 1800s and into the 1900s, to the Evangelical church just missing the ball in the Civil Rights Movement and other areas. We have to tell the truth- the bone deep truth- about our complicity if we will ever be free from it.

When I taught colonial America last fall, I ended with the point that race is one of the lasting and darkest legacies of colonial slavery. I may need to do more in class. But I think I’ve got this part of it. I understand in part if not in full.

Second, I need to do something:

Pastor T says one tangible step is to pray for revival. Pray that God pours out his Spirit on His church, and that His spirit would graciously bring conviction of sin. That He would quicken His church in repentance and holiness. Pray that God would subdue the hearts of those hearts in rebellion against God and turn to Him.

Pastor T hopes the Lord would use the grief and mourning that has gripped the nation to break our hearts in repentance and so we would draw near to Him in revival.

Here I’m scratching my head. Does Pastor Anyabwile (and Carmen) not know that revivals were incredibly divisive throughout U.S. history? Revivals don’t unify. They divide churches between pro- and anti-revivalists.

If Pastor Anyabwile means that revival might bring sanctification, I appreciate the point. But in the case of cop shootings, does that mean city governments should only hire applicants who have made a profession of faith? If revival saves America, aren’t we still thinking about politics the way Constantinians, neo-Calvinists, Covenanters, and theonomists do? Can we only trust officials who are saved?

So what do we do if we are to live with non-Christians? Any policies? Interestingly enough, Pastor Anyabwile faulted Ta-Nehisi Coates in the latter’s piece on mass incarcerations for not recommending any policies:

Coates repeats the significant failure he recognizes in an earlier Moynihan. Coates tells us that the fatal flaw in Moynihan’s infamous report was Moynihan’s decision to omit specific policy solutions. Having seen that so clearly, it’s odd that Coates should repeat that failure so often in the important writing he now undertakes. A mind as formidable as Coates’s ought not stop with descriptive analysis, however compelling its portrayal of the problem. It should push itself to hazard a prescription, to call for some specific redress.

Pastor Anyabwile is of course right. He should also know that revival is not policy.

So what policy is out there? Maybe Peter Moskos is on to something about what California and Chicago police can learn from New York City’s patrol people and their supervisors:

Last year in California, police shot and killed 188 people. That’s a rate of 4.8 per million. New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania collectively have 3.4 million more people than California (and 3.85 million more African Americans). In these three states, police shot and killed (just?) 53 people. That’s a rate of 1.2 per million. That’s a big difference.

Were police in California able to lower their rate of lethal force to the level of New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — and that doesn’t seem too much to ask for — 139 fewer people would be killed by police. And this is just in California! (And California isn’t even the worst state; I’m picking on California because it’s large and very much on the high end.)

Now keep in mind most police-involved shootings are not only legally justifiable, they are necessary and good at the moment the cop pulls the trigger. But that doesn’t mean that the entire situation was inevitable. Cops don’t want to shoot people. They want to stay alive. You give cops a safe way to reduce the chance they have to pull the trigger, and they’ll certainly take it.

I really don’t know what some departments and states are doing right and others wrong. But it’s hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania. I suspect lower rates of lethal force has a lot to do with recruitment, training, verbal skills, deescalation techniques, not policing alone, and more restrictive gun laws. (I do not include Tasers on this list.)

If we could bring the national rate of people shot and killed by police (3 per million) down to the level found in, say, New York City (The big bad NYPD shoots and kills just 0.7 per million) we’d reduce the total number of people killed by police 77 percent, from 990 to 231!

The thing is, we don’t need the Holy Spirit’s miraculous powers for this. Providential control is always appreciated.

Move Over David Barton, Make Room for Eric Mataxas

Donald Trump has struck a nerve. Why even I had a hard time not thinking of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee when last week reviewing a book about nineteenth-century Protestantism in the U.S.

Trump is the nearest reason I can fathom for the pronounced attention Eric Mataxas has received from two prominent evangelical historians. Because Metaxas endorsed Trump, because evangelicals seem to be moving their support increasingly to Trump, and because evangelical historians identify with evangelicalism but evangelicals not as much, some professors may feel the need to create distance between their public persona and the larger evangelical feng shui.

Now it turns out that one of those historians has joined other historians in signing a letter opposing Trump’s candidacy. That same historian, John Fea (don’t mean to pick on you today, big fella), wonders about the intellectual chops of Metaxas when he writes that Metaxas’ book is “an intellectual mess” that demonstrates the ongoing validity of Mark Noll’s lament about the scandal of the evangelical mind.

What about the intellectual coherence of the historians who oppose Trump? They start this way:

Today, we are faced with a moral test. As historians, we recognize both the ominous precedents for Donald J. Trump’s candidacy and the exceptional challenge it poses to civil society. Historians of different specialties, eras and regions understand the enduring appeal of demagogues, the promise and peril of populism, and the political uses of bigotry and scapegoating. Historians understand the impact these phenomena have upon society’s most vulnerable and upon a nation’s conscience. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against Trump.

Do these historians really want to invoke morality when it is evangelicals and the social conservatives who regularly complain about America’s moral decline? Invoke morality selectively? Like when it’s about professional duties but not about what happens sex happens. And is the work of historical understanding really a moral enterprise? Did we somehow go back to the days of the academic Protestant establishment when Jews and people of color were scarce on university and college campuses? Those were times when professors sometimes talked about morality.

But let morality go. What about the intellectual prowess that historians bring to assess Trump? What part of the past do these historians draw upon to show the dangers of populism (or even fascism)? I read the letter and I don’t see any — ANY!!! — historical references. Believe it or not, it’s all about Trump:

Donald Trump’s record of speeches, policies and social media is an archive of know-nothingism and blinding self-regard. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a campaign of violence: violence against individuals and groups; against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.

The Trump candidacy is an attack on our profession, our values, and the communities we serve. No less than his sham “Trump University,” Donald Trump’s contempt for constructive, evidence-based argumentation mocks the ideals of the academy, whether in the sciences or the liberal arts. Academia is far from the only profession endangered by Trumpism. Donald Trump bullies and suppresses the press, and seeks to weaken First Amendment protections as President. Trump singles out journalists for attack and mocks physical disabilities. Both the judiciary and individualjudges face public threats from Trump. Non-white, non-male professionals and civil servants are irredeemably compromised in Donald Trump’s eyes.Judges are disqualified from service because of their ethnicity; women Presidential candidates succeed only because of their gender; the President of the United States is under suspicion as illegitimate and alien because of his skin color and heritage.

Those are all fair points. But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. or tenured job in history to notice those defects in Trump’s candidacy. So what gives? Why is Trump so much inside so many’s heads?

To John Fea’s credit, he tries to explain why he signed:

I signed this document because I believe that historians, as historical thinkers, have a LOT to offer when it comes to critiquing political candidates. The emphasis in the letter on evidence-based arguments, the respect for the dignity of all humanity, the importance of context, the uses of the past in political discourse, the commitment to a civil society (rooted, presumably, in the kind of empathy that historical thinking brings), and the very fact that making America great AGAIN is ultimately a statement about the past. Trump runs roughshod over all these things.

But all the letter says about context and evidence is to say that historians affirm that stuff and they do so in a not so self-deprecating way:

We interrogate and take responsibility for our sources and ground our arguments in context and evidence.

And if historians are so good at context, where have they been on the context for relations between blacks and police? It’s not like cop shootings and cops being shot has not been in the news.

Like I say, Trump changes everything (and I’m still not voting for him).

Cop In the Hood

Glenn Loury had Peter Moskos on this week to talk about police shootings. Moskos is an unlikely person in the United States — a Harvard grad who worked on the Baltimore police force and now teaches sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What is particularly valuable about Moskos’ perspective is that he knows the beats that cops work. That doesn’t excuse bad policing. It does mean he knows more about the context of police work than the ACLU or Black Lives Matter. Consider, for instance, his defense of enforcing the law against Chicago youth in a rough part of town:

But the ACLU is wrong. Dead wrong. Look, if you want to argue that these young men shouldn’t be stopped at all, fine. You agree with the ACLU (and don’t live on that block or hear the gunshots). And the ACLU is right in criticizing police who stop people for the sake of making a stop.

As a cop you don’t (or shouldn’t) harass everybody walking down the block. You harass these guys on this block. And by “harass” I mean, within the law and constitution, make it little less fun for them to hang out in public and sell drugs. Yes, you as a cop give these guys a hard time. Is that fair? Yes. Because there have been six shootings on this block this year. Is it racist? No. Because these guys are the problem.

If you’re a cop, you need to ask a bunch of questions 1) how do you do knowing these guy are slinging and shooting? 2) Should you stop these guys? 3) Are they committing a crime? 4) Are they a Broken Window? 5) What legal basis do you have to stop and frisk those guys?

[The answers are 1) get out of your damn car and talk to them, or at watch them disperse at your presence, 2) yes, 3) no, and 4) yes. 5) very little at first, but you can build it, ask for a consent search, or conduct a Terry Frisk.]

You pull up to them. See what they do. You can crack down on this group by enforcing Broken Windows quality-of-life crimes. You get to know who they are. You can use your discretion and ticket them for something — drinking, smoking joints, jaywalking, littering, truancy, spitting — whatever it takes. You can arrest them when they can’t provide ID (they can’t, trust me). You can harass these criminals legally and within the bounds of the constitution. This is what police are supposed to do. It’s how homicides are prevented. It’s how some kids stay out of gangs. But if cops do their job, then we, society, need to support police officers against inevitable accusations of harassment, racism, and even discourteous behavior in their confrontations with these criminals.

As a cop you will not win the war drugs, but as long as drugs are illegal you need to fight the fight against pubic drug dealing. But we’re telling cops not to do this. In Chicago cops are listening. And so are the criminals.

So maybe America isn’t so great (for reasons other than Michelle Higgins gives).