Crime

Withdrawing from the Crime-Control System

If you think there's a good chance the cops will shoot or beat you, you're less likely to call 911.

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Def Jam

If you think there's a good chance the police will beat you up, you're less likely to call the cops. Sometimes, this reluctance manifests itself not just in an individual but across an entire community. Sociologists and criminologists call this phenomenon legal cynicism—a basic lack of confidence in the criminal justice system's fairness, competence, responsiveness, and all-around legitimacy. Where legal cynicism flourishes, the theory goes, people tend to withdraw from the formal crime-control system; and in the U.S., legal cynicism is most likely to flourish in low-income minority neighborhoods.

A trio of sociologists has just found an ingenious way to measure this effect. In a new study for the American Sociological Review, Matthew Desmond of Harvard, Andrew Papachristos of Yale, and David Kirk of Oxford note that research on this subject usually relies on surveys and interviews, methods that can reveal a lot about people's attitudes but "are less reliable when it comes to measuring interactions with the police." So instead they selected a high-profile example of abusive police behavior—the 2004 beating of Frank Jude, a black Milwaukee man assaulted by a group of white officers—and then located and counted the city's 911 calls after news of the beatdown broke. Controlling for various variables, they found a small, brief decline in calls in predominantly white neighborhoods and a "large and durable" decline in predominantly black neighborhoods, with the latter lasting more than a year. They then examined Milwaukee's 911 calls following a 2007 police assault on another unarmed black man, Danyall Simpson; that too produced a decline.

The authors also wondered whether nationally reported incidents in other cities could produce the same result. Here the results were mixed. 911 calls went down in Milwaukee, especially in black neighborhoods, after the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell in Queens. But the 2009 death of Oscar Grant in Oakland did not produce the same result.

These results have interesting implications for the debate over the so-called Ferguson effect. Usually that phrase refers to the idea that increased scrutiny has made cops wary about policing proactively, leading to increases in crime. But as I noted here after the FBI released last year's crime statistics, there is a rival theory that focuses not on the supply of policing but the demand for it. Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, thinks legal cynicism may help explain several cities' recent spikes in homicides. "Lack of confidence in the police among African-Americans predates the recent police killings in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York and elsewhere," he wrote earlier this year. "But it is likely to be activated by such incidents, transforming longstanding latent grievances into an acute legitimacy crisis." When people don't trust the police, they are less likely to cooperate with them—and more likely to turn to do-it-yourself alternatives to policing, such as the violent resolution of disputes. (It is certainly possible to think of alternatives to calling 911 that do not entail doling out rough justice. And it is wonderful when they flourish. But they require work, trust, and time to be effective, just like a police department does.)

Desmond, Papachristos, and Kirk's work lends theoretical support to Rosenfeld's theory, though obviously they're not looking at the same time period. It also has implications for another question raised by 2015's crime numbers: Why did homicides rise so much more than violent crime in general? (According to the FBI, violent crimes increased 3.1 percent last year. Homicides went up 10.8 percent.) Since murder is the most serious crime around—and since it's easier to ignore an assault than to hide a dead body—killings are reported much more consistently than other offenses. It is entirely possible that those other crimes surged more sharply than the official statistics suggest.

It is also entirely possible that the authorities will respond to those increases by unleashing the very sort of policing that fuels legal cynicism, thus feeding the cycle.

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  1. Jesse’s getting up, a get get get, a get down, cause he knows that Nine One One is a joke in yo’ town.

    It’s really sad that I can remember that from 1991 but I can’t remember anything from earlier this week.

    1. Short term memory lapses are a side effect of the Weedz. Ass sex and messicans have their own separate side effects.

    2. It’s really sad that I can remember that from 1991 but I can’t remember anything from earlier this week.

      Governor, you should be out on the campaign trail, not commenting on HnR.

      1. That explains why he’s so unprepared for interviews: he spends too much time on H&R.

        Although if that were the case you’d think he would have learned at least a little bit about how to articulate and defend libertarian ideas.

      2. I see Gary as more of a Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul guy than a PE fan, though

          1. Rebirth of Slick is a terrific song.

        1. Cypress Hill, obvs. Sheesh, you people!

        2. Phish. He listens to Phish.

  2. So instead they selected a high-profile example of abusive police behavior?the 2004 beating of Frank Jude, a black Milwaukee man assaulted by a group of white officers?and then located and counted the city’s 911 calls after news of the beatdown broke.

    Clearly, there’s a problem with how pervasively these incidents are reported. We need common-sense media control.

  3. Or we could just get rid of all the black and hispanic people, and the problem solves itself, amirite?

    1. You’re repeating this joke so often, I’m starting to wonder if it’s not one.

      1. Eh, it’s mostly just laziness for the low-hanging fruit, but point taken.

        1. These masturbation euphemisms are becoming etc etc…

        2. You know who else was lazy enough to go for low-hanging fruit?

          1. Tantalus?

              1. This is the better answer.

      2. OK. We’ll take the niggers and the chinks, but we don’t want any Irish.

  4. You would be wise then. Like Bill Gay.

  5. Outstanding alt text, Jesse.

    A person would have to be a fool to call 911 for pretty much any reason, wouldn’t he/she/xe?

    1. What if they’re tired of living?

      1. There are better ways to go than beaten to death.

        1. Like getting shot and left to bleed out, or tazed into cardiac arrest, or shaken around in the back of a van, or choked, or…

          1. I want to go by nickel ride. It’s fun, until you break your neck.

        2. Just hold something that looks like a gun and you’re good.

    2. If my house was on fire I probably would.

      There should really be a separate emergency number for fire and medical emergencies (libertarian disclaimer, etc).

  6. But as I noted here after the FBI released last year’s crime statistics, there is a rival theory that focuses not on the supply of policing but the demand for it.

    How much room in the data is there for the possibility that both might be correct: a mugging or theft might not be reported to police for fear of bringing the wrath of white cops down on the victim, while armed robberies and violent assaults and murders increase due to the withdrawal of cops from proactive patrolling?

    It seems insane to me that we would discount the possibility of officers fearing for their jobs in the wake of trumped-up politically motivated witch hunts like Baltimore and Furgeson even while postulating that citizens fear mistreatment after incidents of inexcusable police brutality. And the disparity you cite between outsized increases in murder rates and other violent crimes lends credence to the idea that both police and civilians are increasingly weary of each other: fewer people want to report violent assaults, and gangsters feel empowered by the relative paucity of policing to gun down one another (and hapless bystanders).

    1. outsized increases in murder rates and vs. other violent crimes

    2. It is not entirely fear of the cops that drives not reporting crime. It is also lack of faith in the system in general. If you are mugged or have something stolen, what are the chances the cops are going to do anything but take a report and tell you it sucks to be you? Not very good. In most cases the only benefit to reporting a theft to the cops is that doing so is required to collect on your insurance. I can’t think of a single instance where someone I know had their house robbed or their car stolen where the cops ever recovered the property or found the person who did it. Can you?

      There are only three types of crimes that really ever get reported to the cops; crimes where reporting it is required to collect an insurance settlement, crimes like murder or other crimes that are so serious there is no way to prevent the state from taking an interest and crimes where you know who was the perpetrator and want them arrested. Otherwise there is no point in calling the police and I think very few people do so as a result.

      Absent the need to file an insurance claim, the only time I would ever call the cops is if someone is at my house committing a crime or will not leave when asked. And I would only call the cops then because I live in a state that doesn’t have a castle doctrine and confronting someone on my property with a gun, and I would never confront an intruder without a gun, could subject me to serious criminal liability.

      1. My sister got her car back a couple of weeks after it was stolen. But I can’t say for sure the police found it.

        1. It is rare. Since your car has a VIN number and the police might by dumb luck find it, most car thefts probably get reported. But even though they got her car, I bet they didn’t find who stole it.

          1. It is an old, old car. Found in a drive way not too far from where it was stolen. The contents were gone, but the vehicle itself wasn’t stripped for parts. Someone drove if for a couple of weeks and then dumbed it. So really dumb criminals is this case.

          2. It is an old, old car. Found in a drive way not too far from where it was stolen. The contents were gone, but the vehicle itself wasn’t stripped for parts. Someone drove if for a couple of weeks and then dumbed it. So really dumb criminals is this case.

            1. Someone drove if for a couple of weeks and then dumbed it. So really dumb criminals is this case.

              Not necessarily. Could’ve been criminals needed a vehicle that couldn’t be traced to them for a job, stole the car, did the job over that couple of weeks, and dumped it having no use for it any longer.

          3. Just as whenever they confiscate a gun, they invariably never return it to the owner even if it’s verified that the owner broke no laws. That’s why many people intentionally use cheaper pistols as carry weapons, because they’re assuming ahead of time that they’ll never get it back in the event they have to use it.

      2. I read this

        My takeaway. Avoid a gunfight if at all possible.

        1. The fact that a gunfight involves possible incoming bullets makes me avoid gunfights if at all possible.

          1. I know a few people who carry that say they hope they get a chance to use their gun. I don’t know if it’s being a hero or killing without punishment that excites them, but I’ve seen enough real violence to know its not fun.

            1. In real life, you never know whether you’re the hero of the story or the good but not good enough guy who gets killed to show everyone that the bad guy is a worthy challenge to the hero. No thanks.

        2. I completely agree. Gun fights suck. But fist fights are not any better. Ultimately, you really shouldn’t confront someone who might mean you harm unless you are willing and able to shoot them. Otherwise what are you doing other than asking to get your ass kicked?

          Someone in my house or on my property committing a crime is one of the few times I would absolutely call the cops. Let the cops confront them and let the intruder face a life without parole sentence for shooting a cop.

          I live in a residential neighborhood. My defense plans are if I am on the first floor and someone breaks in I am running right out the door. The chances of them having the nerve to shoot me or hitting me even if they do are pretty small and once I am out in my neighborhood they are fucked. What are they going to do? Shoot me in the street in front of the whole world? Maybe but if they are that crazy I am screwed anyway. If I am up stairs, I am calling the cops, crouching behind my bed and shooting anyone who walks through the door. If I am going to be in a gun fight, it is not going to be a fair one.

          1. My defense plans are if I am on the first floor and someone breaks in I am running right out the door. The chances of them having the nerve to shoot me or hitting me even if they do are pretty small and once I am out in my neighborhood they are fucked.

            Given that there’s a high probability that the people breaking in will be the cops– whether they’re at the right door or wrong door being irrelevant– which pretty much makes your statement about them not having the nerve to shoot you null and void.

            1. I think there is a very low probability they will be cops. There are a lot more breakins in the world than there are cops serving warrants. I think we have a police problem in this country but we should not kid ourselves and think that cops are the only or even most likely parties to break into your house.

            2. I am sorry but the hyperbolic claims like that drive me nuts. They are real pet peeve of mine. The cops being such a threat is a huge problem. It is a huge problem because cops shouldn’t be any threat at all to a law abiding person not because cops have now become the biggest threat to our safety.

                1. It happens, but I think John is correct that it is very unlikely to happen to him and a non-cop home invasion is more likely.

                  1. And the chance of a home invasion by anyone is pretty small. Professional thieves want no part of the complications associated with a person being in the home or a dog. So, they are very careful to only break into homes that they are sure no one is home.

                    The home invasions where the people are home are nearly always cases where the person is involved in some sort of criminal activity and other criminals are showing up to rob them or take revenge. You rarely hear of a case where someone who isn’t a criminal is a victim of a live home invasion. It happens but not often thanks to our liberal gun laws and really draconian punishments that are given out for crimes involving weapons.

                  2. It’s not as hyperbolic as you think.

                    Hot burglaries (not classified as home invasion)

                    A household member was present in roughly 1 million burglaries and became victims of violent crimes in 266,560 burglaries.

                    Actual home invasions by the state:

                    Mr. Bates said researchers estimate the number of SWAT raids has risen from an annual rate as low as 3,000 in the 1980s to as many as 80,000 in present years.

                    As you can see on the latter, 80,000 while considerably smaller than the number of so-called ‘hot’ burglaries (I suspect home invasions as you and I think of them are much, much more rare- and I believe are often known to the victims) the breathtaking rise of no-knock SWAT raids should give people pause and may in fact rival home invasion style burglaries– as most here would define them.

                    1. Here is the thing, I am never going to do anything that is going to give the police probable cause to do a no knock raid on my home. So, if they do one, it will be by mistake. It will be because they fucked up and got the wrong address or some sleezeball informant picked my address out of a hat or something.

                      The large majority of those raids are of people who were the subject of actual criminal investigations or were actual criminals or at least had some connection to an actual criminal, the dirt bag son who lives there once in a while, that kind of thing. I am not going to be in that class. So, don’t give me the 80,000 number. Go find the number of no knock raids where they got the wrong house. That number will be a lot smaller and will be the one to use for my chances of being subjected to one.

                    2. Bou Bou Phonesavanh didn’t do anything to give the police probable cause to raid his home.

                    3. Yes Ted. That happens. And it could happen to me. It doesn’t happen in every case. Of the 80,000 no knock raids a year, only a small but non zero percentage of them are without any cause. So the odds of it happening to me are based on that smaller number not the 80,000.

                    4. They didn’t just raid his home, they raided his CRIB MAN!

          2. I wasn’t clear. Avoid any confrontation you can. I have insurance so my stuff really isn’t worth dying/killing over.

            1. I completely agree. I would never confront someone out in my yard who I really thought was a threat, if they were stealing my car or trying to break into my garage or something. I would just call the cops. In my house is a different story. There, they are confronting me. I really don’t have many places to go. The only reason I would just run if I were on the first floor is that I am not walking around armed in my own house or storing loaded weapons all over such that I always have one within easy reach. That is no way to live. And if the gun isn’t either in my possession or within reach, it won’t do me any good if someone confronts me. In my bedroom, it is in easy reach. But if for example, I heard someone breaking in at night downstairs, I would never go down and confront them. I would call 911 and wait up there. If they are dumb enough to come up the stairs, it sucks to be them.

          3. If I’m honest, I’d probably do the same.

            I do like it when people shoot home invaders. It’s an excellent deterrent when people know they may well get shot if they go around breaking into houses. But I doubt I’d have the stomach for it unless it was absolutely necessary and it is a big risk to take.

            1. The problem with shooting them is two fold even beyond the legal liability issues. First, do you really want to shoot someone over a TV? I don’t. Over mine or my wife’s safety? Sure. Would do it and not lose a minute of sleep over it. But over a bunch of things that insurance will replace anyway? No. Second, is as the post above points out, gun fights suck. You go out confronting someone with a gun, you better be prepared for them having one themselves. Again, the last thing I want is to ever be in any kind of a fair fight. And confronting someone is likely to be just that.

      3. It is not entirely fear of the cops that drives not reporting crime. It is also lack of faith in the system in general. If you are mugged or have something stolen, what are the chances the cops are going to do anything but take a report and tell you it sucks to be you?

        Yeah?I tried to get that across in the first paragraph but didn’t focus on it. But it’s definitely part of the legal-cynicism concept.

      4. If you are mugged or have something stolen, what are the chances the cops are going to do anything but take a report and tell you it sucks to be you?

        My personal experience? 100%

        1. Yeah. Mostly they’ll tell me to write my own report and they’ll sign it for the insurance.

  7. It is also entirely possible that the authorities will respond to those increases by unleashing the very sort of policing that fuels legal cynicism, thus feeding the cycle

    This anti-cop rhetoric just stokes the fire and breeds war-on-cops violence.

  8. This is actually a good thing – put a stop to the cycle of violence before it escalates.

    When people don’t trust the police, they are less likely to cooperate with them?and more likely to turn to do-it-yourself alternatives to policing, such as the violent resolution of disputes.

    That’s not how this works. That’s now how any of this works.

  9. since it’s easier to ignore an assault than to hide a dead body

    Sez you.

  10. Meh, it’s only 2% anyway.

  11. The authors also wondered whether nationally reported incidents in other cities could produce the same result. Here the results were mixed. 911 calls went down in Milwaukee, especially in black neighborhoods, after the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell in Queens. But the 2009 death of Oscar Grant in Oakland did not produce the same result.

    I don’t remember what happened with Bell, but IIRC, the Oscar Grant shooter was charged fairly quickly, right?

    1. Fruitvale station? Yeah, almost right away, and the cop skipped out or something, didn’t he?

  12. Jesus, Millenials know how to do social panics:

    fears seamed to have resurfaced on Twitter with one user tweeting: “‘Sex roulette’ parties where one person secretly has HIV are on the rise, doctors warn.”

    Suuuuuure.

    1. Wasn’t this the “bareback party” panic of 15 years or so ago? Good grief, everything in this society is a reboot/rerun.

    2. We know this is bullshit because Millennials are the most sexless generation.

  13. So, a big story on CBS This Morning (again, watching it so you don’t have to) today was the case where the police lit up an apparently nonthreatening automobile, killing a 6-year-old autistic kid.

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/29/…..-shooting/

    The victims appear to be white, and the cops/perps of color. I feel like this is a watershed moment, one where people will put aside their grievances and racial animosities and come together for a constructive discussion about the role of law enforcement in society.

    Just kidding.

    Oh, and to drop the glibness for a moment, the story is pretty fucking tragically awful.

    1. That is a story that needs to be national news. If you want to do something about police violence, publicize these kinds of stories rather than when the police shoot some two time felon that half the public think needed shot. There is no defending the police in that case. And that is the sort of case that should be used to convince people to hold police accountable.

      1. At least two of the officers are being charged with murder, so at least something is being done. It’s when they pull the “procedures were followed…” bullshit that pisses me off.

        1. That’s the defense the officers are using and used. And they lied (already proven) in their claim that the suspect vehicle ‘rammed’ them.

    2. The footage, which is very graphic in parts, shows a confused scene in which several officers discuss the situation and how best to proceed. An officer appears to say, “I don’t know who all fired,” to which another officer seems to respond, “I fired.”

    3. BTW, a fun parlor game is to google “body cams union” and count how many articles come up with Unions fighting body cams.

      1. By fun, you mean, depressing?

        1. By fun, I mean totally expected allowing you to be smug for 20 minutes, knowing your initial suspicions were completely correct.

    4. I remember this one from when it happened. Absolutely horrifying.

    5. Odd. There’s nothing about the father’s criminal history in that news report.

      1. Or the kid. He was probably a pot smoker.

      2. BTW, there is something about his criminal history in the report:

        Officers moved to detain the man, identified as Christopher Few, who took off in his car.

        There’s the criminal history.

        1. No, I mean how he was arrested so many times in the past forsuch and such and had a screwdriver in the tool kit in the back of the car and so was obviously out casing houses to burgle them.

          1. SF, the cops only need a few seconds worth of criminal history to level the place with artillery.

        2. Failure to obey is the worst crime there is.

    6. Pretty terrible. From their body language in the video, those guys knew they fucked up bad.

    7. i hadn’t remembered this one.

      Thanks jerk.

      1. seriously…ruined my day.

        I must have blocked this out cause it seems like I would have remembered it.

  14. They don’t want anyone to call 911. The ideal shift would be donuts and porn in the cruiser. That’s why they get so irritable and shooty when someone does call them.

  15. Isn’t that song about EMT’s?

  16. and a “large and durable” decline in predominantly black neighborhoods,

    That’s called “Working as designed”.

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