Archive for the ·

Broken Windows Policing

· Category...

Burglary is Not a Non-Violent Crime: In Oakland, It Isn’t Even a Crime

no comments

Well, OK, that’s not exactly true. But in July, Oakland police announced that, due to budget problems, police will no longer respond to a long list of crimes, including residential burglary where the home invaders are unknown.

I’m sure it didn’t help that the city had to spend so much money responding to the recent liberation of sports shoes and consumer electronics in the name of Oscar Grant.

Shoe Locker Looter Wearing an Oscar Grant Mask

That’s a lot of money that could be spent on doing things like protecting people’s property, going instead to prevent protesters from destroying even more Mom and Pop franchises and delis and phone kiosks and other symbols of oppression.

Maybe there should be an enhanced penalty for premeditated rioting.

Meanwhile, want to train to become a burglar?  Move to Oakland.  Though I don’t recommend living there, because home insurance rates are about to shoot up.  For everyone, of course, not just burglars and looters.  Funny how that works.

I spent way too much time yesterday fruitlessly searching for a comment I’d seen on a police blog, one that perfectly sums up the dangers of lowering the bar on criminal behavior this way.  The commenter, a cop himself, was writing about the war on cops.  He pointed out that virtually every cop killer has repeatedly cycled through the court system, learning along the way that he could get away with practically anything.

Even more troubling, the widespread belief that so-called non-violent crimes like drug trafficking and residential burglary don’t merit prison terms is creating a generation of criminals who not only have no fear of consequences but actually feel entitled to commit crimes.  Whenever they find naive people to support them in their belief in these “rights,” they also feel more entitled to direct their resentment and rage at symbols of law enforcement, namely cops.

We should not underestimate the perniciousness of reinforcing the notion that it is “unjust” to punish people for things like breaking into other people’s houses.

Oakland has actually codified that mindset.

These trends are especially dangerous for women. Back when Georgia was implementing its DNA database by collecting DNA from all felons, not just sex offenders, something really shocking showed up in the first few hundred “hits” (where a felon’s sample matched previously unsolved crimes).  Many men who only had prior records for burglary or drugs or aggravated assault were identified as rapists in stranger rapes that had gone unsolved.

That begs a few questions, questions which, sadly, law professors and criminologists are utterly disinterested in asking.  Too bad, because they’re extremely relevant in the ongoing debate about prosecuting or not prosecuting certain crimes and how we choose to spend our shrinking justice budgets.

For example, how many of these men were previously caught committing rapes but were granted non-sex offense pleas by money-conscious prosecutors who didn’t think they could get rape charges to stick?  In one of his several trips to prison, my own rapist got more time for resisting arrest and B&E than for sexually assaulting another victim — more time for breaking into a window than a woman’s body — thanks to one such money-saving plea.  I’ve got a file cabinet stuffed with other examples of serial rapists — and serial killers — given multiple chances to rape and kill, thanks to routine, money-saving courtroom shortcuts.

They don’t call them “bargains” for nothing.  These types of offenders also now have enhanced abilities to do pre-assault dry runs in Oakland and other places that are ratcheting back law enforcement.

Now, with less enforcement of these lesser crimes, more serious offenders stand to get away with even higher quantities of violent crime.  A sex offender operating in Oakland can rest confident knowing that the police won’t be showing up to investigate his fishing expeditions.  Does anybody believe the that the tiny fraction of burglars who end up in a courtroom in Oakland won’t benefit from the downgrading of this crime?

And what is happening in Oakland is the future for everyone, the logical consequence of decades of pricing justice out of reach — for us non-offenders, that is.  We spend so much on largely useless “rehabilitation” and frivolous appeals that there is no money left to actually enforce the law.  This is how violent recidivists are made, and how cops get killed, and why the rest of us are forced to spend more and more of our money insuring our lives and looking over our shoulders.

In the 1990′s, elected officials were able to turn New York City around by doing precisely the opposite of what Oakland is doing today.  Expect opposite results, as well.

New York City, 1990; Ciudad Juarez, 2009; Justice Reinvestment, Tomorrow

no comments

A shiny new euphemism is bouncing around Washington these days: it’s called Justice Reinvestment.

That sounds nice.  Thrifty.  Far better than the unfortunately named “Prisoner Reentry,” which was former President Bush’s euphemism for his program handing $300 million dollars over to FBCOS (faith and community based organizations, in other words, any darn thing) to provide “services” (“mentoring,” putative job training, free housing and other goodies) to offenders “reentering” their communities.

In other words, getting out of jail.

Of course, Bush was an unrehabilitated knuckle-dragger, so the new administration has announced, to great fanfare, that those dark days of denying offenders services (“mentoring,” putative job training, free housing, and other goodies) have Finally Come To An End, now that they’ve invented an entirely new name for them.

Justice Reinvestment definitely sounds better than Prisoner Reentry, but other than the stationary headings, both programs do precisely the same thing: they pay a whole bunch of pricey advocates to put a good spin on the fact that our streets are crawling with offenders who ought to be in prison but are not.

Like all spin on crime, Justice Reinvestment is an expression of the foundational myth of crime and punishment in America, neatly summarized in this Nation editorial and thousands of identical screeds.  I paraphrase, but not much (* are real quotes):

Once upon a time, during the Golden Age (roughly, 1963 to 1989), we rehabilitated criminals, instead of punishing them.  But then, a vindictive and stupid public woke up one morning and demanded that their leaders become tough on crime.  Spineless politicians, driven by the unslaked blood-thirst of the public, started putting vast numbers of people in prison for no reason whatsoever, and soon we became a prison state where there was no rehabilitation, no parole, and no second chances.  Then we were worse than Iran!  Cruel and irrational new laws “sent young men to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza,”* when we could have been using all that money to send them to Princeton.  Ivy League, not Central Lockdown!  Except, not the campus where I’m sending my daughter, please.  Everybody knows that prisons don’t prevent crime.  “All prison is likely to teach . . . is how to commit crime again,”* whereas, at Princeton, young offenders could have been taught literary criticism instead.  If there were no prisons, there would be no recidivism.  That’s a fact.  But because we destroyed the consequence-free paradise that was 1974, we are forcing young, one-time offenders to become lifetime criminals.  Now, because we have chosen enforcement over empathy, “half of those released will be convicted for another crime within three years.”* So it’s vital that we admit we were wrong and, from this point forward, avoid holding criminals accountable in any way, lest we turn them into recidivists.  Using laws.   They just need understanding.  And job training.  And mentors.

This myth, exactly none of which is true (except the shocking recidivism stats) has been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans, which doesn’t make it more credible, just more bipartisan.  How wrong-headed is this thinking?  This chart should do the trick:

800px-NYC_murders

See 1963ish?  That is the dawning of the Age of Anti-Incarceration, rising to full bloom in the bloodshed-ey Eighties.  See 1990?  That was when three-strikes, enhanced penalties for gun crimes, and broken-windows policing began replacing the leniency of the previous two decades.

See the blank spot on the far right side of the declining ski slope between 1990 and 2000?  Those are the thousands of lives saved in New York City alone, thanks to those terrible Americans who began to demand that the justice system incarcerate offenders instead of automatically cutting them loose.

I saw an interesting statistic in the newspaper.  Ciudad Juarez, where 16 young people were shot to death at a birthday party yesterday, had about as many murders last year as New York City had in 1990.  So if you want to imagine what contemporary New York would look like if only those horrible law-and-order types hadn’t turned America into Iran some time around 1992, think Ciudad Juarez.

In fairness, the murder rate in Ciudad Juarez today is far higher than the 1990 New York City murder rate: there are only 1.5 million people in Juarez, one-fifth the population of NYC three decades ago.  But there were roughly 1.35 million poor living in NYC when the city’s murder rate spiked, and, of course, the vast majority of the killings took place exclusively among the poor.

So it really was that bad.  Sending more people to prison really did save more lives.

And yet, the anti-incarceration activists continue to insist that “fascist” law enforcement, not crime, is the only real problem, and the only real solution to everything is more leniency and more administration.  That is the real intent of the Justice Reinvestment movement, though I dare anyone to read through the Byzantine prose of the official Four-Step Strategy and explain what they are actually saying.

It is, after all, your money they’re throwing at that guy who just stole your lawnmower.

Do Jobs Programs Cause Crime?

1 comment

With something approaching fifty years of economic and crime statistics consistently disproving any correlation between recessions and crime, not to mention the last 12 months of terrible economic news coupled with still-dropping crime rates, you’d think journalists might finally start questioning their knee-jerk pronouncements about “lack of opportunity” being the primary motivation for unlawful behavior.

But they won’t.  Journalists simply can’t, I think, let go of the idea that young people (males, mostly) commit crime primarily because they are being unjustly deprived of economic opportunity.  To let that idea go would result in nothing less than the catastrophic collapse of a myth on which rests perhaps a fifth or more of the emotional underpinnings of the fourth estate.   It would require shifting culpability for criminal behavior from society at large, where journalists and policymakers are comfortable placing it, onto individuals who commit crimes (and in many cases their families and immediate communities, but no farther).

With the exception of some big city newsrooms, however, the rest of the world is moving on.  Journalists who cling to the disproved crime-economy calibration are even starting to sound out of step with many crime experts, and not just conservative think tank ones like Heather Mac Donald who have long argued against “root theories” of crime.  Even James Allen Fox of Northeastern University was quoted this week denying the correlation between recession and crime:

Prof. Fox said a common assumption that crime goes up during a recession is wrong. Historic data show there is little connection between economic conditions and crime, particularly violent crime.

Then again, this was an article in the Wall Street Journal.  Almost exactly a year ago, in a now-widely derided editorial, the New York Times drew a very different inference from Fox’s statements on the economy:

Federal and state programs that are supposed to provide jobs, services and counseling have been poorly financed for years. They are likely to suffer further as cash-strapped states look for ways to save money. The timing couldn’t be worse.

Fewer jobs programs are going to equal more crime, the Times cried.  They continued:

A new study by James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt of Northeastern University suggests that violent crime among young people may be rising, that the much-talked-about reduction in the crime rate in the 1990s may be over, and that much more must be done to prevent young people from succumbing to the gang culture.  The study also shows that the murder rate for black teenagers has climbed noticeably since 2000 while the rate for young whites has scarcely changed on the whole and, in some places, has actually declined. While more financing for local police would be useful, programs aimed at providing jobs and social services are far more important.

The inconsistency here is not Fox’s: he was calling for varied interventions, including policing.  But the Times is simply incapable of acknowledging the role of policing and incarceration in lowering crime rates.  They can’t stop chanting “jobs or crime,” even though economic and crime trends in the 1960′s, 1970′s, 1980′s, 1990′s, and now 2000′s utterly belie that claim.  Only one thing will stop crime, they insist (hysterically, it’s fair to say):

[T]he economic crisis has clearly created the conditions for more crime and more gangs — among hopeless, jobless young men in the inner cities. Once these young men become entangled in the criminal justice system, they are typically marginalized and shut out of the job market for life.  President-elect Barack Obama’s administration and Congress will need to address the youth crisis as part of the country’s deep economic crisis. That means reviving the federal summer jobs programs that ran successfully for more than 30 years.

Ah yes, summer jobs programs.  The single biggest graft incubator and inner-city political corruption cash cow since the mafia tipped its first garbage pail.  Start a riot and burn down all the legitimate businesses in your neighborhood?  Get a jobs program.  Serial killer on the loose?  Get a jobs program.  Fiscal conservatives take over Washington?  Get a jobs program to sop mayoral nerves.  Big government liberals take over Washington? Jobs programs, jobs programs, jobs programs.

After years of observing jobs programs in Atlanta, which is an epicenter of such things, I came to the conclusion that jobs programs themselves are a cause of crime, and not just the proximate crimes that arise directly from the grants-giving process, like kickbacks, or pay for play, or just plain stealing, though such graft is not inconsequential.  Beyond the immediate larceny, jobs programs grow a culture of extreme political corruption.  They bankroll the most crooked, on-the-make actors in city and county politics, many of whom started out on the jobs side of community outreach and resurfaced a few years later peddling substandard mortgages and community redevelopment scams, scams that contributed mightily to the current economic crisis.  When a critical mass of community leaders are on the make, when political appointees like chiefs of police are chosen by people who are themselves on the make, you get a culture where crime flourishes.

I’m no statistician, but somebody who is could probably create a nice chart correlating jobs program dollars with indictments for political corruption: in Atlanta, that chart would prominently feature former Mayor Bill Campbell, who built both his indictable inner circle and his “get out the vote” muscle on such programs, most notably the hundreds of millions of dollars in squandered and pilfered “empowerment zone” monies.  Hundreds of millions of dollars buys a lot of bad actors, large and small, from the “community activists” who can be relied on to squeal and grandstand for a few thousand bucks, to the classes who expect a few hundred thousand in contracts for their spouses and children in return for political cover.  These people didn’t care that some neighborhoods in the city were ringing with gunfire: that sound was merely cha-ching in their pockets as they held out their hands and Washington filled them with money.

Atlanta’s worst years, while crime skyrocketed and the mayor and his cronies ransacked city government, only came to an end after the jobs program money ran out, and chastened city leaders had to cope with the hangover.  And with this reality: jobs programs don’t create jobs: they create programs.  Once the grant money runs out, or, more likely, gets pocketed, there’s nothing left in its place.

The crack epidemic ended the same way: things got crazier and crazier and crazier until people burned out, or they went to jail and cleaned up their acts, or they died, and those who survived were more cautious not to go down that path again.

This time around, positive results are occurring in cities where police and courts, or the public, or all three engage in tactics that can be broadly named “broken windows” policing.  A neighborhood group that patrols its own streets and takes on vandalism and abandoned buildings and shows up in court to testify is engaging in broken windows policing, even if the police aren’t officially involved and the judiciary is still dragging its heels.  Atlanta is the best example of that happening at the community level — while New York, Los Angeles, and Orlando are proving the effectiveness of the “broken windows” theory directly through their police and courts.

In contrast, cities that continue to do things the “old way,” and, not incidentally, are still mired in the same old political culture — Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago — still have high homicide rates, give or take a few points.

I don’t know what, if anything, will “tip” the current pockets of high-crime, inner-city culture away from self-destruction this time.  But empowering two-bit political hacks by handing them wads of money for fictional “jobs programs” will just make things worse.

No matter what the editorial board at the New York Times believes.

The Coming Year of Prisoner “Re-Entry”: Attempted Murder in Chicago, Then Back on the Streets in a Fortnight

4 comments

As the Justice Department and everybody else barrel forward with plans to get as many violent offenders back on the streets as quickly as possible (to save money, you know, and aid those poor benighted, imprisoned souls), here’s a reminder of the inevitable consequences of anti-incarceration-early-re-entry-alternative-sentencing-community-control chic, from the Chicago Sun-Times, via Second-City Cop:

She lost 20 teeth. She suffered a brain injury and seizures. And she struggled to pay her medical bills because she didn’t have insurance.  Jen Hall was the victim of a brutal, disfiguring beating outside a Jewel store in the South Loop in August 2008.

Her attacker, Derrick King, was later sentenced to three years in prison for the crime. King, 48, went into state Department of Corrections custody in early October, but he was paroled only two weeks later under a policy change by Gov. Quinn’s administration. . .

On Aug. 25, 2008, King and Joyce Burgess attacked Hall and her boyfriend, police said. King asked the couple for cigarettes, but when they said they didn’t have any, Burgess knocked down Hall, who was celebrating her 36th birthday.  King, who police say was homeless, kicked Hall in the head and face, knocking out her teeth. King also struggled with Hall’s boyfriend and reached into his pockets to try to rob him, police said.  King was convicted and sent to prison on Oct. 6. He was paroled under the MGT-Push program on Oct. 20, records show.

And then, of course, he not only immediately set out to commit another crime, but he terrorized his next victim by bragging to her that he was the man who had attacked Hall:

Then, on Oct. 21, King was nabbed by Chicago Police in a similar crime. He threatened a 49-year-old woman after asking her for a cigarette in the 500 block of West Roosevelt, not far from where he beat Hall.  When the woman declined, King said: “Remember the couple who got beat up real bad for not giving a cigarette? That was me!” according to a Chicago Police arrest report. King then charged toward her, police said. The woman flagged down a patrol car and the officers arrested King. Police charged King with simple assault, a misdemeanor.

Disturbed yet?  Here’s where it gets even more disturbing. Even after King tried to beat two people to death, then attacked a third victim, the Department of Corrections was not particularly motivated to pull him in.  He was almost on his way out the door again, and it sounds as if only police vigilance actually resulted in Corrections agreeing to issue a warrant:

The Department of Corrections initially declined to issue a warrant to send King back to prison on a parole violation, but eventually a parole supervisor signed off on a warrant, according to the police report.

So if this were not a case of some notoriety, it is likely that no judge or parole official or prosecutor would have bothered to enforce the law regarding King’s parole.  I can’t count the times I’ve looked up an offender’s record, and he has two, or five, or ten additional recorded offenses during the time that he is on parole — that is, during the time that he is supposed to be returned to prison for any additional offense.

And it’s not as if people like this get caught every time they throttle someone.  How many of his fellow homeless has King beaten or threatened?  How many people has he terrorized, people who escaped and decided, reasonably, that there was simply no point in trying to get the authorities to act on a criminal complaint?  Derrick King nearly killed a woman and strolled out of jail fourteen days later.

Fourteen days for what should have been attempted murder.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is now calling his secret early release of violent offenders “a mistake.”  Bunk.  A mistake is when you do something in error: this is both a guiding philosophy and a policy.  The offenders released in two weeks are merely one step further down a deliberative path that has similar offenders released after two months or six months, at most.

Or simply not prosecuted in the first place.

Derrick King’s early release is something that happens with most offenders in every major city in the country, with the exception of those that have reformed the behavior of their courts by adopting “broken windows” policies, most notably, New York City.  A Derrick King probably wouldn’t slip through the cracks in New York City: he slipped through in Chicago.  It’s simple, really.

And yet, in much of the mainstream media, and in the universities, and in courtrooms, and in Eric Holder’s Justice Department, the mantra of “emptying the prisons,” and “prisoner re-entry” is relentless.  The Justice Department is funding (that is, we are funding) scores of programs designed to keep the maximum number of offenders out of prison and in the communities where they victimize others.  These programs go by various names and make various unattainable promises, but they operate on one unifying principle: anything but incarceration as the default response to crime.

Getting Away With Everything Except Murder in Philadelphia: Another Argument for the “Broken Windows” Theory

2 comments

Disorder in the courts. It is the main reason violent offenders and repeat offenders are still on the streets.  Why is our court system falling apart?

The Philadelphia Inquirer has some of the best crime journalism in the country.  They understand that covering the justice system doesn’t just mean hounding the cops and covering big trials: it means investigating the courts, particularly courts’ systematic failures to enforce the law.  Why this fact continues to elude nearly every other big-city newspaper eludes me.  If you read nothing else this week, take a look at this:

Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied

With Philadelphia’s court system in disarray, cases crumble as witnesses fear reprisal and thousands of fugitives remain at large.

By Craig R. McCoy, Nancy Phillips, and Dylan Purcell

Inquirer Staff Writers

Kareem Johnson stood over Walter Smith and executed him. He fired so close that Smith’s blood splashed up onto Johnson’s Air Jordan baseball cap.

He shot him as a favor to a childhood friend.

Smith was a threat because he had come forward as a witness in a murder case against Clinton Robinson.

With the witness dead, Robinson cut a sweet deal. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to just 2 1/2 to five years.

“Basically, I beat it,” he says now.

He and Johnson know all about beating cases in the Philadelphia courts. In just three years, Johnson, 26, and Robinson, 24, were arrested a total of nine times for gun crimes, but until the charges escalated to murder, nothing stuck.

Three years, nine gun crime arrests, no consequences.  That’s about all you need to know.  People point fingers at the cops, but the cops did their job.  They made nine arrests, and then the public and the courts dropped the ball — nine times.  Then the no-snitching culture and the do-nothing courts caused another death:

Johnson’s bloodletting came to an end only after he killed a 10-year-old boy in 2004 in one of the city’s most notorious murders. As for Robinson, he’s locked up on a drug charge, but expects to go free soon.

After Faheem Childs’ death, people pointed fingers at the police.  But what about those nine wasted chances to get Childs’ killers off the streets for lesser crimes, arrests that surely must have included the type of evidence (a gun carried illegally by a young man with a criminal record) that would have required nothing more than the willpower of one D.A. to say: I want the maximum this time, because it’s the third/fifth/ninth time?  And the willpower of one judge to pause for one moment from his droning soliloquy about his own central role in rehabilitating young men to say: Wait a minute.  This guy is a serious threat to innocent people in his community.

Cities that implemented the “broken windows theory” of crime fighting were already well on their way to safer streets by the mid-1990′s.  But Philadelphia clung to an older cycle: neglect, then activist-driven outrage when something really bad happens, then blaming police for failures that should have been laid mostly at the feet of City Hall and the courts (Politically-savvy activists never blame the politicians, or blame them for long: they scapegoat the cops and stick their hands out for handouts from mayors and councilmen).

The result?  The highest murder rate among big cities.  And more:

In a comprehensive analysis of the Philadelphia criminal courts, The Inquirer traced the outcomes of 31,000 criminal court cases filed in 2006, 2007, and 2008, tracking their dispositions through early this year. The results go a long way toward explaining the violence on city streets.

For three consecutive years, Philadelphia has had the highest violent-crime rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities, FBI figures show. It has the highest rate for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

Though murder cases are an exception, Philadelphia conviction rates trail the nation’s in rape, robbery, and serious assault cases.

“We have a system that is on the brink of overall collapse,” said Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, a former Philadelphia judge and a longtime critic of the courts’ high dismissal rate, after reviewing The Inquirer’s findings.

“These are the most horrendous crimes that can be committed – murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault,” he said, calling the conviction rates “unacceptable.”

The disorder in the courts uncovered by the Inquirer is staggering:

Defense lawyers routinely exploit the court system’s chaos. They delay cases to wear down victims and witnesses, and seek spurious postponements if they know prosecution witnesses are in court and ready to go.

Judges, prosecutors, and even prominent defense lawyers acknowledge that this kind of gamesmanship is common and that the system’s failings work to defendants’ advantage.

The system bungles basic, but crucial, steps necessary to getting key witnesses into court. Inmates, needed at trial as witnesses or defendants, never arrive. Police are routinely booked to appear in different courtrooms at the same time, guaranteeing that cases will collapse.

Though officials are working to reduce the problem, as many as a quarter of all subpoenaed inmates in recent years have failed to show up for court on any given day, experts say.

The court’s bail system is broken. Defendants skip court with impunity, further traumatizing victims who show up for hearings that never take place.

There are almost 47,000 Philadelphia fugitives on the streets. Philadelphia is tied with Essex County, N.J. – home of Newark – for the nation’s highest fugitive rate. To catch them, the city court system employs just 51 officers – a caseload of more than 900 fugitives per officer.

The consequences are staggering, too:

The system is overwhelmed by an exploding caseload, pressuring judges to put a premium on disposing cases, rather than insisting that victims and defendants have their day in court.

Of 10,000 defendants who walked free on their violent-crime cases in 2006 and 2007, 92 percent had their cases dropped or dismissed. Only 788 – 8 percent – were found not guilty at trial, The Inquirer’s analysis shows.

Staggering, too, the financial waste.  The clerk of court (Clerk of Quarter Sessions) office is so dysfunctional, it doesn’t even keep up with basic record-keeping:

In a sign of the system’s disarray, court officials had trouble answering when The Inquirer asked how much fugitives owed taxpayers in forfeited bail. At first, they said the debt was $2 million. Then they pegged it at $382 million. Finally, they declared it was a staggering $1 billion.

Of course, there’s a crooked politician at the helm.  And, remarkably, her daughter, drawing a taxpayer check right beside her:

After the newspaper raised questions about the bail debt 11 months ago, the courts and the city pledged to hire a firm to go after the money. That never happened.

For years, [District Attorney Lynne A.] Abraham has complained about the court’s failure to collect the money. Mayor Nutter, in a recent letter to her, blamed Clerk of Quarter Sessions Vivian T. Miller, saying her “inability to provide accurate records” had stalled the entire effort.

In an interview, Robin T. Jones, Miller’s top aide and her daughter, acknowledged the office had no computerized records of the debts, just paper notations in each defendant’s file.

Paper notations.  Nor did the D.A., for her part, keep up on record-keeping:

Abraham, the city’s top prosecutor, has failed to keep figures tracking how well – or poorly – her office has done in court . . . Abraham’s successor, Seth Williams, a Democrat and former assistant district attorney who will take office next month, said the D.A.’s failure to track case outcomes contributed to the low conviction rates. He said he was appalled by the newspaper’s findings.

“We have to change this,” Williams said last week. “It’s not that it’s just bad. It’s terrible.”

According to the Inquirer, Abraham staked her reputation, rightfully, on homicide prosecutions.  Her office ranked higher than the national average in successful prosecutions for that one crime (82% compared to 71%).  But Philadelphia ranks at the bottom, or close to it, for other violent crimes.  So the choice the city has made, it appears, is to do the opposite of “broken windows.”  Cut-em loose until they kill someone — not manslaughter, homicide only.

Judges claim this is all news to them.  They are shocked, shocked!:

Of the cases that die, 82 percent collapse in Municipal Court, whose judges decide whether cases should proceed to Common Pleas Court for a full trial.

Asked about the low conviction rates, Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield said she wanted to study the issues.

“This hasn’t been presented to us before,” she said. “We want to do the right thing. If we in any way can be construed as causing any problem, we want to fix it.”

Study the issues.  You do that, judge.  Read the rest here.

~~~

Perhaps Philadelphia should be the new poster child for the broken windows theory of crime, rather than New York, or even Los Angeles.  Because broken windows works, New York’s era of dysfunction is fading into a memory; L.A. is well on the right path.  In Philadelphia, that reform never came, and the results are clear every time a new murder defendant walks into court with a five-page arrest sheet for prior crimes.

At least Philadelphia has one thing going for it that a lot of other cities simply don’t have: reporters who bother to ask real questions about what is happening to the court system as a whole.  Call it broken windows journalism.

Is There a Tipping Point with Crime? A Tipping Point for Crime Prevention?

no comments

In Chicago, 225 people were shot in July, and 42 of them died from their wounds.  In one night alone, a dozen people were shot; on another night, six men were murdered.

In Baltimore, last Sunday, 18 people were shot in five different incidents.  In the Baltimore Sun, Peter Hermann and Arthur Hirsch profiled an emergency room nurse on duty throughout the carnage:

After she’d helped a man who had been shot three times into a wheelchair, after an SUV had delivered another shooting victim and two more men had walked past with bloodied T-shirts covering their wounds, nurse Cindy Barber began to wonder just what was unfolding in the Johns Hopkins emergency room.  “Are there more coming?” she asked herself. “Is someone still after them, and are they going to come here?”

Even as the New York Times insists that crime isn’t a problem, that crime statistics are down (a phenomenon they predictably attribute to everything under the sun except locking people up), several cities are seeing explosions of violence rivaling, or exceeding, previous years’ records.

Or the casualty rates of war zones.

Yet, it is true, the highest crime rate spikes seem to burn themselves out.  Not that crime ever really drops to the point of not being a problem, but extremely violent neighborhoods do get pulled back from the brink.  Given the summer that’s shaping up in Baltimore, Chicago, and, to a lesser degree, Atlanta, it’s worth asking what works when the crime rate spikes from endemic to epidemic.

Thirteen years ago, Malcolm Gladwell (of “Tipping Point” fame) published an interesting article about crime epidemics and broken windows policing in the New Yorker:

In 1993, there were a hundred and twenty-six homicides in the [Seventy-Fifth Precinct]. Last year, there were forty-four. There is probably no other place in the country where violent crime has declined so far, so fast. Once the symbol of urban violence, New York City is in the midst of a strange and unprecedented transformation. According to the preliminary crime statistics released by the F.B.I. earlier this month [1996], New York has a citywide violent-crime rate that now ranks it a hundred and thirty-sixth among major American cities, on a par with Boise, Idaho.

Atlanta has already done one of the things New York City did back in the 90′s: it shut down its high-density, high-crime public housing projects.  Closing the doors on Grady Homes and Techwood Homes (a move that drove many problem residents outside city limits) probably accounts for most of the reduction in the city’s crime rate during the last decade.  Maybe the question criminologists should be asking is this: “If we control for the demolition of previous high-crime zones, should crime actually be lower than it is right now?”

I also suspect that severe outbursts of violent crime do “burn themselves out” because certain neighborhoods literally self-destruct, with offenders killing each other off or finally going to prison for substantial sentences.

However, “waiting until the last guy goes out in a cavalcade of bullets, hopefully without taking too many innocent eight-year olds with him” is not public policy.  Nor is clicking the red shoes and insisting: “But things were so much worse in 1993!”

Isn’t it better to throw the book at young gang-bangers the very first time they get caught stealing a television set, rather than burying them, or their victims, two or three years down the line?

What Works? Overcoming Fatalism by Fixing Broken Glass: New York City

4 comments

Back in the 1980′s, when I was living in upstate New York and deciding where to go to college, New York City beckoned as an obvious choice: the schools, the libraries and bookstores, the Village.  I went down to Fordham for a campus visit.  The next day, I returned home, appalled.  The grounds were beautiful, but the neighborhood was so dangerous that security guards would not allow students to leave campus in groups smaller than 12.  Fordham was gated and patrolled like an embassy on enemy soil.  The streets a few blocks away looked like a war zone, and the subways surrounding it were filthy, subterranean toilets filled with more or less aggressive lunatics trying to catch your eye.

I know, I know: I was a wimp for not wanting to become one of those tough city denizens, Blondie-tough, the type who didn’t blink as they negotiated the human detritus piled up in the streets.  I was also a serious long-distance runner, and I couldn’t imagine living in a place where you needed to recruit 11 other people just in order to walk down the street.  And then, parks were off limits for runners at any hour of the day.  Even in the nicer parts of Manhattan, normal people went about their business only by studiously pretending they were not stepping over some zoned-out junkie passed out in a pool of vomit as they made their way from the subway to the street.

People prided themselves on surviving this, but it was not as if they had a choice, unless they had the choice I made, which was to live somewhere else.  Many people made that choice in the Eighties and Nineties, just as they had done in the Sixties and Seventies, fleeing the growing violence of the city.  Back in the 1940′s, my grandparents had made the same choice for the same reason: crime threatened their daughters’ safety.  If you had tons of money, you could live well in the city and insulate yourself and look down your nose at those lesser types fleeing to the suburbs, but for everyone else, living in the city was a matter of narrowing your horizons, watching your back, and lowering your standards to accommodate the chaos.

By the time New York City “hit bottom” in the late 1980′s, it was astonishing how much abuse the dispirited public could absorb.  The few times I traveled through the city in those years, I found Port Authority Station to be a claustrophobic Habitrail of crime.  Betraying surprise at the Hogarthian spectacle merely singled one out.  This passage from an academic study nicely captures the zeitgeist:

“Inside the bus station, people had sex, shot heroin, gave birth and died.”

Less picaresque were the city’s murder statistics: 2,262 dead in 1990.

The people who rescued New York City realized they would have to change the behavior of two entirely different subsets of the population: those who were causing the problems and a public who had trained themselves to silently submit to them.  Much has been written about the “Broken Windows” model of crime fighting, in which quality-of-life violations such as loitering and graffiti and toll-hopping are no longer tolerated, with the goal of raising community standards and entrapping chronic offenders.  I don’t know of any study that tracks the effect of Broken Windows enforcement on the law abiding, but I imagine their tolerance for social disorder must have dropped as the levels of disorder dropped around them.

Nowadays, despite displays of nostalgia in some circles, I doubt very many New Yorkers would tolerate a return to 2,000+ murders a year, or the spectacle of seeing a homeless schizophrenic women wash her privates in the next sink when they’ve taken the kids downtown to see Nutcracker Suite.

It could be said that New York City triumphed over crime simply because the people in charge decided to stop tolerating any more of it.  This seems like an obvious stance, one that any sane elected official would take, but it is not: it took generations of city leaders openly tolerating crime and anti-social behavior for New York City to crawl as far down as it did into the gutter.  Even during the bloody years of 1989 – 1993, many of these same people vehemently objected to any effort to raise the social bar on everyone’s behavior, arguing that criminals and drug addicts and homeless people are both incapable of changing and should not be told to change.  But despite these naysayers, the evidence keeps rolling in that the Broken Windows philosophy of policing did work and was responsible for New York City’s astonishing turn-around on crime.

Atlanta is not New York City: people in sprawling southern cities do not live heel-to-chin on top of each other, and crime is more dispersed as well.  It is therefore impossible to achieve the density of police presence that Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani were able to muster in the early 1990′s.  Nor, significantly, do a critical mass of residents use public transportation in Atlanta, whereas in New York, people from all social strata rely on public transportation, so Police Chief William Bratton was able to demonstrate to the public that cracking down on minor crimes in the subway could transform the city itself.

Still, there are lessons for Atlanta to learn from New York’s Broken Windows success.  The most important lesson might be that charismatic leadership firmly on the side of zero tolerance matters.  Broken Windows is often portrayed as a bottom-up approach because that is what officers are tasked to do.  But it actually requires a much higher level of coordination and involvement from police brass than ordinary policing.  And given the array of activists aligned against quality-of-life laws, it also requires a police force that knows that City Hall, and their own commanders, firmly have their backs.

Atlanta currently has none of these things.

As George Kelling, one of the main advocates of Broken Windows policing, writes in this article in City Journal, New York City’s crime turnaround also took tremendous cooperation between police and the mayor’s office, parks and public transportation officials, city planners, and especially, the courts.

Atlanta currently has none of these things.

In Atlanta, the district attorney is still talking about “understanding” gang members and excusing their crimes, and some judges in the Superior Court have not yet gotten the memo about actually punishing criminals for shooting people, let alone jumping turnstiles.

But Atlanta has one thing that New York City did not have in 1989, or even 1993. It has scores of citizens who are taking leadership roles in the fight against crime, who believe that technology and cooperation and their own efforts can turn the city around.  The public in Atlanta in 2009 is playing the role that a small band of law enforcement visionaries played in New York City twenty years ago.  They are approaching the crime problem with energy, good intentions, and open minds.  They are networking using new forms of communication, demanding zero tolerance for crime victimization, and livable streets, even as their leaders lag behind them.

Atlantans are not New Yorkers: they are not jaded.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two recent articles on New York City’s crime turnaround:

How New York Became Safe: The Full Story, George L. Kelling

New York’s Indispensible Institution, Heather Mac Donald