Archive for the ·

crime statistics

· Category...

Hillary Clinton and Thomas Alfred Taylor’s Underpants: It Takes a Village to Rape a Child

5 comments

Or maybe we should say: It Takes a Village to Get Away With Raping a Child.  

bill-and-hillary

This is Hillary Clinton in 1975.  She was on her way to becoming a “feminist icon,” so of course she stepped up to defend a 41-year old man who admitted to raping a child — a twelve-year old child.  There were two witnesses to the crime — another man and a teen boy who were in the car with the rape victim.  The offender plied the child with alcohol and then raped her.

As reported in The Washington Free Beacon in a well-researched article by Alana Goodman, Clinton, in 1975, by her own giggly admission, knowingly orchestrated a fraudulent test of the evidence from the crime in order to try to deceive the jury about her client’s guilt: she sent a part of the rapist’s underpants that had no fluids on it to a lab in New York and then threatened to use the negative lab result to disprove the prosecutor’s other evidence.  She also made false claims about the victim’s mental state, calling her an unstable liar.  Ultimately, despite powerful evidence condemning the rapist, the prosecution let Clinton’s client plead down to little more than time served.

There are lessons for everyone in this story.

Academic Feminists (a category that includes many feminist journalists) are now piling on anyone who deigns to criticize Clinton for using dirty tricks forty years ago to help a child rapist get off with a slap on the wrist.  This may sound odd, but Academic Feminists have never been interested in putting real rapists into real prisons.

In fact (a fact you won’t learn in women’s studies classes), from the very beginning of the modern feminist movement, Academic Feminists have been far more interested in playing identity politics than in punishing rape.  At the first meetings of the N.O.W., violence against women wasn’t even going to be included as a platform of the group, out of fear that condemning violence against women would result in some minority men getting convicted for the rapes they committed.

Couldn’t have that.

Better to throw all rape victims under a bus than hold black rapists responsible for their rapes  — of mostly black women and children.  From the beginning of modern feminism, racial and ethnic sensitivity — who committed a crime — was more important than the victim or the crime itself, let alone the ethic of justice for all.

[It should be noted that this attitude disgusted a critical mass of other feminist women who started working with police to protect women and children anyway — regardless of the color of their offender.  These service provider types generally like to stay away from politics, and they shouldn’t be confused with Academic Feminists and other political bottom feeders]

Fast-forward to today: the Academic Feminists have spent the last several years perfecting their March Towards Universal Guilt But No Prison Time Only Re-Education For All Men But Especially White Fraternity Brothers.

Academic Feminists have always just been leftists who care more about emptying the prisons than about real victims of crime.  They would rather exploit rape cases for political ends than imprison rapists.

For example, Amanda Marcotte at Slate is wagging around her frayed invisible Code of Defense Lawyer Ethics to explain why Clinton wasn’t merely right to use deceit and character assassination of a 12-year old rape victim to get her rapist client off: according to Marcotte, Clinton was super-right to use deceit and character assassination of a 12-year old rape victim to get her rapist client off  because she’s Hillary Clinton:

Defense attorneys have an unpleasant but necessary job, and Clinton did what she was obligated to do, which was to give her client a constitutionally mandated adequate defense. … As long as juries keep acquitting based on this myth that women routinely make up rape accusations for the hell of it, defense attorneys will continue to use it. The problem here is a larger culture that promotes rape myths, not defense attorneys who exploit these myths in last-ditch attempts to get acquittals for rapists who have overwhelming evidence against them.

According to Marcotte, everyone else uses rape myths, so the legal standard is to use rape myths, so Clinton was just giving her client the benefit of a really good defense by using rape myths and she should be praised for doing this because it had to be super hard for her to shed her principles that way, but, by the way, if a frat brother uses a rape myth, even if there’s no rape involved, even if he’s just making a bad joke, he deserves to be destroyed, preferably by Amanda Marcotte, Hillary Clinton, and millions of other women.

Yes, this is the way the Academic Feminists think.  I think it has something to do with all that mascara intersecting ink from bad tattoos and shards of bad prose by Judith Butler in the dark little place where your heart’s supposed to be.  Other people just call it identity politics.

images

Amanda Marcotte, Defense Ethics Specialist, With Cat

The Academic Feminists are certainly showing their tushes with this defense-of-Hillary-defending-the-child-rapist-thing.  At least the masks are off.

Unknown-1

Wicker Women

But there is another story here, one that it would behoove the conservative critics of Academic Feminism to remember as they fight back against the guilt-by-identity regime. The lesson is this: in the real world, in real courts, real rape victims are still being subjected to such horrific, humiliating injustices, and real rapists and child molesters are still walking away from their crimes in nearly every case.

Forget the idiotic academic fake statistics that claim one in five women are raped in college for a moment: in the real courts, one in five rape victims don’t ever get a day in court.  Hell, more than four in five rape victims don’t ever get a day in court.  So while you’re busy fighting the Academic Feminists, do not make the mistake of believing that what you see happening on college campuses has any bearing on the real criminal justice system.

And when you’re done demanding justice for yourself, you should demand justice for victims of real rape, lest you become like the Campus Feminists you’re fighting — lest you become interested in injustice only when it affects you and people who look like you.

Once you’re done being disgusted by the glee that Hillary Clinton expressed in recounting her clever deceits that freed a child rapist, don’t get gleeful yourself over Clinton’s comeuppance: there’s still a child victim involved, and nothing about what happened to her is funny.  There’s still an injustice to be righted.

The Hillary Clinton rape defense is also an important story because it lays bare the perverse lies that pass for criminal defense and the sleazy tactics that warp rules of evidence.  If conservatives really care about right and wrong and justice and injustice and toppling identity politics, they cannot draw a circle around these real injustices committed against rape victims and say: this has nothing to do with me because I’ve been persecuted by the Campus Feminists.

There are many thousands of rape victims, hundreds of thousands of them, victims of real rape, who have  been denied justice.  Hillary Clinton’s giggly story shows how easy it was in 1975 to get a rapist off, and things haven’t changed as much as one might think today.

We need conservative men to be willing to stand up for these victims, because the campus feminists don’t care about them.  That little raped girl isn’t responsible for speech codes and campus tribunals against frats.  Rapists still routinely walk because of warped rules of evidence and prejudiced jurors who believe they’re sticking it to the man, or sticking it to some feminist, or playing Atticus Finch by springing a predator back onto the streets.  Child molesters still routinely plead down to time served, or less.  If the conservative movement is going to engage the subject of rape, they should also stand up for these rape victims instead of putting all their energy into battling feminists in the fantasy-realm of academia.  It would be nice to see Minding the Campus and Truth Revolt and Phi Beta Cons expand their interrogation of injustice and rape to include the real courts.

Scoring political points isn’t everything.  Only people like Amanda Marcotte and Hillary Clinton should be guilty of an accusation like that one

 

 

 

Chicago Weekend: Is Crime Down, Or Are Neighborhoods Emptying?

1 comment

Is crime really dropping in Chicago? Not long ago, the public would have been forced to rely on some pretty unreliable sources for an answer:

  • academicians who worship at the ‘the public’s crime fears are overblown‘ altar
  • mainstream reporters who worship at the “academicians who worship at the ‘the public’s crime fears are overblown’ altar” altar
  • Chicago politicians

From sources like that, you get contradictory numbers like this, in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Five men were killed and at least 19 other people — including two children — were hospitalized after violence in the city this weekend.

Despite the violent weekend, Chicago Police announced Sunday that violent crimes have decreased for the 30th consecutive month and there have been 31 fewer murders this year than through June of last year, a 14.4 percent decrease. The crime stats also indicate a decrease in aggravated batteries, aggravated assaults and criminal sexual assaults.

Five people blown away, 19 others shot or otherwise injured, in one unremarkable weekend that featured the sort of bad weather that tends to drive people off the streets, so that’s good news: crime is down!  (**Update: 11 more shot overnight Sunday, ten homicides total)

Sure, murders are down.  They don’t say how much agg. assaults and batteries dropped, nor do they offer what might be the most accurate measure of non-safety — the number of shootings, as oppose to the number of entirely successful gun murders.  Let’s not reward bad aim, or good doctoring.

At least the public has alternative sources of information, now that cops are blogging.  Second City Cop speculates about other possible explanations for the alleged “drop in crime”:

Are there any actuaries out there who can determine the per capita rate of homicides? We lost at least 200,000 people in the recent census, and since rates are measured in terms of crimes per 100,000, is this a real drop in crime or just a statistical equivalent? And are we still doing that thing with people shot during robberies? And the other thing that negates the FBI ever using Chicago numbers in their crime stats because they’re so hinky?

SCC’s commenters (also cops) knock a little more gild off the lily:

What about property crimes? Criminal damage reports? Thefts? And what of the clearance rates, esp. for violent crimes, like robberies? Oh, I forgot, robberies are property crimes, acc. to Cline.

Crime has gone down for over 30 straight months with the shortage of cops? We don’t need any more cops. In fact lets get rid of all of them and let the animals run the asylum.

With severe police shortages, crime reports fall through the cracks.  So is the public “over-reacting” or is crime under-reported?

It also appears from the cop blogs that Chicago authorities are camouflaging crime numbers by classifying gun robberies as “property crime” instead of violent crime.  I imagine this sort of free pass gets carried over to Chicago courtrooms, where felons who stick guns in peoples’ faces get off easy because it’s just a “property” offense.  And remember all the criminals robbing other criminals who aren’t about to call 911, and the residents intimidated into silence.

Remember too the nine-year olds and eight-year olds and 12-year olds caught in the crossfire.  I don’t even think that’s a complete list from the past week.

How many violent crimes go unreported in a city like Chicago?  This demoralizing Chicago Tribune must-read offers some insights:

Whatever you do, don’t use my name, said the 83-year-old widow, and the fear in her voice was palpable. . .

We [the reporters] met a lot of longtime residents on many blocks fighting to hang on to and regenerate their communities. We wanted to tell their stories, but more often than not they would not let us if we used their names. They are terrified of retribution by the criminal elements — gangs and drug dealers — whose activities mushroomed in the newly vacant houses around them. . . “It’s like young people are berserk around here,” said the elderly widow. “It’s like they’re destroying themselves. Practically every other night or so, we hear shooting just west or east of us, or in the alley. It sounds so close, it scares you.”  She has lived in her house for 54 years, one of the early black families to move into the community. . . After years of watching, [the elderly residents] know by sight most of the players in the nightly drama. The one they fear most is a soft-spoken boss of street crews selling drugs.  “He is just an ordinary-looking person,” said one of the block club’s men. “He doesn’t dress fancy or drive flashy cars. He is very quiet and usually very courteous with people on the street. But he is a vicious killer who is all business.

“Everybody knows who he is.”

If the drug boss knew people were reporting his activities to the police, club members agree he would strike back at them. It’s a frightening prospect because they say he calmly shot a man to death in front of witnesses near their block several years ago and walked away free. The fear of reprisal for reporting criminal activity seems well-founded. Police recognize that gangs and drug dealers plant their own people into community meetings as spies, taking notes on which residents speak out against illegal activity. Community policing experts tell residents to report crimes in strict privacy, not in public forums.

Does any of this sound like good news about the crime rate?  Is Chicago really getting safer, or is the opposite true, despite any temporary drop in murder stats?  The reporters here lay too much blame on the “subprime mortgage crisis,” instead of on the thugs or the justice system that allows them to get away with murder, empty houses or no empty houses.  But, otherwise, the story serves as a fierce corrective to the “crime is down” boosterism coming out of city hall.  For the senior citizens trying to hold their neighborhoods together for the uptenth time in fifty years, it’s horror show:

They are terrified of retribution by the criminal elements — gangs and drug dealers — whose activities mushroomed in the newly vacant houses around them . . . crime problems didn’t seem epidemic, block club members say, until the recent foreclosures as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis.  According to the census, Englewood and West Englewood lost nearly 20,000 residents in the last decade. Now, 3,500 boarded-up houses and empty lots dot the communities

This actually confirms Second City Cop’s musing about population and statistics: high-crime areas experienced large population losses during the recent mortgage crisis.  So it might be that crime rates, adjusted for population, have not dropped at all.

Gee, you’d think some city statistician or publicly funded academic would have caught this.  No, they’re all far too busy denying the existence of crime and lobbying to empty the prisons.  Meanwhile, back on the block:

Because their street is quieter than nearby streets, the longtime residents say police don’t patrol their block as frequently as they do adjoining ones.  “The drug dealers and addicts know that,” said an 80-year-old woman who is also a longtime block club member. “The addicts buy their drugs around the corner and then park in their cars on our block to use their drugs and have their sexual encounters (to pay for drugs). At night, you know they are smoking crack from the blue flame that flares up.”

She talks despairingly of how the crime surge has changed her life.

“I don’t want shooting outside my house or out in the alley. I just want to go to the store and not be afraid, and to get on the bus without fear.”

Is crime really down? Or have the official statistics merely been pummeled by fear of reprisals and thinned by the cop shortage . . . then massaged by statisticians, pled down by attorneys, and shiatsu-ed again by academics, until that hard metal barrel pointed at someone’s face has metamorphosed into a property crime, or maybe just drug possession, if victims are too afraid, or too felonious, to come forward?

Then the anti-incarceration activists can claim that we need more “alternatives to prison” for all those “drug and non-violent offenders” who fill cells.  And the cycle starts over again.

Englewood Neighborhood, Chicago (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune / July 10, 2011)

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.

What a Difference Seven Months Makes?

1 comment

Remember this?

Well, according to the data that we have, there are some neighborhoods where the data don’t go along with what has actually transpired in their community.  We’ve had reductions [in crime] in a lot of those neighborhoods.  And then, some of the neighborhoods that we’ve had an increase in burglary and property crimes, those neighborhoods haven’t had a large outcry. . . I think they just respond to what they hear.  And a lot of times, perception to them is reality.

That was Chief Pennington in late January, saying that residents were over-reacting to crime, that it was just in their heads.

Here is Pennington August 7:

“In 2009, crime is down 10 percent . . . Since I joined the force [in 2002] crime is down 25 percent.”

Ben King, a graduate student at Georgia State who has an excellent blog called Terminal Station, writes:

We’ve all noticed that the police department’s contention that crime is down doesn’t seem to match what we see for ourselves.  I decided to do a little data project to figure out if the official police stats can help shed any light on what is going on.

My first post looks at residential burglaries, but I’ll also be looking at a lot of other types of crime and doing a some different types of analysis than just this first post.

What King found was a 65.1% increase in residential burglaries from 2004 – 2008.  I urge you to read the entire report at Terminal Station, which explains his methodology and includes easy to understand break-outs by Neighborhood Planning Units.  Here is his “short version”:

  • Residential burglaries are up significantly across the city
  • Southwest Atlanta has seen the highest increases in burglaries
  • East Atlanta and Grant Park had high levels of burglaries, and they’ve only gotten worse
  • Mild improvements in 2009 aren’t enough, given the increases of the last three years

Residential burglaries are up across the city

One thing that is lost in the overall numbers that get reported is how specific categories have performed. Residential burglaries are up significantly, both city-wide and even more in certain NPUs. From 2004-2008, the number of home burglaries increased 65%.


It is no surprise, then, that people feel less safe. Their homes are being violated at an alarming rate. This also places the statistics from 2009 into better context than I reported earlier. Through the first six months of 2009, residential burglaries are actually down slightly:


The fact that burglaries are down by 2% so far doesn’t negate three years of double-digit increases from 2006-2008. When it comes to residential burglaries, the city gets a big, fat, FAIL.

To summarize:

Chief Pennington says crime is down.

Ben King says burglaries are up 65% in just the past four years.

Pennington is particularly insistent that crime has not increased in certain neighborhoods with active neighborhood associations and e-mail notification lists, such as East Atlanta and Grant Park.

Ben King says this is certainly not true of burglaries:

NPU W, which includes Grant Park and East Atlanta, saw moderate increase in 2005 and 2007 before also exploding in 2008.  2008 was a bad year for the city as a whole, but particularly bad for NPU W – it brought them in to position as the #1 NPU in the city for residential burglaries for the year.

King and his colleagues are going to crunch the numbers on muggings and car break-ins next.  This is exciting work, and it shows the power of internet-accessible data.  It’s too bad, however, that it takes the volunteer labor of private citizens to do the type of work that ought to be done with the money we pay in taxes.

~~~

8,133 residential burglaries in 2008 is a lot of invaded homes.  Now if only we had on-line access to court dispositions, we would be able to see what percentage of those cases resulted in anyone being convicted of a crime and how many of those convictions resulted in incarceration, however brief.

Then you would know what your government is really doing, or not doing, to stop that guy crawling in your bedroom window.  I think those facts would shock people.

My sense of the way it washes out in the courts is this: juveniles need not worry too much about burglary charges.  They are generally given a pass the first time they get caught, unless violence is involved.  Even their second or third arrests rarely get them time in a juvenile facility (then, when they age out of the juvenile system, those records are sealed).

Once a burglar has “aged out” at 18, he gets another free bite of the apple with his first (the famously abused “first-time offender” category), and sometimes second and third burglary charge, if nobody is paying attention.  After that, his defense attorney counsels him to plead down to drug charges and request community treatment in lieu of incarceration.

It’s sort of like an apprenticeship, you see.  We should charge them tuition.

Crime Rate Up or Down? Thoughts From Around Atlanta

3 comments

Is the crime rate up or down in Atlanta?  The Atlanta Journal Constitution, echoing City Hall, continues to vote “down.”  Their editorial board is sticking to the argument that crime is a perception problem, though they have thankfully stopped mocking victims:

[S]tatistics alone don’t stir many souls toward either fear or a sense of security.  What does get people going are violent shocks to their everyday world. Things like finding your home’s been ransacked, or facing a gunman on the sidewalk. . . If people don’t feel safe, a computer’s worth of data and spreadsheets likely won’t persuade them otherwise. That’s where human contact and conversation comes in, starting at the top and spreading to cops on the beat.  Perception can trump reality if people’s emotions keep them from believing that crime really is on the run.

Meanwhile, Marcia Killingsworth reminds readers that crime isn’t really down at all in some parts of the city:

Just to refresh your memories, here are some crime stats, beginning with some[] from an AJC piece on February 8 – six months ago – that should have burst Shirley [Franklin’s] double bubble:
  • In East Lake and part of Kirkwood, violent crime jumped 53 percent.
  • Robberies went up in four beats and made a 71 percent jump from 2007 to 2008 in the East Lake/Kirkwood area.  (Atlanta police point to the explosion of two crimes; burglars kicking in doors to get to flat-screen televisions and thieves swiping GPS units from cars.)
  • East Atlanta has been hit the hardest. Since 2006, home burglaries ballooned by 147 percent. Other thefts, classified as larcenies, jumped by 87 percent.

In our little southside neighborhood of Ormewood Park, between 2007 and 2008, burglaries nearly doubled, 67 burglaries in 2007 and 125 in 2008.

Atlanta Unfiltered has crime ticking up dramatically, too.

Stephanie Ramage at Sunday Paper argues that not only are crime statistics being cooked, but that Chief Pennington had a similar culinary history in New Orleans, where he worked last (before being brought to Atlanta through the efforts of Mayor Franklin’s now-deceased ex-husband):

APD Chief Richard Pennington was lauded in New Orleans for bringing down the number of that city’s reported incidents of crime, yet shortly after Pennington left to become Atlanta’s chief in 2002, some high-ranking officers were fired for tampering with New Orleans’ crime reports.  Pennington brought his numbers game with him to the APD which already had its own shameful history of cooking the books. As reported by the New Orleans Times Picayune on Oct. 24, 2003, “a review of more than 700 reports written in the 1st District from January 2002 to June 2003 found 42 percent of crimes were incorrectly classified and another 17 percent were ‘questionable.’ More than 200 of the downgraded incidents found in the sample studied were serious crimes that included violence or threats…”

Ramage cites Atlanta neighborhood websites where residents are busy documenting individual incidents of police failing to take reports that reflect the real nature of crimes:

According to recent postings on its neighborhood website, citizens in Kirkwood have reported break-ins only to have the police discourage them from filing reports (go to “Message Boards,” then “Public Safety” and select the thread on “Crime Reporting and the APD.”)  One resident, J. C., sums up the trend by enumerating previous postings by other residents:

  • “#1 S. W. – ‘When we called again the next day, both the 911 operator and the officer that responded to the call kept telling us that we didn’t need to make a report unless we were making an insurance claim.’
  • #2 S. C. – ‘A house of my client was broken into on Cottage Grove last week and it was only after becoming insistant that the officer pulled the already completed case number card out of her pocket and gave it to the owner.’
  • #3 J. C. – ‘The KSP [Kirkwood Security Patrol] officer, as usual, was awesome to us, but the police officer APD sent really tried to dissuade us from filing a report.’
  • #4 A KNO Board Member – Had a shed break-in, and the officer was unwilling to file a report until they insisted.”

C. continues, “These are not isolated incidents, and four independent occurrences indicate to me a larger problem at hand. I truly think this is a systemic problem from the top down, namely Franklin/Pennington, and not a bottom up problem from the officer level.”

Ramage concludes:

A police officer in fear of losing his job told me last week, on condition of anonymity, “The current administration says if a car window is broken and nothing is taken, it’s ‘damage to property,’ not ‘entering auto.’ Unfortunately, central records ultimately has final say-so on how an incident is classified.” That is a quote, word for word.

How many crimes-in-progress get interrupted this way?  In my old neighborhood, it sounds to me, quite conservatively, that it must be at least three a week.

Just because people are stopping some criminals in the act, however, doesn’t mean the offenders are not out there preying on the innocent.  And the fact that civilians have taken on the task they are paying police to do is dangerous.  I find it amazing that elected officials, academicians, and many journalists are utterly incurious about these factors.  Their position — that people have no right to complain about crime if the crime rate (allegedly) has dropped — drips with presumption and contempt.

In cities like Los Angeles and New York, where people know the Chief of Police has their backs, the discussion is about stopping crime, not denying crime, whether or not the statistics are heading in the right direction.  In contrast, the utter corrosion of trust in Atlanta’s elected officials is not the result of people imagining non-existent danger.  The corrosion of trust has occurred because Pennington and Franklin are treating residents with non-imaginary contempt.  Here is Pennington in the AJC:

We have enough resources. . . Since I joined the force crime is down 25 percent.  Where is the chief?  Working hard for you and employing 30-plus years of professional training and experience on the job.

Well, right off the bat, as they say, he isn’t working hard for anyone, and he refuses to prove that he even shows up for work, which casts the rest of what he says in that editorial in a questionable light.

In response, Atlantans Together Against Crime (ATAC) founder Kyle Keyser points out that it took months of protests and lobbying to get the APD to put more officers on the streets, months while City Hall ignored residents’ requests:

Atlanta is getting more police officers and, specifically, more foot patrols. The city will start focusing on gangs — upping the Gang Task Force to 25 officers — and will do “sweeps” in areas of gang activity. They will also start enforcing the 11 p.m. curfew for city youth. Pennington admitted that criminals do not fear the APD. These measures are, in part, to send the signal: “We’re here and we’re watching you.”

Keyser sets the right tone by praising the Mayor and Chief for their recent stirring, but no more than is warranted.  Such is democracy, in an election year, in a city where residents know precisely how hard it is to get their leaders to stop denying the realities of crime on the streets:

The merit and efficacy of these measures will be for us to decide together, as they work alongside the efforts we’ve been taking in our own communities. We’ll either see the added benefits on our streets or we won’t. . .

To city hall I say, “Good morning!” Yes, they’ve woken up but they’ve been asleep too long. When I’m stirred awake by the sirens of six cop cars chasing down eight masked perpetrators in my driveway — as I was this past weekend — sleep isn’t an option.

It shouldn’t be for my city leadership either.

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?

Blogging Crime Versus “Disappearing” It: Chicago and Atlanta

no comments

Chicago:

In Chicago, something interesting is happening as “twittering” and blogging and e-mail bring in first-hand reports that deviate from official versions.  It is hard to whitewash incidents of violence and rioting when people are reporting them in real time and police are going back over their incident reports to compare notes later.

Take a look at two different sources discussing the Taste of Chicago event.  First, there is the official statement, reported in the Chicago Tribune:

The volatile vibe remained at this year’s holiday fireworks and food festival along Chicago’s lakefront, and authorities Saturday detailed the arrests of eight people accused of carrying guns or knives and several fights that triggered stampedes for the exits Friday evening.

Unlike last year’s pre-July 4 celebration — when one person was killed and several were injured — police said no one was shot in the vicinity of the Taste of Chicago on Friday.

“No Shootings This Year,” reads the headline, a low bar to set.  But is it true?  Here is Mike Doyle, reporting from the blog Chicago Carless:

To compare the stories, I jotted down a thumbnail list of each version of events–the official, and the insider. Here’s what I found:

Events Reported to News Media by City Officials

–One gun-related arrest in afternoon (gang member with shotgun in bag.)
–Arrests for unspecified reasons at Buckingham Fountain at 8:30 p.m.
–No mention of early fireworks start.
–One major fight at 9:45 p.m. (30-person gang melee at Michigan and Congress.)
–Various small, unspecified incidents.

Events Reported by Second City Cop Blog

–Gang members “take over” Buckingham Fountain area and by one account officers are told by police commanders (“Gold Stars”) to “leave it alone, let them have it.”
–911 dispatchers report two people shot at Buckingham Fountain.
–A potential effort (noted here and here) to silence radio reports of shots fired or gang fights.
–Gangster Disciples “50 deep” walking through Taste grounds and throwing gang signs.
–Latin Kings platooning along Roosevelt Road and heading towards Taste grounds.
–Multiple gang fight calls (10-1s.)
–“Numerous chases” and “multiple weapons recovered.”
–Fireworks start at least half-an-hour early.
–At least ten significant gang fights along Michigan Avenue in addition to the large melee as crowds left the southern end of the Taste grounds.

Next, I checked in with my Twitter followers and performed several searches of Twitter’s public timeline to look for tweets that might bear out the Second City Cop version of events. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

“my first year at the taste of chicago fireworks and go figure a shooting occurs 10 ft away from me!” (@chibookgrl, 7:00 p.m. Jul 4th)

Doyle’s appeal for more information bring in detailed accounts of fights and even a possible shooting.  Cops are under enormous pressure to downgrade crimes.  Prosecutors are under enormous pressure to write off charges.  How much crime gets “disappeared” these ways?

Atlanta:

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the activity of court-watching is providing residents with criminal-by-criminal details of crimes that could have been prevented, if only some judges would actually incarcerate some offenders at some point in their fulsome careers.  Here is only the latest career criminal, finally put away, thanks probably to the mere fact that, this time, somebody was watching when he walked into the courtroom, as reported by intrepid IntownWriter and court-watcher Marcia Killingsworth:

Arrested over 27 times and with three prior felony convictions, Andre Keith Grier returned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob’s courtroom this week. This time, he came to enter guilty pleas to negotiated charges. . . .

Here’s the final outcome on the three cases:

  1. Robbery and Burglary:  15 years to serve 10 years; balance probated. The conditions of his probation are a drug evaluation and treatment, a job, and to stay away from Zone 6.
  2. Theft by Receiving Stolen Property:  10 years to serve
  3. Entering Automobile:  5 years to serve
    Theft by Taking:  10 years to serve to run concurrent
    Possession of Tools:  5 years probation consecutive with the same terms as Case 1 and restitution to the victim.

“All of cases run currently, so the total sentence is 15 years to serve 10 years with balance on probation,” Schwartz says. “Although he is parole eligible, with his record and the robbery charge he is not likely to be paroled until he has completed the majority of his sentence.”

Make that armed robbery charges.  Holding a gun to somebody’s head ought to be enough to get you sent away for ten years, no questions asked, but that does not always turn out to be the case.  I am hesitant to criticize judges at precisely the juncture when they being to respond to citizen demands for real incarceration for serious crimes, but I still have to ask — what happened in court the other 24 times he was arrested?

And that leads to another question: whither those other 24 alleged crimes?  What becomes of them, statistically?

Killingsworth reminds readers:

Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Andrew Schwartz says he believes the presence of neighborhood representatives made a difference. “In my opinion, the reason Mr. Grier received this sentence is because of your community’s involvement and willingness to come to court.”

Here is a notice from the Fulton County CourtWatch about a pending case involving another serious repeat offender.  Several things about his record stand out:

–Demetrius Lester is an 17-Time Convicted Felon.*
–Lester is charged with 3 Felonies – Theft by Receiving (Auto), Criminal
Damage to in the Second Degree and Fleeing & Attempting to Elude.
* The previous notice stated that Lester had 18 prior felony
convictions.  Another review showed that one Burglary case had been
reduced to Theft by Receiving (Misdemeanor).  Therefore, he has 17 prior
convictions.

Seventeen convictions.  What on earth were the sentences?  There are repeat offender laws in Georgia.  If they have so little teeth, or if some loophole is enabling judges to ignore them, why isn’t the legislature doing something about it?

Not to make light of this man’s behavior, but when I looked up his state prison record, I could not help but be amazed by the number of aliases he has accumulated:

KNOWN ALIASES
A.K.A. HAWKINS,DENICO
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETERIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRE
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRIC
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRIUS MICHAEL
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRTIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS MICHA
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS MICHAEL
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETTUIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMTRIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DOMETRE
A.K.A. RACKO,FREDDY
A.K.A. ROOKS,TRAVIS
A.K.A. SMITH,DARRLY
A.K.A. SMITH,DARRYL
A.K.A. VESTER,DEMETRIUS
A.K.A. WOODS,ANTONIO

Freddy Racko? That’s not a very good alias.  If I met somebody named Freddy Racko, I would assume they were doing something illegal.

OK, back to not being amused. Lester/Hawkins/Racko/Rooks/Smith/Vester/Woods has three separate burglary convictions.  Two homes and a church, this man entered.  Four separate convictions for breaking into cars.  One conviction for possession of firearm by a felon.  Not one, but two terrorist threats and acts convictions.  Two obstructions of a law enforcement officer.  One criminal interference of government property.

Eight separate stints in state prison, and who knows how many arrests.  This is beyond revolving door justice.  More from Fulton County CourtWatch:

Facts:  Around 10:00AM on Tuesday June 9, 2009, Officers J. Storno and
I. Streeter of Zone 3 saw the Defendant driving without a seatbelt in
the area of Grant Terrace and Georgia Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312 (between
NPU-W and NPU-V).  Upon initiating a traffic stop, the Defendant sped
away at a high rate of speed and in a manner that was dangerous to the
public.  At one point, the vehicle flew off the ground and caused a
smoky haze upon landing.  The Defendant finally hit a telephone pole and
fled on foot.  Officers Storno and Streeter were eventually able to
apprehend the suspect after an extended chase.

I have spoken to the victim of the car theft.  He has been left without
a vehicle and has endured a significant financial hardship as a result
of having his car stolen.  His vehicle was a total loss and the
insurance company had to pay off his lien-holder, leaving the victim
without a car. Fortunately, no one was injured during Defendant’s
attempt to elude the police but, according to the officers, he was
driving in a manner that easily could have injured someone.  Defendant
is also suspected in other car break-ins in the Summerhill and Grant
Park neighborhoods.  One incident was caught on video and posted on You
Tube, but a positive ID was not able to be made.

Criminal History:  Defendant has 17 felony convictions, including 5
prior convictions for Entering Auto (all in Fulton County), 3 prior
convictions for Burglary (2 residential, 1 for burglarizing the Georgia
Avenue Presbyterian Church), as well as convictions for Terroristic
Threats, Interference with Government Property and Sale of Marijuana.  I
have obtained certified copies of all of his convictions and will be
presenting them in court.

The District Attorney is asking for the maximum penalty which is 16
years in prison (10 years for Theft by Receiving, 5 years for Criminal
Damage to Property in the Second Degree and 12 months for Fleeing and
Attempting to Elude).  However, under the law, the judge can sentence
the Defendant to anything, including straight probation.  The District
Attorney has recidivised the Defendant under OCGA 17-10-7(c), therefore
the Defendant will have to serve every day of the prison sentence he is
given, if any, without parole.

Community Support is greatly appreciated to keep this repeat offender
incarcerated.

So what is the problem?  It’s called 17-10-7 of the Georgia Code.  It requires people convicted of a second felony to serve their entire sentence.  Sounds good, right?  Except there is nothing in Georgia’s recidivist code that prevents judges from suspending that entire sentence after delivering it.  Thus Freddy Racko can climb into your car, steal it, endanger police and civilian lives, and total the car — yet still walk away without a single day in prison.

Hopefully, it won’t happen this time.  But how many times has it happened with Racko(Lester) before?  How many times, outside those 17 convictions, have charges against him been dropped?  How many charges were dropped in the process of assigning those 17 felonies?  It boggles the mind.

And remember, those are only the times he got caught.

More on Emergency Medicine and Murder Statistics

1 comment

A subscription is required to read the study I talked about on Friday.  It is titled “Murder and Medicine, The Lethality of Criminal Assault, 1960 – 1999.”  Here is the abstract:

Despite the proliferation of increasingly dangerous weapons and the very large increase in rates of serious criminal assault, since 1960, the lethality of such assault in the United States has dropped dramatically. This paradox has barely been studied and needs to be examined using national time-series data. Starting from the basic view that homicides are aggravated assaults with the outcome of the victim’s death, we assembled evidence from national data sources to show that the principal explanation of the downward trend in lethality involves parallel developments in medical technology and related medical support services that have suppressed the homicide rate compared to what it would be had such progress not been made. We argue that research into the causes and deterability of homicide would benefit from a “lethality perspective” that focuses on serious assaults, only a small proportion of which end in death.

Homicide Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 128-166 (2002)
DOI: 10.1177/108876790200600203

Here is a brief article describing the study — one that does not require a subscription.  Note:

In the research [Dr. Anthony Harris] and a team from Massachusetts University and Harvard Medical School found that technological developments had helped to significantly depress today’s murder rates, converting homicides into aggravated assaults.
“Without this technology, we estimate there would be no less than 50,000 and as many as 115,000 homicides annually instead of an actual 15,000 to 20,000,” they say in a report of the study in the journal Homicide Studies (2002;6:128-66).
Another way of looking at this is that 50,000 to 115,000 attempted murders are defined down to aggravated assault each year.  And we know how fluid sentencing may be for aggravated assault.  In Atlanta, a young man who fired a gun outside a crowded club, striking his target three times, was sentenced earlier this year by Judge Marvin Arrington to “staying in school.”  Thus are crime stats and prison costs kept in check — on the backs of the rest of us.
We still pay for all of those lifesaving medical interventions, however, even if such costs do not show up in Pew Center studies advocating for “community sentencing” and other alternatives to incarceration — alternatives like telling a gun criminal to “stay in school” instead of sending him to prison.

Summer Months, Crime Statistics, Emergency Medicine, and Aggravated Assault

2 comments

Summer is here, and as blogger Second City Cop observed, Chicago is already experiencing blood shortages due to violent crimes:

Doctors [at Chicago’s Stroger Hospital] say the facility’s supply of O-negative blood is dwindling. . .

“Tonight we may be in a very tough situation,” Dr. Dennis said. “Because we’re that short on O-negative blood.” . . .

Dr. Dennis says the reason for the shortage is the high numbers of victims of shootings and other violent crimes who come to Stroger Hospital for life-saving treatment.

“We see probably an average of between 10 and 15 people who get shot or stabbed every night,” Dr. Dennis said.

And this bring up an interesting point about crime statistics.  Much statistical analysis of crime relies on the murder rate, for it is assumed that murders are recorded consistently and accurately, moreso than any other type of crime.  However, when you compare murder rates across the past fifty years (usually this is done to make the case that peoples’ fears about crime are unfounded, because the murder rate is quite stable), you need to consider advances in emergency medicine today compared to ten, thirty, or fifty years ago.

Contemporary emergency and post-emergency care saves the lives of many crime victims who would have died in 1960, or even 1980, from identical injuries.  In other words, the murder rate would be significantly higher today if we were still using 1960’s (or 80’s)-era medicine to treat all the shooting and stabbing victims who roll into our emergency rooms.  This must be taken into account when making arguments about the prevalence of crime.

How much higher would the murder rate be if emergency medical care had not improved dramatically?  You can’t look to the “attempted murder” rate for answers because attempted murder is not a criminal charge that gets used very often (almost never in some states).  It is best to look at rates for aggravated assault if you want the most accurate measure of changes in violent crime between, say, 1960 and 2007.

Here is the murder rate for those two years:

  • 1960 murder rate:  5.1 (per 100,000 inhabitants, for all numbers)
  • 2007 murder rate:  5.6

Here is the aggravated assault rate:

  • 1960 aggravated assault rate:  86.1
  • 2007 aggravated assault rate:  283.8

So the murder rate rose 9.8% between 1960 and 2007.

But the aggravated assault rate rose 229% over the same time.

An Important Law Georgia Still Does Not Have: Arrestee DNA Databasing

2 comments

Back in the 1990’s, Georgia Lt. Governor Mark Taylor made it a priority to build the state’s DNA crime database.  He did this long before other states got on board, and for many years Georgia was rightly viewed as a leader in using DNA to solve violent crimes.  Taylor was driven by his strong commitment to victims of rape and child molestation who had been denied justice.  He did not heed the civil rights and convict rights lobbies who tried to stir up hysteria over using DNA to solve crimes (ironically, these same activists are howling over the Supreme Court’s utterly reasonable decision last week not to enshrine post-conviction DNA as a blanket, federal right, when 46 states already guarantee it, as even Barry Scheck admits: don’t believe virtually anything you read about this case on the editorial pages).

Taylor’s leadership on DNA databasing yielded an extraordinary number of database “hits” long before other states got their databases up and running.  In 1998, only convicted and incarcerated sex offenders were required to submit DNA samples in Georgia, yet 13 repeat-offender rapists were immediately linked to other sexual assaults, and scores of “unidentified offender” profiles were readied to be used if those offenders were finally caught and tested.

The convicted-and-imprisoned-sex-offenders-only database also revealed a chilling reality: many of the prolific rapists whose DNA matched other sex assaults had only ever been convicted of non-sex crimes such as drug crimes, burglary, and robbery.

Any prosecutor of a certain age will tell you that, before DNA evidence, it was so difficult to prosecute rapists that prosecutors often made the choice to allow rapists to plead to non-sex offenses such as burglary just to (temporarily) get them off the streets.  This strategy was directed at serial, stranger sex offenders who were known to the cops but managed to avoid conviction because the public was so resistant to finding anyone guilty of rape.  Taylor’s database made this injustice to victims visible.

Unfortunately, the types of injustice (to victims) and justice (against offenders) the database revealed was of little interest to the media.

Nevertheless, for several years, Georgia’s DNA database quietly withstood efforts by “civil rights” activists to shut it down.  In 2000, the legislature expanded DNA testing to all incarcerated felons: 70 crimes were immediately solved, including serial rapes committed by convicts who had no prior rape convictions.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the database again, adding felony probationers — that weird category, the existence of which should splash some cold water on heartfelt feelings that we are far too harsh in sentencing and imprisoning criminals.  In the real world, even violent felons still routinely walk away with nothing more than probation for their crimes.

As of a year ago, thanks to the expansion of the database, 12 of these “felony probationers” were linked to serious crimes through DNA.  That’s 12 fewer violent offenders on the streets.

Still, no paper.  Few headlines.  Fewer editorials.  And, eventually, Georgia began to fall behind other states in DNA databasing.

As I write this, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has briefly emerged from his offender-kumbaya-fervor to sign a bill requiring all people arrested for felonies to submit DNA samples for analysis — just like they submit photographs and fingerprints.  Florida now joins 20 other states that are using DNA to investigate and solve crimes (Denver D.A. Mitchell R. Morrissey has a good website explaining the use of DNA in the courts).

But Georgia still languishes on the list of states that do not require DNA samples to be drawn upon arrest for a felony.  Here is a chart comparing state laws from the DNA Resource Report.

In 2008, the Georgia Legislature did pass Senate Bill 430, which started out as a felony arrestee DNA database bill but got watered down through the legislative process.  It emerged as little more than a statement affirming that prosecutors may ask the GBI to check a suspect’s DNA sample against the existing database so long as “the sample was obtained through a search warrant, consent of the suspect, court order, or other lawful means.”  Then it concludes: “The bureau [GBI] shall not add a DNA profile of any such suspect to any DNA data bank except upon conviction.”

In other words, a bill that started out attempting to add felony arrestees to the state database morphed into a bill specifically restricting arrestee DNA from being added to the state database.  I’d like to know the story behind this watering-down, particularly as it occurred at the same time when other states were successfully expanding their DNA databases to include felony arrestee samples under certain conditions.

Why did Georgia fold?  Is there another bill in the works?

If you still aren’t convinced that arrestee DNA databasing is an urgent need, take a look at the website for DNA Saves, the organization Dave and Jayann Sepich started after their daughter Katie was raped, strangled and set on fire in New Mexico in 2003.  Her offender was arrested and convicted of several other crimes, but his DNA had never been databased, so her murder went unsolved and he went free to continue attacking women for three years after Katie’s death.

How many victims of murder and rape in Georgia would have been protected by such a law?

Meanwhile, here is a statement from FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey to the St. Petersburg Times correcting some of its inaccurate and fear-mongering press on the issue of arrestee DNA:

A valuable tool in fighting crime

Your editorial regarding the new Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA database legislation failed to provide the public with a full picture.

This initiative, once funded, will expand Florida’s DNA database to include samples from persons arrested for felonies. The process is no different from the way Florida already stores and handles fingerprints from arrests. Like the current law on fingerprints, the DNA legislation has provisions for removal of the file when a person arrested for a felony meets certain requirements.

The database in its current form has been a great investment for our citizens; every month it generates an astounding 230 hits. These hits match an unknown DNA sample left at a crime scene to a known felon whose DNA is already on file, or links two or more unsolved crimes. It’s an invaluable investigative tool.

Including felony arrests means more samples in the DNA database and more crimes solved. It also means crimes will be solved faster and, most important, crimes will be prevented. Taking DNA at the first felony arrest ensures that DNA is taken from those offenders who evade felony conviction time and time again. It ensures that DNA from the first felony will be matched to that offender’s next crime, halting further victimization and saving lives.

Florida becomes the 21st state to take samples from felony arrestees. There is no other tool that can prevent violent crimes as efficiently and effectively as this. The Legislature got it right. Our citizens expect this level of protection. I think they deserve it.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee

I certainly deserved it: too bad it wasn’t there to help me in Florida when I needed it.  Worse, too bad it still doesn’t exist to protect victims in Georgia.

Two Crimes I Didn’t Report, Part 3

5 comments

I’ve been writing this week about the predictable reactions to the semi-annual release of the Uniform Crime Report statistics.

In Atlanta, much is being made of the fact that violent crime is down.  However, burglaries and larcenies are up — substantially.  Why might this be?

Maybe it has something to do with the courts.

In 1994, Georgia passed a “serious violent felony” law imposing a minimum ten-year sentence for the following violent crimes: murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery (here is an interesting law review article by Brian D. Boreman on the law).

Georgia’s law varies from minimum mandatory laws in some other states: it assigns strict “first-strike” minimums to a short list of unambiguously heinous crimes, rather than including crimes like burglary and theft.

For “serious, violent felonies,” the law removes judicial discretion:

[A]ny person convicted of a serious violent felony . . . shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of ten years and no portion of the mandatory minimum sentence imposed shall be suspended, stayed, probated, deferred, or withheld by the sentencing court and shall not be reduced by any form of pardon, parole, or commutation of sentence.

Meanwhile, the legislature essentially left property crime and other felonies to the discretion of the judges.  There are repeat offender laws applying to these crimes, but they still contain a default to judicial discretion.

We all know how that washes out.

Violent crime began dropping in Georgia and in other states as soon as minimum mandatory laws were put into place.  Is this surprising?  These laws were enacted precisely because people were committing five, ten, or more violent crimes before any judge bothered to remove them from the streets, if then (of course, the defense bar and its judges have vigorously sought and found ways around these laws, but that is a subject for another day).  Deterrence works.  Incarceration works.

The fact that incarceration works, however, is not a message that sits well with criminologists and journalists.  The effect, and success of these laws does not receive much academic attention or news coverage. Exactly one year ago, when the activist Pew Foundation began beating the anti-incarceration drum again, Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), had this to say in a letter to the Washington Post (and it speaks volumes that he was forced to say it in a letter, in response to the Post’s anti-incarceration biased coverage):

The Price of Leniency

The June 12 news story “New Criminal Record: 7.2 Million,” on the number of people under supervision in the nation’s criminal justice system, reported on the financial burden of running correctional systems without mentioning the savings resulting from crimes averted. Experience suggests that shortened sentences and reduced supervision of offenders released from prison carry a higher cost, especially in human terms, than the savings these shortsighted policies generate.

In 2006, the most recent year for which complete data are available, police received the fewest reports of violent crime and property crime since 1977. What was the cause? Research has shown that, with some exceptions, crime rates decline as the incarceration rate rises. In other words, while the number of people under correctional supervision has gone up, crime has gone down.

Research on state prisoners shows that among drug offenders, nearly 67 percent were rearrested within three years of release. For violent offenders, nearly 62 percent were rearrested within three years of release. Overall, more than 67 percent of prisoners were rearrested within three years for committing new offenses.

The cost of these new crimes goes beyond prisons. The most conservative estimate for the cost of violent and property crimes in the United States is more than $17 billion a year — and that’s just direct, immediate cost. This leaves out such costs as crime victims’ struggle to be made whole.

Let there be no mistake — releasing criminals early may save money in the short term, but not in the long term.

Jeffrey L. Sedgwick

Director

Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

“[C]rime rates decline as the incarceration rate rises.”  Georgia has a law that removed judicial discretion (read: leniency) from cases involving violent crime but no law that effectively restricts judicial discretion in cases of property crime: violent crime is down in Atlanta, but property crime is up.

I said a few days ago that I would be talking about two crimes I did not report to the police.  The second one happened when I was in Atlanta two weeks ago.  I was at the Wal-Mart on Cobb Parkway, in south Marietta.  Walking from my car to the store, I saw a man going up and down the rows of cars, looking inside each one of them.  When I came out half an hour later, he was near my car, checking the door handle of a car nearby.  I noticed an SUV waiting behind him.  I walked towards the man, then past him, and when I turned around, he jumped into the SUV.

The man looked suspicious as I was going into the store.  When I saw him again, still looking into car windows, I was sure he was casing cars.

So why didn’t I do something?  I was overwhelmed at the time, dealing with a death in the family.  I didn’t trust my instincts.  I knew I could not handle being put in the position of having to argue with some recalcitrant 911 operator with an attitude, as I had done so many times before in Atlanta [the 911 system in Atlanta is a criminal’s best friend].

And I was intimidated.  I hadn’t been paying attention until I saw the man the second time, and by then I was ten feet from him.  It was the middle of the day, and the only other people in that part of the parking lot were a man with a small child.  What was I going to do, say: “Hey, you, stop looking in cars”?  “Citizen arrest”?   It would have been stupid to say anything, but I think showed on my face that I realized what the man was doing.

Once I got in my car, I thought of what might have happened if somebody came out while the man was trying to break into their car.  He was a wired and nasty-looking person: what if someone startled him?  What about the man with his child in a cart, the cart in the driving lane?  What if somebody had a gun?  The experience was unnerving.  Yet, if the man had been caught, would he even have been punished, or simply let go by some overwhelmed prosecutor or judge basking in magnanimousness?

For every crime that gets reported, how many actually take place?

Is theft really non-violent?

Chilling Undercounting of Crime

1 comment

At the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Conference, Ted Gest from Crime and Justice News had some interesting things to say about crime under-reporting.  Murder statistics are usually considered the gold standard, statistically, since it’s hard to misplace a body.  But maybe not so hard, since Detroit managed to “lose” 100 of them last year:

Contrary to FBI statistics, more than 100 Detroit homicides were left off the books last year, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told the Detroit Free Press. Worthy said the Detroit Police Department underreported that 306 people were killed in 2008. She said the homicide number is actually 423.

“What’s a couple hundred murders between friends?” Gest asked.  He also reminded participants that the UCR simply does not include all crimes:

“[T]hose crime figures are very incomplete. Really, it’s a report of crimes that were brought to the attention of local law enforcement – that’s a huge caveat. Some local law enforcement doesn’t even report them to the FBI.”

In addition to the crimes reported in the UCR, there are crimes that go unreported — vast numbers of them.  Then there is intentional manipulation of crime statistics.  Mark Fazlollah, one of the nation’s best-regarded crime reporters, spoke about intentional falsification of crime statistics in cities including Atlanta:

Mark Fazlollah of The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed to a series his paper did looking at the falsification of crime statistics in Philadelphia, which led to revelations of similar mis-reporting in Atlanta, Baltimore and New York. “The phony stats were known for many years,” said Fazlollah. “Aggravated assaults were easily changed to simple assaults…Precinct commanders used to joke about this, but behind those statistics are real victims.”

Ten years ago, Fazlollah’s work on falsifying statistics in Philadelphia helped uncover important revelations about the APD’s crime-counting.  If Detroit can lose 100 murders, should Atlantans feel assured that their worries about crime are mere “perceptions”?

That Perception Thing

no comments

The release of the FBI’s semi-annual report on crime has provided Atlanta’s pathologically tone-deaf Mayor and the Chief-of-Police-In-Absentia with another opportunity to shower contempt on every citizen of the city.  What else could inspire the Mayor to repeat the words, “the city is ‘safer now than it has been in decades’,” given her knowledge of public feelings on her attitude?

Apparently, according to City Hall, a slight drop in the still unacceptable high rates of some crime in some areas, a rise in crime rates in other areas, and a sharp rise in property crime rates is cause to break out the bubbly.

How much of this drop in crime in some areas of the city can be attributed to heroic, time-consuming, and expensive efforts by neighborhood groups and individuals?  How much higher (than the 7.6% increase) would the property crime rate climb if people weren’t bankrupting themselves paying for alarm systems, burglar bars, security cameras, guns, and off-duty cops to patrol their neighborhoods?

Should the burden of preventing crime fall so heavily on residents who already pay the city to protect them?

Chief Pennington, bizarrely, has refused to comment on the FBI report.  Does the guy even show up for work anymore?  Why has the City Council caved to demands by the usual activists to re-re-re-investigate city cops in shooting incidents (after the appropriate authorities, and the FBI, the courts, and everybody else already investigated/prosecuted/sentenced the officers involved), but they seem utterly incurious about Pennington’s performance, not to mention grotesquely timid on the subject of denying injured cops their medical benefits?

Can we get one public statement from the Chief in exchange for the latest kangaroo court for cops who put their lives on the line?

Chief of Police is a political gig. Some chiefs manage to rise above the politics — in places other than Atlanta.  The national organization representing police executives is a political organization, too, which explains why the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum comes down on the side of pooh-pooing that Real Clear Politics report ranking Atlanta as the second-most dangerous large city nationwide, by population:

The ranking, compiled by the Web site Real Clear Politics, was derived by dividing the total crimes detailed in the FBI’s report by city population. Atlanta’s per-capita crime rate measured at 16 percent.

“Determining whether a city is safe or not is not as easy as that,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which has representatives from law enforcement agencies nationwide.

“That’s a very simplistic approach.”

All due respect to Wexler, what would be a “less simplistic” way of determining the prevalence of crime?  Criminologists, of course, have many answers to this question.  Unfortunately, their answers involve using very complicated number-crunching, statistic-discombobulating, and hide-the-peanut tomfoolery to achieve one overweening goal:

to deny the problem of crime

What is harder to deny is this:

  • 1.4 million violent crimes,
  • 10 million property crimes,
  • 17,000 murders
  • and nearly 100,000 rapes is a tidal wave of suffering, violence, fear and wasted lives.

The irascible Randall Cobb, one of those community activists who probably clocks ungodly volunteer hours trying to do the job the Mayor and Chief are paid to do, had this to say:

“Franklin and [Atlanta Chief of Police Richard] Pennington have been trying to get us to drink the Kool-Aid for 12 months now,” said Randall Cobb, safety chairman for the Midtown Neighborhood Association. “The biggest thing they’re doing is refusing to take responsibility for crime in this city.”

Amen.

Tomorrow: two crimes I did not report…

Fulton County, Georgia to Put More Defendants Back on the Streets (Translation Provided)

3 comments

Why not spend the money actually trying the cases instead?  Why bother having a justice system at all?

Court Program to Save Fulton $5.5 Million

A program that began April 1 will increase the number of defendants given pretrial release is expected to save Fulton County taxpayers more than $5.5 million a year in jail costs.

That’s “savings” as in “we’re going to shuffle these costs further down the line in some crazed and futile attempt to get through this budget year, knowing full well that our deception will be papered over by our criminologist friends (thank you, Pew Center!!!) who are busy inventing statistics that don’t take into account the added costs arising from additional victimizations, additional police investigations, and additional court cases that will result from releasing offenders pre-trial — not to mention the overall effect of further reducing the dwindling consequences for committing crimes.”

The Superior Court of Fulton County’s Pretrial Services will operate the new Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) which was recently funded by the Fulton County Commission. The program will provide rigorous supervision of defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria.

That’s “defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria” as in “we already let a shocking number of people go before trial or case disposition — boy, you would probably be really surprised to see some of the people we let go — but we’re still so utterly disorganized and underfunded and distracted and in some cases, just lazy, that we’re going to swing open those prison gates just a little bit wider.”

Over the past decade the Court’s existing Pretrial Services program has racked up an impressive record of reducing jail costs while ensuring that over 95 percent of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings.

That’s “over 95% of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings” as in “5% of the people who do something serious enough to end up in jail don’t show up in court after we let them go before trial.  Since we have an acknowledged backlog of some 6,000 cases, that’s 300 absconders just from the cases that are backlogged.”

The new ISP will supervise about 150 additional defendants per month.

Candidates for the program are:

• Youthful defendants charged with non-violent crimes that the Judiciary deem appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available.

That’s “appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available” as in “since we already release juvenile offenders almost automatically, even if they have been involved in home invasions or gun crimes or assaults, these kids are really scary, but we’re going to let the go anyway if heightened supervision is available.

• Defendants whose community ties cannot be “verified” or those who have not established a six month residency in the Atlanta metropolitan area
•Defendants, with little or no criminal history, charged with property crimes who do not meet normal pretrial release criteria.

That’s “little or no criminal history” as in “pretty much everything is little criminal history these days, especially since we keep giving people first-offender status for their sixth or eighth crime” and “property crimes that do not meet normal pretrial release criteria” as in ” kicking down your front door and luckily nobody got killed.  This time.”

•Defendants referred to the ISP by a judge.

That’s “referred by a judge” as in “like the judge who let rapper T.I. free on a gun charge because he’s rich, or the judge who let murderer Shamal Thompson go because he said he was a wedding dress designer.”

ISP release requirements may include:

That’s “may include” as in “not will include or must include, but may include.  Or, thus, may not.”

•In-person office contact twice a week
•Weekly field visits to defendant’s home/employer
•Curfew
•Electronic Monitoring
•Seek full-time employment if not already employed.
•Attend in-house life skills programs or community service programs.
•Be employed or actively seeking employment or school
•Defendants without high school diploma must enter GED program
•Social service agency referrals where appropriate
•Immediate sanctions in response to program infractions

That’s “immediate sanctions” as in “is that anything like the sanctions attempted murderer Joshua Norris didn’t receive when he threatened two young women with a gun while he was out on bail for repeatedly shooting another person, as in, no sanctions, unless you count being praised for stayin’ in school and then having all your other violent gun charges reduced to community service by fawning court officers as a sanction?”

The ISP will notify the Court, District Attorney, and Defense Counsel of any violations of release conditions.

That’s “will notify . . . of any violations” as in “What?  They do this already, don’t they?”

***

Here is a troubling statistic: the Department of Justice reports that in 2002 (the latest figures available)  one-third of all defendants arrested for felony crimes were “active” in the system at the time of their arrest — in other words, on parole, probation, or pre-trial release.

Here is another troubling statistic: “[t]he Fulton county jail currently has a backlog of about 880 prisoners who have been awaiting trial — most for felonies like murder, rape or armed robbery.”

32% of the people booked into the system for new felony crimes are under court supervision yet on the streets when they commit those crimes, and most of the people currently incarcerated but available for pre-trial release in Fulton County are charged with felonies like murder, rape, and armed robbery.

Hypothetically, how much money could Fulton County save if it reduced the felony crime rate by 32%  —  by not letting people out of jail while awaiting trial or finishing their sentences?

Vaut mieux prévenir que guérir. Except, apparently, in the Fulton County Courts.

“Defendants Have the Right to Remain Silent. . . Victims Have the Right to be Heard”

no comments

I found this quote on the website for the Larimer County, Colorado District Attorney’s office. It is a neat sentiment: well-intentioned, not overly ambitious. It is, in other words, a fitting description of the aims of victims’ rights laws.

It is also utterly untrue.

The “right to be heard” is not a right in the ordinary sense of the term. It is not actually enjoyed by the vast majority of crime victims. There is no criminal court where victims may go to plead with authorities to take up their case, if theirs is one of the vast majority of crimes that go un-prosecuted for any one of a hundred reasons.

Other than murder, there is far less than a guarantee that even serious crimes will be taken up by the court. And prosecution rates for murder are far less than most people would imagine: authorities in Houston last week announced that they were stepping up efforts to “do something” about 600 murder cases that had foundered despite identifying a suspect:

More than 600 accused killers from the past four decades have yet to see the inside of a Harris County courtroom for their crimes, according to the Harris County district attorney’s office.

Records show that a handful of those jumped bail, fleeing the area before they could be prosecuted. But most were suspects who were never arrested, said Assistant District Attorney Russell Turbeville. . .

The push to find the fugitives was sparked in part by the case of Tho Minh Quach, who was charged with murdering his neighbor more than 20 years ago, but who disappeared and now will never stand trial because investigators did not try hard enough to find him.

One county, forty years, six hundred un-prosecuted murder suspects. How can this be?

In reality, virtually all crimes result in nobody being held accountable, a situation that has taken an extraordinary toll on hundreds of millions (yes, hundreds of millions) of crime victims since criminologist Milton S. Eisenhower lamented the 1 1/2% incarceration-for-crime rate in 1969. Here is Eisenhower speaking in 1970, twenty-two years before crime rates peaked in the early 1990’s:

There remains one very obvious reason for mounting crime in our society: the increasing failure of law enforcement agencies to cope with it. Consider the grim statistics. Probably 10 million serious crimes were committed in the United States last year. About half of these crimes were never reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Only 12 percent of those 10 million crimes resulted in the arrest of anyone. Only 6 percent resulted in the conviction of anyone, and this 6 percent included many pleas to lesser offenses. Only 1 1/2 percent resulted in the incarceration of anyone. And of those who were incarcerated, most will return to prison another time for additional offenses. As Lloyd Cutler . . . remarked on these statistics: ‘It would be hard to say that crime does not pay. The sad fact is that our criminal justice system, as presently operated, does not deter, does not detect, does not convict, and does not correct.’ (Violence: The Crisis of American Confidence, ed. Hugh David Graham, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971)

Hundreds of millions of victims of unresolved crimes walk the streets, and yet, virtually nobody, not even a fraction of a percent, resorts to vigilantism — this despite hysterical claims by mostly-liberal commentators that we must remain vigilant to hold back the horrifying threat posed to society by emotionally wounded, vengeful victims of crime.

I have long wondered why it is that so many people to the left of the political center despise and fear victims so much more than they despise or fear criminals themselves. Self-loathing, I think lies at the root of this phenomenon, self-loathing busked up by education at the hands of other self-loathing people who are entirely convinced that our justice system is over-reaching and cruel.

To say that the types of statistics mentioned above do not enter into classroom discussions of justice is to wildly understate the case. The only type of literature taken seriously in the classroom is the literature of the wrongly accused (too numerous to mention), or rightfully-accused-but-persecuted-anyway (Orestes, Oedipus Rex, The Crucible, The Stranger, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Clockwork Orange: how the mighty have fallen).

There is also the litmus test, administered with fierce regularity, that one must show the right type and quantity of empathy for criminals before you may speak about criminal justice at all. This is the price of the ticket — no similar admission fee exists regarding victims, save a few politically sanctioned types.

In the face of such orthodoxy, or rather, repression of facts, perhaps it isn’t surprising that so many people agree, with so very little evidence, that crime victims are too powerful, when they are actually legally powerless.

The exception to this powerlessness, now, consists of being allowed to offer a victim impact statement after the accused has been found guilty of the crime, during the time when his representatives may plead for lenience from the judge. Even this right, however, is strongly opposed by those who feel that the presence of victims in courtrooms represents a sort of perversion of pure justice. Character witnesses for the convict, such people argue, are only right, to keep the vengeful passions of the public in check, but character witnesses against them are — just awful.

When victim advocates began pushing for Victims’ Rights Laws in the 1980’s, reaction was extreme. These laws were written to provide extremely limited rights to the small fraction of victims whose cases actually made it into a courtroom, including the right to be notified about hearings, the right to be notified when one’s offender is up for parole or is being released, and the right to make a victim impact statement before the judge. Victims’ rights laws do not in any way impede on the vast rights afforded defendants before, during and after prosecution: in fact, their modesty underscores the degree to which victims have fewer rights than the public itself, let alone criminals.

Nevertheless, defense attorneys, law professors, and editorial writers (defenseattorneyslawprofessorseditorialwriters) behaved as if granting victims even extremely limited rights to speak in the sentencing phase of the judicial process was tantamount to bringing back witch-burnings, fueled, of course, with trampled copies of the Bill of Rights.

Tom Teepen, a nationally syndicated columnist based in Atlanta, compared the 1999 Victims Rights Amendment to a murderer stalking an innocent and endangered United States Constitution: “The Constitution has just ducked another bullet, but beware the ricochet”; “You can’t be sure this monster won’t walk again,” he wrote, and, nastily:

You almost have to feel sorry for the politicians working the law-and-order hustle. Crime has been falling sharply for several years. . . It is, in short, getting hard to sell criminals to the electorate.

This, in a year when there were 15,000 murders, 90,000 reported rapes, and nearly a million aggravated assaults.

Teepen never writes about criminals with such sneering contempt. His colleague, Cynthia Tucker, has written movingly about crime victimization at other times, but she called the Victims’ Rights Amendment “a crime in itself,” and accused victims of wanting too much:

The system has already kicked in on behalf of the victim — conducting an investigation, arresting a suspect, proceeding to take the suspect to trial.

Gee, thanks. Except when it doesn’t, which is nearly all of the time.

Tucker went on to accuse all politicians who speak up for victims of “pandering” to society’s hatefulness, prejudice, and barely-suppressed violence, then accused the public directly of wishing to undermine all rights of the accused. That the public, let alone victims, might be innocent of nefarious intentions until proven guilty is not the way this game gets played:

This latest bit of pandering by the vice president [Gore] is disgusting but not surprising. It has become an article of faith among centrist Democrats that a tough law-and-order stance in essential to win elections. . . . As hard as it is for most Americans to accept, a suspect is innocent of a crime until convicted by a jury of his peers (or until he pleads guilty).

In twenty years of advocating for and working with crime victims, I have never met a victim who wanted to undermine the justice system or see the wrong person go to jail for a crime. Such accusations are sheer hysteria, and like most hysteria, they arise from a reality that is inverse to the charge.

Meanwhile, In the Groves of Academe and the Forests of Newsprint

no comments

There’s no such thing as a crime problem. It’s just a perception problem, you silly hysterics. From the Houston Chronicle, which wants you to know that daring to be worried about crime is the only crime problem that matters:

In the words of a statistician, the decrease in criminality appears to have an inverse relationship, at least for now, with political rhetoric on crime, which has ramped up in recent months.

Is it possible that continually heaping contempt upon the concerns of newspaper readers has a non-inverse relationship to the decline of newspaper subscribers?

“It’s probably very difficult for any politician to acknowledge that the problem of crime is decreasing, because that undermines the importance of the issue,” said Dennis Longmire, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University who has studied public attitudes toward crime. “Politicians use a fear of crime to garner support and get voters’ attention.”

Or perhaps the public is concerned about crime because they do not want to see the fragile progress of recent months dissipate. Or perhaps crime rates are still astonishingly high despite a modest drop in incidents. Or perhaps people are successfully preventing certain incidents of crime, but only because they are remaining alert and focused on the issue, even though reporters and academicians find this more troubling than crime itself.

This type of canned denouncement echoes recent statements by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Chief of Police Richard Pennington, both of whom responded to truly horrifying incidents of crime by scolding the public for caring.

Public concern is not going to go away, not in Houston, not in Atlanta, not anywhere. As daily newspapers tank and the public begins to question “studies” put forth by academics who don’t even pretend to objectivity, the internet is stepping in. You can expect more accusations of “vigilantism” and “hysteria about crime” from the usual suspects. And you can ignore them, too.

Mission Creep: Burglars With Drug Problems. And Drug Courts With Burglar Problems. And Reporters With Truthiness Problems.

3 comments

Atlanta is not the only city where recidivists with long records of serious crime are being permitted to avoid jail sentences because they are also drug addicts. From the Ithaca Journal, Ithaca, New York:

In a plea deal with prosecutors, a Groton woman charged with taking part in burglaries in three counties has been sentenced to time served, five years probation and ordered to attend drug court for local crimes.

Judge John Rowley sentenced Julianna Salerno, 30, on Friday after she pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary in Tompkins County Court. Salerno admitted that she waited in a vehicle and “acted as a lookout” for Daniel Samson, 25, of Groton, when he broke in and stole items from a building at Treman State Park.

Salerno and Samson were charged with six counts of third-degree burglary, four counts of third-degree criminal mischief, and petit larceny, a misdemeanor. . .

They were also linked to Cortland County burglaries at the Greek Peak Ski Resort and Hope Lake, and Cayuga County burglaries at Salmon Creek Sports, Grisamore Farms, Badman’s Bushel Baskets Produce, Ron’s Corner Store, Triangle Restaurant and Longpoint State Park, according to law-enforcement officials. [Ithaca Journal, “Groton Woman Receives Sentence,” 4/27/09, fee for viewing]

More than a dozen burglaries, and this woman is being offered probation and community-based treatment, instead of conviction and incarceration, because she has a drug problem. This type of story, which plays out every day, severely challenges the conventional wisdom that our prisons are stuffed with otherwise innocent drug addicts serving long sentences for merely possessing drugs. Claims that prison populations have expanded because states are locking up mere addicts are not true either, as this chart on inmates from the Department of Justice clearly shows:

The problem, again, is lenient judges, not to mention a system so steeped in anti-incarceration ideology that the mere idea that someone might expect to go to prison for committing a dozen burglaries can no longer even be taken for granted. The judge who sentenced Salerno apparently felt the need to say out loud that there was some possibility that she might go to jail despite her addiction:

While acknowledging Salerno’s actions may have been a “drug-related crime spree,” Rowley told her that she’ll be facing incarceration if she doesn’t adhere to her probation terms and treatment programs.

In other words, Salerno was permitted to get away with at least a dozen crimes against others, but if she messes up in rehab, a crime against herself, then the state might decide get serious with her. Is it any wonder that people have a hard time believing that the justice system is there to protect the rights of anyone except criminals?

Drug courts were never supposed to be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for people with long offense records. They were supposed to be used to divert first-time offenders whose primary offense was drug-related. But even the term “drug-related” has been twisted: now, apparently, any crime committed by a drug addict is “drug-related,” as the judge in the case above above uses the term.

Another example of abusing both the concept of drug courts and the concept of “drug-related” crime, from the Baltimore Sun — note the reporter’s empathy for the criminal, and his disturbing efforts to downplay his crimes:

Break-In Artist Finally Gets Into Drug Program

Peter Hermann | Baltimore Crime Beat

Michael D. Sydnor Jr. is finally getting the help that he needs.

This is no small accomplishment, as District Judge George M. Lipman made cle[a]r when he learned that the drug-addicted defendant suspected of fueling a plague of car break-ins in downtown Baltimore had been accepted into an inpatient treatment program.

“Hallelujah,” the judge said, a pronouncement not often heard from the bench, and certainly not from this jurist, who apologized several times for being too preachy during Friday morning’s docket at the Hargrove District Court in South Baltimore. He told one man, upset that being sent off to jail meant his car would be towed, “I don’t wipe people’s noses.”

No, the judge doesn’t wipe people’s noses, but that probably needs to be put into the record, just to be clear, because he otherwise plays head cheerleader for repeat felons, as does the reporter. The victims? Well, never mind them: insurance will cover their losses.

Here is reporter Peter Herman’s heart-wrenching account of the court’s efforts to “help” Syndor. Note the way Syndor’s crimes become “petty,” “nonviolent,” and things that “drive people crazy” in the reporter’s hands, as if he is writing about some kid bouncing a basketball against a curb, not a repeat felon breaking into people’s cars, actually committing violent crimes, and betraying an utterly frightening disregard for the law:

I first wrote about Sydnor back in February, painting the 40-year-old as the face of a problem that drives residents crazy and tourists out of the city. Day after day, police reports of car break-ins pile up from Federal Hill, around the Inner Harbor and to the far edges of Canton.

Cell phones used to be the prized catch, but now navigational devices, iPods and iPhones are all the rage, usually stolen by addicts seeking electronics to hawk for a quick buck to score a quick high, a never-ending cycle of car-to-needle-to-car that ends up costing us thousands upon thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums, car window repairs and replacements for stolen items.

Sydnor is charged with breaking into two cars in January at a garage at 218 N. Charles St., and authorities tell me he’s suspected in other break-ins at garages at The Baltimore Sun and Mercy Medical Center on North Calvert Street. He has been in jail for the past three months awaiting word on a coveted, hard-to-get drug treatment slot, and his cases will be put on hold until he gets through the program.

Police have arrested Sydnor more than 100 times in the past 15 years and he’s been convicted dozens of times, mostly of seemingly petty, nonviolent offenses.

“Mostly of seemingly petty” offenses? What about the other ones? This isn’t journalism: it’s a mutual admiration club with three members: judge, reporter, and predator.

And these admiration clubs so frequently get out of hand, which is why I question one of the main tenets of drug court: that the judge and the offender form a relationship in which the judge takes a personal interest in the offender’s progress. Do we really need to be encouraging judges to be even more enamored of their “patriarchial/matriarchial” roles vis-a-vis criminals? Haven’t enough innocent victims of crime paid, with their lives, for these special moments of bonding, Hallelujahs, slap on the backs, and all?

Shouldn’t people like this be getting their drug and alcohol counseling in prison, as they’re serving time for their crimes?

Given how he reacted while sentencing Sydnor, the judge in this case might as well have been openly berating the public for its failure to leap to Sydnor’s aid by providing him with a bed, on demand, in a drug rehab center. Yet even a brief perusal of Sydnor’s incredibly long record indicates serial neglect on the part of Baltimore’s judiciary to protect the public from this man’s violence. In 1996, Sydnor was found guilty of assault (neither petty nor non-violent). Even though he refused to acknowledge his guilt and was found guilty, he was given only a suspended, one-year sentence — in other words, no time at all. He quickly ended up back in jail again, this time for second-degree assault, and received one year again, another example of judicial carelessness.

The record grows worse as time goes by. Drug dealing, narcotics dealing, felony theft. There are 147 separate court appearances in his record. Assault, second degree, in 2005, some 97 cases in? One month in jail. And this is what reporter Peter Hermann calls a non-violent, minor record? Have they lost their minds, or do they just despise the law-abiding public?

What do you call a 100+ time offender, appearing before Judge Lipman (who is, unsurprisingly, a former defense attorney)?

You call him a good candidate for drug court.

Tools for Activists: Just Say No (To Releasing Dangerous Inmates)

no comments

With a hat tip to Chris, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Fulton Inmates to be Released Before Trial,” by Steve Visser.  It’s worth quoting extensively, to grasp precisely what is being done:

Fulton County court officials say they can save taxpayers $5.5 million a year by releasing suspected criminals from jail — inmates whom judges have balked at freeing because of the likelihood they would commit another crime before their trials.

How did they arrive at 5.5 million in savings?  Is it simply the difference between incarceration and probation for X prisoners for Y months?  What about the cost of anticipated new crimes — police, homeowner’s insurance, losses, new court dates, new attorney’s fees?  Pain and suffering?  Loss of public safety?

People won’t have to worry, said Superior Court Administrator Judy Cramer, because officials are starting a program Wednesday that ensures the bad boys will be watched a whole lot closer.

The county has hired five more staffers to closely supervise inmates who previously didn’t qualify for pre-trial release because of their character, lack of permanent address or who had weak community ties.

We know what some of the inmates who already qualify for release are capable of: what on earth are these people capable of?

The monitors will each carry a caseload of 35 released inmates they will meet with each week until the cases are resolved at trial, said court spokesman Don Plummer. The monitors will also meet regularly with family, employers or friends of the people they are supervising, Plummer said.

Five times 35 is 175.  Is that 175 armed robbers?  Aggravated assailants?  Since they have a set number already, then tell us the types of crimes this cohort is accused of committing. 

Plummer said the monitors would be able to meet the tough schedule of an average of seven meetings a day — along with other home and employment visits. “This isn’t going to be a featherbed job,” he said. “They are going to keep these people on a really tight leash.”

Imagine going to seven different appointments in one work-day.  Every day.  In Atlanta traffic.  Now imagine that half, or more, of your appointments are with people who do not have a permanent address and are prone to not show up for things because, well, they’re repeat offenders, and most of them have probably given a probation officer the slip before. 

Chief Jailer Riley Taylor doubted if a new supervised-release program would do much to take pressure off the jail — which is normally filled to its court-ordered capacity of 2,250 inmates — or off taxpayers’ wallets.

Thank you, Chief Taylor.  Thank you for talking to the public.  That’s what a public servant is supposed to do.  We could use some more of that.

“They want to fund the court system more to refine it more and they’ve tried that in the past and the math hasn’t worked out,” said Taylor. “Historically the jail population catches back up after new initiatives come into play.

“The whole system has to be retooled.”

So, basically, what the Chief Jailer is saying is that this won’t save $5.5 million dollars because the jail will just fill up again, which means that decisions are already being made to not incarcerate a certain percentage of law-breakers, or to release a certain percentage of law-breakers prior to trial, because the prison is already full.  And it’s not as if they’re going to start releasing high-risk prisoners without having released every possible allegedly low-risk prisoner first: what kind of sense would that make?  No, they’ve already released all the people who can cobble together a home address, or who haven’t committed a serious, violent crime yet — and they’re still beyond capacity, so they have to start releasing the people they know will commit more crimes, and have committed serious crimes.  And, yet, it “hasn’t worked before” (which means they have tried this before — at what human cost?).

The county has to find a way to resolve cases more quickly so that either jail inmates are freed or they are shipped to the prison system, Taylor said. More than 1,200 inmates — half the permitted population of 2,250 — have been in jail for more than a year without their cases coming to trial, according to county figures.

What has caused this backlog?

[Superior Court Administrator] Cramer acknowledged the “Intensive Supervision Program” won’t save any money if the jail beds remain full. He said it is among a several court-system initiatives designed to chip away at the county’s backlog of 6,000 unresolved, indicted cases.

The court system has just been funded to pay three retired judges to help clear up the backlog of murder, rape and robbery cases which now pack the jail, Cramer said. There is currently just one judge handling that workload.

Wow.  There is one judge handling murder, rape and robbery.  That’s crazy, especially in a county that has managed to waste million of dollars on corrupt boondoggles like FanPlex.  Oh, and this won’t work, but they’re doing it anyway.

The superior court has also dedicated one superior court judge to handle property crimes such as burglary and car theft, Cramer said, and is resolving most of those cases by pleas — often to probation — in less than two months, on average.

Break into somebody’s house, get probation.  Get out, break into somebody else’s house.  Pretty sweet.

The court system’s next aim is to get Superior Court judges — there are 19 in all — to develop uniform case-management standards for handling serious crimes that bog down in the court system, Cramer said.

Judges traditionally have run their courtrooms as they wished — with varying degrees of efficiency.

“Serious crimes” are “bogging down in the court system.”  That’s terrifying.  Since even breaking into someone’s home has been dumbed-down to a minor offense, what constitutes a serious crime these days? 

Enough is enough.  Fulton County Superior Court Judges need to come clean, now, about their efficiency rates.  Are they even working nine-to-five?  All of them?  If they are, and if they oppose this plan, the public needs to hear from them.  If there is a resource emergency in the courts (and there is), then why the silence from the judiciary?  Have they asked the legislature for money?  Have they appealed to the County Commission?  Do they have plans to request stimulus money instead of releasing felons to prey on the innocent?  Have they reached out to the public?  Why doesn’t the public know?  This is a situation begging for transparency.

In order to solve this problem, an essential mindset needs to change.  For far too long the courts have been an insular world, a closed loop in which scrutiny by the public is viewed with barely-concealed irritation, if not outright contempt.  ‘If you’re not a lawyer, then what the heck are you doing asking questions,’ is the attitude I’ve sometimes (not always) encountered — and all lawyers must maintain good relations with judges, so don’t expect them to complain if they see a judge not keeping up with his or her docket, or just not working at all, or serially letting violent felons go free.  

In a circuit like Fulton County, some of these judges also practice far too much leniency with criminals, worrying exclusively about their needs, ignoring victims of crime.  It’s a predictable outcome of the culture of insularity and politics that exists in the judicial appointment process.  Victim advocates — and community members seeking accountability — are treated like peasants who must beg favors at the door.  Information is contained with Kremlin-like security.  

Atlanta has outgrown this system.  

It’s time for the Fulton County Courts to open their doors to citizen scrutiny in a meaningful way.  Of course, it would have been useful for some of the many law professors and criminologists in the city to take a lead on this, but in my experience, academicians are interested in only one question regarding the criminal justice system: how do we get prisoners out of jail?

So I wouldn’t count on the professorate to do the footwork needed to find out exactly how broken the courts are in Fulton County.  But citizens can do the job, first by opposing this mass release of dangerous prisoners, then by seeing what is really going on in the courts.

*** 

Call your county commissioner and the two “at-large” commissioners and demand a citizen review panel.  By non-lawyers, for obvious reasons.  And while you’re on the phone, tell your commissioner that you oppose the pre-trial release plan that’s been sprung on the public, fait accompli.  Think of all the people who have been killed recently in Atlanta by people who should have been behind bars at the time: Harish Roy.  Eugenia Calle.  Who else?  John Henderson?  Octavia Atkins?  Brutus Jones?  Chastity Jones?  The AJC cannot report on every murder, so surely there are more.  Here are the contact numbers for the Fulton County Commissioners:

At-Large Commissioners:

John H. Eaves, Ph.D. District 1 (At Large) Chairman Email John Eaves 404-730-8206 Chairman Eaves’ extended website 

Robb Pitts District 2 (At Large) Email Robb Pitts 404-612-8210

District Commissioners:

Lynne Riley  District 3 Email Lynne Riley 404-730-8213

Tom Lowe  District 4 Email Tom Lowe 404-612-8218

Emma I. Darnell  District 5 THE MIGHTY FIVE [sic] E-mail Emma  404-612-8222

Nancy A. Boxill  District 6 Email Nancy Boxill  404-612-8226

William “Bill” Edwards  District 7  Commission Vice Chairman Email William Edwards  404-612-8230

Don’t Know Your District?  Check the Commissioners’ websites. 

More Americans in Prison Than (fill in the blank). Here’s the Unasked Question: Why Do We Have So Many More Criminals Committing So Much Crime?

no comments

In merely the latest of an endless series of proclamations that we must do something to get our prison population in line with other countries’, Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Senator Jim Webb have teamed up to create a blue-ribbon panel to rehash the usual themes: reducing levels of drug criminalization, freeing the mentally ill from jails, exploring alternatives to sentencing, and enhancing prisoner re-entry services.  Their goal is to reduce the prevalence of prosecutions so that our incarceration statistics come to resemble statistics in European nations.  Of course, crime, especially violent crime, is vastly more prevalent here; thus, higher rates of incarceration.  But that subject is verboten.  Efforts to avoid acknowledging crime in a discussion about responses to crime lead to convoluted statements like the following:

We are doing something drastically wrong,” said Webb, whose plan also aims to improve the US response to armed gangs, especially drug-related groups, as it seeks to bring the prison population down from about 2.4 million people.

And this, directly from the normally straight-shooting Senator Webb:

“We are not protecting our citizens from the increasing danger of criminals who perpetrate violence and intimidation as a way of life, and we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail,” said Webb.

So, we are going to bring down the prison population but improve the response to armed gangs?  Let more people out of jail but protect our citizens from violence?  Look at the prior records of people in Georgia who were identified as rapists after DNA sampling became the law.  Mostly, they had prior records for burglary and drug charges, not violent crimes.  If we had not been enforcing the law for these crimes (as many are proposing now), and sending these men to prison (not community control, where they would not be tested), then scores of rapes would have gone unsolved.   

Is it really true that we have the wrong people behind bars and not enough of the right people there? Or is the truth more simple (albeit troubling): could we actually need to put more people behind bars to ensure public safety, European incarceration statistics notwithstanding? 

I agree with one stated goal of the commission: I’m all for improving services to the mentally ill.  But prisons don’t cause substandard mental health care; they are merely one of the two institutions of last resort (the other being homeless shelters) that deal with the chronically mentally ill in the absence of long-term inpatient treatment.  The prison system has served this thankless role since the 1970’s, when inpatient facilities were shuttered as a result of civil rights lawsuits.  Ever since, people who cannot or will not take care of themselves have been “free” to make their way on the streets, for better or worse.

No amount of fiddling with the criminal justice system will change this fact.  Nor will activists permit a return to institutionalization, no matter how enlightened and humane.  Taking so much as one homeless schizophrenic off the streets and placing her in an institution, even if she is assaulting passers-by and in constant danger of victimization herself, will only result in an endless series of expensive (and taxpayer-subsidized) lawsuits to restore her to her previous condition, no matter how imperiled and degraded.

Activist lawyers know they can sue to de-fund any effort to move homeless people from jails or the streets to other institutions.  And so we will be left with dockets jammed with lawsuits and a billion-dollar prosecution and indigent defense bill, and nothing else will change, except that we will be that much more unable to fund the prosecution of predators and felons.

This is, of course, the real aim of the anti-incarceration crowd.  Depleting criminal justice resources, either through endless appeals or endless lawsuits, has been more effective at freeing higher percentages of criminals than any other strategy.  If you don’t have the money to pay prosecutors, you can’t prosecute crimes.  If you furlough police, they don’t have time to show up in court to testify.  If defense attorneys don’t get paid, trials can’t proceed. Courts from Oregon to Jacksonville have been forced to suspend prosecutions because their budgets are depleted.  Once the courts are in a financial crisis, the pressure to shed lower-level prosecutions grows into mass abandonment of most prosecutions.  

Every day, thousands of citizens are already denied justice for victimizations large and small because we have already severely rationed their access to the justice system.  Their stolen car, or lawn-mower, or television set will not be taken seriously because nobody has the time or money to take it seriously.  If you live in Oregon, that guy rooting around in your garage, or assaulting a security guard, isn’t even facing jail time anymore:

In Lane County, the number of prosecutors has dropped from 28 to 23 in less than a decade, according to Chief Deputy Patty Perlow. That means the district attorney’s office funnels hundreds of defendants accused of nonviolent crimes — such as forgery, criminal trespass and theft of goods worth less than $750 — into a program that fast-tracks their cases. If defendants agree to pay restitution and take a correspondence course about the impact of their bad behavior, their charges will be dismissed.

Perlow was exasperated last year after winning a felony conviction against a man who stole shoes from the University of Oregon bookstore, then injured a security officer by slamming him against a wall. The judge sentenced the man to a year in the Lane County jail, but because of budget cuts, there wasn’t room for him. The man served less than a day.

“It was embarrassing,” Perlow said. “It was a waste of everyone’s time.”

And yet, in the press, this reality barely registers, because it flies in the face of the preferred media storyline: 

America incarcerates more people than (Iran, China, Germany, South Africa).  See how this article on the Webb/Specter task force summarizes such comparisons, in lieu of a discussion of the reality of crime in America:

More than one percent of adults in the United States sit behind bars. . .

By comparison, China, with a population of one billion people, was second in the world with 1.5 million inmates, followed by Russia with 890,000 people in the slammer, the study said.

America’s incarceration rate exceeds that of nations like South Africa and Iran.

By comparison, 93 people in Germany are in prison for every 100,000 people, including minors, the Washington-based independent research group said. The rate is about eight time higher in the United States: 750 per 100,000.

Therefore, such stories go, incarceration in America is illegitimate. 

What is left out of this story, of course, is the relative prevalence of crime in America.  I defer to a reader:

I used to live in Slovenia, which has a crime rate approaching zero. Believe me, to live without real fear of crime is an incredibly liberating feeling. Conversely, when I lived in Brooklyn, I did actually have to live every minute looking over my shoulder, a way of living that is really draining.                                                                                                                                                                                                              -Mark Nuckols

The following, simple fact seems beyond the comprehension of nearly every daily newspaper in the United States:

We have more people in prison because we have more criminals committing crime here.

Dumbing Down Justice: The New York Times Reports One Side of the Anti-Incarceration Controversy, Again

3 comments

Under the guise of news, the nation’s “Paper of Record,” The New York Times, is reporting on controversial efforts to release more offenders early or to not imprison them at all — as if there is no controversy and everybody simply agrees that letting recidivists loose early will save money, not cost money and endanger the public.

In an article titled, “To Cut Costs, States Relax Prison Policies,” the Times uncritically quotes both the Pew Center for the States and the Center for Effective Public Policy — and nobody else.  But these organizations fail to count in their analyses the added costs of crimes committed by offenders who would otherwise be incarcerated at the time they re-offend.

The Times article also endorses the view that prison doesn’t work because parolees continue to commit crimes after they have been released from prison.  It takes a moment to wrap one’s head around this:

The most pervasive cost-saving trend among corrections departments has been to look closely at parole systems, in which it is no longer cost-effective to monitor released inmates, largely because too many violate their terms, often on technicalities, and end up back in prison.

Too many parolees are violating parole, so monitoring parolees is no longer cost-effective.  That’s great. I’m also suspicious when a reporter claims, without attribution, that the parole rules being violated are “often” just “technicalities.”  Says who?  How “often”?  What’s a technicality?  Apparently, anything that doesn’t involve actually being caught in the act of committing another crime.  So, apparently, the act of keeping track of an offender who is likely to offend again is merely a technicality, according to the Times.  But isn’t keeping track of offenders the point of parole?

And then there’s this:

Like other states making such changes, California is led by a governor who long opposed such shifts in prison policies. But Mr. Schwarzenegger, as well as other leaders and lawmakers who are far more conservative, has come around to a view held by advocates of sentencing and prison reform that longer sentences do little to reduce recidivism among certain nonviolent criminals.

Again, the theme: “recidivists re-offend, so why imprison them in the first place?”  Here are some reasons: to prevent them from offending for the six months, or year, or five years during which they cannot re-offend because they are in prison.  Or, to build a record against chronic criminals who might get arrested for a parole violation this week but will be wanted for pimping and rape, or car jacking and burglary next week, so that they gradually go away for longer times.

What is most striking about the Times piece is the utter absence of any recognition that there are profound social costs when the threat of deterrence is shaved down to a nub. There are profound social costs when we say to certain groups of people: the problems we cause by placing repeat offenders back into your community are not our concern.  We’re not going to imprison them the next time they steal your lawnmower or break into your house.  We’re not going to prosecute them when they run through your backyard, fleeing a gun-toting drug dealer they just ripped off a block away.

This is the opposite of the broken-windows theory (close attention to even minor-seeming crimes reduces both crime and the fear of crime).  It will doubtlessly have the opposite effect, as well, even if the Times refuse to report it.

What Is Your Personal “Aggregate Burden of Crime”?

1 comment

On Tuesday, I wrote about the debate that’s raging over incarcerating convicts or releasing them to “community sentencing” programs of one type or another.  Proponents of community or alternative sentencing argue that we save tax dollars when people convicted of crimes get to stay at home for therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions instead of being removed from the community and sentenced to prison terms. 

However, these anti-incarceration advocates do not count the additional costs that arise whenever a person under “community control” (or a prisoner released early) commits more crime – costs that range from additional police and justice system expenses to the injury, fear, suffering, and financial losses experienced directly by their victims and indirectly by other community members.

A friend in Atlanta describes his own “aggregate burden of crime”  (I have removed some identifying details):

“When I first moved in, and the house was about to fall down, I was burglarized twice, believe it or not.  Looking at the condition of the house, you would have thought, this guy has nothing.  But, they came in twice anyway.  Didn’t take anything, because the boys next door heard them and ran them away.  I wasn’t there.  However, they had everything electronics in my suitcase, ready to go.

I then spent about $1,300 for the installation of the security system, and $28.95 a month for monitoring.  Later on, after I bought the TV, $1,300 for flat screen, which they took, I upgraded the system and cost me another $300 – $400 dollars.  J.W. had to come by and re-install the deadbolts that are keyed on both sides.  I know the argument about flippers on the inside lock (code for the city), but I changed them to keyed on the inside.

He charged me about $250.00 for everything, because he also drilled into the windows, with those metal cylinders to stop the opening of the windows.

Now, my nerves after those next two times of coming into my house almost made me sell the house and move.  But, to where?”

That’s $350 per year for home monitoring, $1,850 for installation of safety devices, and $1300 in losses.  Not to mention the home and auto insurance rates he must pay to live in the inner city, which are substantially higher than elsewhere; the high taxes he must pay to support the police and the courts, and the immutable fact that many offenders already live on the public dime, in subsidized housing with subsidized food and subsidized healthcare, all paid by the same people they victimize. 

And what cost do you put on peace of mind, after being broken into four times?

Those are the direct costs incurred by one victim who is surely not the only victim targeted by the offenders who broke into his house.  Does anyone break into only one stranger’s home?  This is not Les Misérables: they are not stealing bread to feed a starving child.  It is a lifestyle, one that simultaneously destroys the lifestyles of decent, compassionate, hard-working people like my friend. 

***

Criminologists in America do calculate the “aggregate burden of crime” here, but these statistics (see here, here, and here) never make it into public debates or newspaper articles.  Why not?  Why is the debate about incarceration versus “community sentencing,” or “three strikes laws,” or other crime-stopping initiatives carried out without any acknowledgement of the financial burdens communities face when offenders are not incarcerated? 

In contrast, in Britain and Wales, the “Economic and Social Costs of Crime Against Individuals and Households” statistics have been part of the public debate about crime policy for several years.  Here are the official 2003/2004 numbers.  Costs counted include: physical and emotional impact on direct victims, value of property stolen, property damaged/destroyed, victim services, lost output (significant for murders), health services, criminal justice costs, and costs in anticipation of crime.

Rather than relying on the Pew Center Report, which deceptively promises vast savings every time a convict doesn’t go to prison, it’s time for American journalists to begin seeking out better data on recidivism, crime costs, and the actual effectiveness and expenses arising from drug courts, other community sentencing programs, and judges’ decisions to simply let offenders go without punishment.

The Pew Center Study, Repeat Offenders, and the Real Price of Crime

no comments

From The Tennessean

Cons commit crimes after early release

Sentencing guidelines enable repeat offenders

A college student is kidnapped, brutalized and murdered. A mother looks up from changing her baby’s diaper to find a gun pointing in her face. A 62-year-old man is bludgeoned with a baseball bat in a mall parking lot.

The crimes share one trait, aside from their brutality. In each case, the person charged with the offense was an ex-convict, out on probation or parole — a situation Tennessee prosecutors and law enforcement leaders say is all too common because of how the state sentences its convicted criminals. . . .

Amanda Sue Kelley, 19, was arrested seven times last year on charges that ranged from drug possession to domestic assault and theft. In January, police say, she wrenched open the door of a parked car, pointed a gun at a woman changing her 13-month-old daughter’s diaper in the back seat, and demanded cash. . . .

It costs about $63.90 a day to keep someone behind bars in Tennessee. A day monitoring someone’s probation or parole costs $2.95.

“We really need to do a better job of sorting our offenders by risk,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. “This is less and less an issue of being tough on crime or soft on crime and more an issue of giving the taxpayers a better return on their dollars.” 

The Pew Center study, “One in One Hundred,” has attracted a lot of attention — but less obvious is the Center’s ideological anti-incarceration bias.  The Center did not include what is known as the “Aggregate Burden of Crime” in its analysis of the price of incarceration versus the price of community sentencing.  The aggregate burden of crime, which measures the total economic effect of crime on victims, communities and the offender, offers a picture of the real cost of incarcerating convicts versus letting them go free — not a one-line argument comparing the day-to-day cost of probation to the day-to-day cost of incarceration.

There is no excuse for excluding the other costs that inevitably arise when people who should be in prison commit additional crimes — unless the study is simply designed to sway public opinion towards letting convicts back on the streets.  

In 1996, the Department of Justice issued a far more comprehensive, less ideological study called “Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look”  which placed the cost of crime for victims at $450 billion dollars per year.  And in 1999, Professor David A. Anderson published another study, titled “The Aggregate Burden of Crime,” which placed the annual cost of crime at 1.7 trillion dollars a year.  Here is a description of his study:

Anderson takes into account all costs which would not exist in an ideal society totally free of crime. That includes the cost of private preventative measures such as locks, safety lighting, alarm systems, fencing and private security guards. In addition it calculates the cost of crime-related injuries and deaths, including medical care, lost workdays, pain, and fear, and the opportunity costs of time spent preventing, carrying out and serving prison terms for criminal activity. Finally, it mentions a $28 billion decrease in property values of real estate and buildings that are cheaper than similar facilities because they are located in high-crime areas. The costs associated with living in the suburbs to avoid crime in the city center are also discussed, since there are significant costs for activities such as commuting and parking. 

If the Pew Center had really intended to quantify the difference in cost between incarcerating offenders and releasing them to the community, they would have had to first figure out the number of crimes committed each year by offenders who could have been sentenced to prison, or kept there without parole, but who were instead released to commit more crime.  Then they would have had to plug in the price of this additional victimization.  Absent that, they are operating on the assumption that no parolees or probationers ever commit crimes.  

Victim and community expenses appear nowhere in the Pew Center report.  When you focus narrowly on the price differential between daily incarceration expenses and parole/community control expenses, you are intentionally excluding the bulk of expenses born by innocent people — victims, bystanders, and neighborhoods — who have been impacted by illegal activities.  That’s not just bad public policy: it’s dishonest public policy.

The Case of the Missing Zero or 785 Officers

no comments

WHAT a difference a month makes. Or does it?

A few short weeks ago, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington and Mayor Shirley Franklin were working overtime to insist that residents’ concerns over crime were overblown. “The city is safer now than it has been in decades,” the Mayor callously announced when the brutal murder of bartender John Henderson mobilized residents to demand more police on the streets.

In another scolding published in the wake of that crime, Chief Pennington insisted that, “we have enough resources to deal with it,” “it” meaning crime (making him possibly the first Chief of Police in half a century to make such a claim). He suggested that citizens were simply “perceiving” crime more intensely now that the Internet enabled people to tell each other about crimes that were occurring in different parts of the city.

OOPS. The Internet certainly did that. It also enabled residents to compare notes on what they were seeing on the streets versus what the police department was posting on its website. It allowed them to ponder the often-craven ways the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Creative Loafing work with the Mayor to dismiss concerns about home invasions, like the schmaltzy two-step in which the AJC published a highly selective study of crime statistics one Sunday and Mayor Franklin, a mere four days later, published an editorial in the paper praising the study and using it to bludgeon residents’ concerns about home invasions.

The Internet interrupted this closed-loop system so abruptly that officials and reporters are now scrambling in its wake. Fourteen days after Chief Pennington told reporter Tim Eberly that the Atlanta Police Department didn’t need more resources to keep the city from “becoming less safe,” and one day after the AJC published its “study” showing select crimes in certain places were down, and three days before the mayor thanked the paper for showing the protesters that the city didn’t need more police officers, the AJC wedged in another article reporting that Chief Pennington also said “the city will soon need 2,400 officers.”

That is 785 more officers than the current number, 1,615. Or, to put it another way, a 48% increase in the number of police on the streets.

So according to Chief Pennington, Atlanta either has enough police on the streets right now to combat crime, or it needs to increase the size of its force by 48%. “Soon.”

PERHAPS in order to back away from this absurd and bizarre game of numbers, Pennington has now announced the formation of a task force to investigate burglaries of flat-screen televisions. Or perhaps he is really reaching out to the public.

(Shirley Franklin, who cannot run for mayor again and already has one foot out the door and firmly planted, no doubt, in some half dozen lucrative consulting contracts, doesn’t need to come up with plans to fight crime anymore and has thus said nothing.)

I sincerely applaud any effort Chief Pennington is willing to make to do something about burglary, or any other crime. And I personally think that most of the problem of not addressing criminal behavior lies with the courts, not in the police department. But there’s an element of minimizing the truly threatening nature of these home invasions by creating a “task force to investigate the burglaries of flat-screen televisions.” Why not a task force to investigate the invasions of homes?

This minimizing of crime is not incidental: it is of a piece with everything else that has been said to the citizens of Atlanta, and especially to crime victims and activists, by the Mayor and the Chief of Police since John Henderson was murdered.

So before anyone is permitted to shift the conversation to using DNA to protect television ownership, I think Chief Pennington needs to change the tone of the conversation itself. There needs to be unambiguous acknowledgment of the real problem. It’s not about “property”: it’s about the real danger created by numbly sociopathic or drug-crazed criminals who are kicking in the doors of people’s homes. It’s about never feeling safe because you know there are criminals stalking your neighborhood, waiting for you to leave for work in the morning, and wondering if your wife is going to be safe at home after the car’s not in the driveway at 9:05 a.m.

Chief Pennington needs to acknowledge this instead of playing it down by talking about property theft, even if that’s what the Mayor and many (not all) journalists seem to be trying to do.

I’M certain there are things I don’t know about Pennington, but he did have a reputation as a reformer, someone who did a great deal to clean up the force in New Orleans. I want to believe that he really wants 2,400 cops on the streets and that he believes that every home invasion (home invasion necessarily precedes ripping the flat-screen from the wall) is an intense, personal, violent crime.

Behind statistics there are always intentions. NYPD Chief William Bratton intended to lower crime, so he used crime statistics to solve crimes, not to deny their existence in the newspaper.

Bratton didn’t lecture people about the difference between “violent” and “non-violent” home break-ins or the “victimless” nature of turn-style jumping: he instituted CompStat, which, if you think about it, works precisely because it got the police thinking about property crimes as potential predictors of future violent crime.

Exactly the opposite is happening in Atlanta. But it’s not too late for Pennington to turn that message around.

Getting Away with Crime, Circa 1970

4 comments

(I will get to “Recommendations for the Courts” later in the week.)

Events are moving quickly for activists in Atlanta, a place where a weird confluence of crime, organizing against crime, and Internet connections have torn away the media curtain that ordinarily hangs between the public and public individuals’ experiences of crime and the courts — revealing the abject failure of those courts and our top elected officials to act on public safety.

At this odd moment, I want to offer a little historical perspective on the phenomenon of getting away with crime.

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson responded to exploding crime rates in America’s cities by founding the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Crime.  Like many efforts of its time, the Commission was heavy on seeking psycho-social “root causes” for criminality.  Howard Zinn weighed in on how the “Pigs” should be in prison and the prisoners should roam the streets.  And so on.

But those were more civilized days among the elite, which of course included Howard Zinn, his demurral notwithstanding.  So the Commission’s report to the President offered a wide range of ideological views on the subject of crime, something that rarely happens in academic conferences today.

Milton S. Eisenhower was one of those old guys whose yellowing Brillo creamed black-and-white visages still stare out at us from office lobbies everywhere.  He was, in two words, widely respected.  He was the head of Johnson’s crime Commission, and the former President of Johns Hopkins University, and a member of UNESCO, and lots of other things.  Here is what Milton S. Eisenhower said to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Crime in 1970:

We live in an urban society.  We live in an affluent society.  And we live in a society that is violent.  In the convergence of those three characteristics lies a central problem for America in the 1970’s.

The best estimate of the number of serious crimes committed in the United States each year is 10 million, of which more than 1.2 Million are violent crimes: homicides, aggravated assaults, forcible rapes, and robberies.  According to another estimate, more than 1 out of 100 Americans commits a major violent crime in any one year.

There remains one very obvious reason for mounting crime in our society: the increasing failure of law enforcement agencies to cope with it.  Comsider the grim statistics.  Probably 10 million serious crimes were committed in the United States last year.  About half of those crimes were never reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Only 12 percent of those 10 million crimes resulted in the arrest of anyone.  Only 6 percent resulted in the conviction of anyone, and this 6 percent included many pleas to lesser offenses.  Only 1 1/2 percent resulted in the incarceration of anyone.  And of those who were incarcerated, most will return to prison another time for additional offenses.  As Lloyd Cutler, eminent lawyer and executive director of the Violence Commission, remarked on these statistics: ‘It would hard to argue that crime does not pay.  The sad fact is that our criminal justice system, as presently operated, does not deter, does not detect, does not convict, and does not correct.’

Violence: The Crisis of American Confidence, ed. Hugh Davis Graham (Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1971)

In 1970, our nation’s best minds across the political spectrum agreed that fewer than 2% of those who commit a serious crime even served time for it.  That was forty years ago, and it hasn’t changed much.