Thursday, July 29, 2021

BJS releases notable new recidivism data for 2012-released state prisons

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released this notable new report about the recidivism rates over five years for a set of state prisoners released in 2012. The full title of the 34-page report is "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 34 States in 2012: A 5-Year Follow-Up Period (2012–2017)." Here is the introduction and "Highlights" from the first page of the report:

Among state prisoners released in 2012 across 34 states, 62% were arrested within 3 years, and 71% were arrested within 5 years.  Among prisoners released in 2012 across 21 states with available data on persons returned to prison, 39% had either a parole or probation violation or an arrest for a new offense within 3 years that led to imprisonment, and 46% had a parole or probation violation or an arrest within 5 years that led to imprisonment.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) used prisoner records from the National Corrections Reporting Program and criminal history data to analyze the post-release offending patterns of former prisoners both within and outside of the state where they were imprisoned.  This study randomly sampled about 92,100 released prisoners to represent the approximately 408,300 state prisoners released across 34 states in 2012.  These 34 states were responsible for 79% of all persons released from state prisons that year nationwide.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • About 6 in 10 (62%) prisoners released across 34 states in 2012 were arrested within 3 years, and 7 in 10 (71%) were arrested within 5 years. „
  • Nearly half (46%) of prisoners released in 2012 returned to prison within 5 years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence. „
  • Eleven percent of prisoners released in 2012 were arrested within 5 years outside of the state that released them. „
  • Eighty-one percent of prisoners age 24 or younger at release in 2012 were arrested within 5 years of release, compared to 74% of those ages 25 to 39 and 61% of those age 40 or older. „
  • During the 5-year follow-up period, an estimated 1.1 million arrests occurred among the approximately 408,300 prisoners released in 2012. „
  • Sixty-two percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2012 were arrested for a nondrug crime within 5 years. „
  • The annual arrest percentage of prisoners released in 2012 declined from 37% in Year 1 to 26% in Year 5. „ Of prisoners released in the 19 states in the 2005, 2008, and 2012 recidivism studies, the percentage arrested within 5 years declined from 77% of 2005 releases, to 75% of 2008 releases, to 71% of 2012 releases.

July 29, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

CCJ releases June 2021 update on "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."

noted here last summer that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) had launched an important, timely and impressive new commission titled the "National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice" and headed by two former US Attorneys General.  That commission has produce a number of important works (examples here and here and here), and it helped produced a series of reports on recent crime trends under the heading "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."  The latest version of this report, called a June 2021 update, is available for download at this link.  Over at the CCJ website, one can find this press release titled "New Data Shows Homicide Rise Continues in U.S. Cities, but at Slower Rate," which provides this overview of the crime data and also details on additional CCJ work in this arena:

Murder counts in major American cities continued to rise throughout the first half of 2021, but the pace of the increase slowed from the first to the second quarter of the year, according to research released today by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

Examining homicide in 22 cities through the first six months of 2021, the study found that the number of murders was 16% greater than during the same period in 2020 — claiming an additional 259 lives — and 42% greater than during the first half of 2019, representing an additional 548 lives.  Gun assaults (+5%) and aggravated assaults (+9%) also were up during the first half of 2021 compared to the same time frame last year, while drug and most property crimes fell.

Even with the 2021 increase, the homicide rate for the cities studied was about half what it was for those cities at the peak of violent crime rates in the early 1990s (15 deaths per 100,000 residents in those cities versus 28 per 100,000 in 1993). Nevertheless, the study’s authors called for “urgent action” to address the spike in violence.

A new CCJ panel will investigate the causes of rising violence and help decisionmakers translate rigorous evidence and lived experience into effective policy and practice.  Launched this week, the Violent Crime Working Group includes 15 leaders from community violence intervention organizations, law enforcement, the public health sector, and academia. The group is chaired by violence-reduction expert Thomas Abt, a Council Senior Fellow....

Rates of other major offenses declined in the first half of 2021, the new data released today shows.  Robbery (-6%), residential burglary (-9%), nonresidential burglary (-9%), larceny (-6%), and drug offense (-12%) rates all fell from the same period in 2020.  Motor vehicle theft rates, however, were 21% higher in the first half of 2021 than the year before.

July 29, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

As we puzzle through gun violence spike, is it too soon to hope a decline is already starting?

German Lopez has this useful new piece at Vox headlined "Murders are up.  Crime is not.  What’s going on?".  I recommend the extended article in full and here are some excerpts (with my highlighting to help account for the optimism in my post title, and just a few of many helpful links retained):

Last year, the US saw the biggest increase in the murder rate in decades.  The estimated total number of homicides rose to levels not seen since the late 1990s, even as the overall crime rate declined.  So far, the spike has continued into 2021: Murders are up nearly 15 percent so far this year compared to the same period last year, based on data from US cities collected by crime analyst Jeff Asher.

That’s what we know. What we don’t really know yet is why....  Year-to-year fluctuations in crime and violence can and do happen. But the size of the murder spike has led to broader national attention.  The increase is now part of an ideological proxy war — leading to conflicting opinions even within political parties on what to do about the increase in murders, and plenty of finger-pointing over whether the pandemic, protests over police, or guns are to blame.

We don’t really know, with certainty, what’s behind the rise.  All three of those factors likely played a role.  And there may even be some unknown factor that researchers won’t notice for years; the theory that higher levels of lead in the environment caused higher crime and violence from the 1960s to 1990s took decades to get widespread national attention....

The increase in murder appears to be a uniquely American phenomenon.  While murder rates rose in some developed countries last year, like Canada and Germany, the increases are far below the double-digit spikes America is seeing. That’s especially notable because the United States already had a higher baseline of murders, after controlling for population.  Despite claims that Democratic mayors or progressive criminal justice policies are driving the increase, it also appears indifferent to the political party in charge: As Asher and criminal justice expert John Pfaff have shown, murder rates increased in cities run by Democrats and Republicans, progressive and not.

The good news is there is a lot more agreement among experts about how to bring down the spike than there is about what caused it.  But the best evidence suggests stopping murders in the short term will require more and better, though not necessarily more aggressive, policing — a controversial proposal on the left. “I know people don’t want to hear this, and I empathize with that,” Anna Harvey, a public safety expert at New York University, told me. “But at least as far as the research evidence goes, for short-term responses to increases in homicides, the evidence is strongest for the police-based solutions.”

The [murder spike] data is preliminary; final official numbers for 2020 will be out later this year.  But the findings have been backed by multiple sources, including the FBIAsherseparate reports from the Council on Criminal Justice, and the University of Pennsylvania–run website City Crime Stats.  A consistent finding in these analyses: The spike is truly national, showing up in every region of the country and most of the cities with available data.

Some other kinds of crime also increased, according to this early data, including shootings, aggravated assaults, and car thefts.  Still, violent crime in general went up at much lower rates, if at all, compared to murders, and overall crime declined, driven in part by a drop in the majority of property crimes.  The split between murder rates and crime rates might seem odd, but there’s good reason to believe the divergence is genuine and not an artifact of underreporting.  There were fewer opportunities to commit property crimes last year with businesses shut and people staying home....

Based on Asher’s analysis of major US cities, the murder spike has continued into 2021 but likely decelerated.  There also seems to be more variation: More cities, including Chicago, are reporting a decrease or at least no increase in murders so far this year....

The closest to a consensus I’ve been able to find in talking to experts about the cause of the murder spike: It’s complicated.  Experts have rejected some possibilities.  Given that murders rose in both Democrat- and Republican-run cities, as well as places that adopted criminal justice reforms and those that didn’t, partisanship and criminal justice reforms don’t seem to be a cause.  Three plausible explanations, none of which exclude the others, have come up repeatedly:

1) The Covid-19 pandemic....

2) The US protests over police brutality...

3) America’s gun problem....

Perhaps the best explanation: All of these factors played a role.  There are many ways all these explanations could have interacted.  As one example: Covid-19 and protests both fueled a sense that the social fabric was unraveling, and more people — particularly in the worst-off neighborhoods — felt they had to fend for themselves.  They equipped themselves with guns to act on their own if they felt a threat.  And this made any given conflict more likely to escalate to deadly violence.

I have been keeping a particular eye lately on this webpage in which Jeff Asher has compiled a "YTD Murder Comparison" for 73 cities.  On July 12 in this tweet, Asher noted that the "change in murder relative to last year is dropping in cities with data.  A few weeks ago it was +22%, last week it was +18%, now it's +16%.  Largely reflects cities entering the time last year when murder surged (murder is down in Chicago, for example)."  And, now of July 21, Asher's data shows we are under a 15% year-to-date increase, providing further reason to be hopeful that the homicide spike may already be ending. 

Of course, given last year's significant increases, just having little or no increases in murder is not something to celebrate robustly.  But if these encouraging trends continue and we end up seeing declines in homicides nationwide in the coming month, perhaps the criminology question could soon become what explains the end of the homicide spike starting in mid 2021 rather than what explains the spike starting in mid 2020.

July 21, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 05, 2021

Important perspectives as rising homicides garner ever more attention

In this round up of recommended reading, I noted the the New York magazine article titled, "Progressives Don’t Need to Downplay Rising Homicides."  I wanted to flag the article again in the separate post because I think this piece provides particularly useful perspectives on the ever-growing concerns about increased homicides in the US and about a variety of reactions thereto.  I highly recommend the piece in full (and its many links), and here I will spotlight just a few of many passages that merit attention (with some links from the original):

At our most peaceful, the United States is an exceptionally murderous nation.

In 2014, America recorded the lowest homicide rate in its history — and the highest homicide rate of any comparably prosperous country.  That year, Americans were more than three times as likely as Western Europeans to die by murder. Like most things in the U.S., this aberrantly high risk of homicide was not distributed equally.  Residents of Washington, D.C., were murdered at eight times the rate of those in Iowa.  Within the District, as in virtually all major U.S. cities, killing was largely quarantined to a select group of politically disempowered, economically dispossessed neighborhoods. Poor Black people did the bulk of the dying.

America’s distribution of violent death has changed little over the past seven years.  But the sum total has risen considerably. In 2019, the U.S. murder rate was about 11 percent higher than it had been in 2014.  We do not yet have an official body count for 2020.  But preliminary data suggests that, across major cities, homicides rose by an average of 30 percent last year — and then jumped another 24 percent through the first few months of this one....

The dismissive posture that many progressives adopt toward coverage of violent crime is motivated by inarguable insights: Americans routinely overestimate the prevalence of crime, a fact that is largely attributable to the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” modus operandi.  Despite the homicide surge of the past two years, America’s murder rate remains far lower than it was in the 1990s, and mainstream coverage does not always convey this fact.  Even last year, the number of Americans killed by homicide (roughly 20,000) paled in comparison to those killed by more mundane, perennially under-covered social ills such as the tobacco industry (est. 480,000), air pollution (est. 100,000), or lack of health insurance (est. 45,000)....

Progressives aren’t going to get the media to ignore crime for the sake of social justice.  And we aren’t going to persuade the urban working class to disregard rising homicide.  Thus, our best bet for resisting a punitive turn in criminal-justice policy is to convince voters that our approach to public safety is more effective than the pro-carceral status quo.

Happily, the evidence that a progressive anti-crime agenda would outperform America’s traditional draconian one is quite strong.  Contrary to the wishful speculations of some pundits, the past year’s spike in homicide is not attributable to the rise of progressive prosecutors: Murder rates have risen no faster in cities with reformist district attorneys.

Meanwhile, criminological research suggests that:

• Long prison sentences do not deter crime, and are actually counterproductive for public safety.

• Investments in preschool and summer-job programs lower disadvantaged young people’s susceptibility to criminal activity.

• Community-based “violence interrupter” programs can preempt lethal violence.

• Raising wages for “low-skill” workers can reduce recidivism, and thus, pro-labor policies are anti-crime policies.

• If the Medicaid expansion is any guide, then increasing access to affordable health care in general — and free drug treatment in particular — can deliver immediate reductions in both violent and property crimes.

• Laws tightening licensing requirements for handgun purchases have yielded dramatic reductions in firearm homicide rates.

July 5, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

"The Puzzle of Clearance Rates, and What They Can Tell Us About Crime, Police Reform, and Criminal Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Andrew D. Leipold that I just saw via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Recent incidents of police violence have led to widespread reform efforts, from modest proposals to change police practices to dramatic attempts to slash funding or abolish the police entirely.  But largely ignored in the debate is a simple question — how well is law enforcement currently performing its core functions?  In particular, how good are the police at finding the perpetrator, arresting that person, and gathering enough evidence to start the matter through the criminal justice system?  Answering this question requires close attention to the familiar, but under-studied, metric of clearance rates.

Clearance rates measure the percentage of reported crimes that are “solved” by the arrest of a suspect and the filing of criminal charges.  But while these rates provide one valuable measure of police effectiveness, a closer look reveals both puzzles and qualifications, each of which raise important policy questions.  Using original compilations of data, this article begins by looking at the puzzles.  Clearance rates for violent and property crimes have been both quite low and amazingly steady for the last 40 years.  These figures are counterintuitive, because during that same period, crime first rose and then decreased dramatically; law enforcement personnel numbers increased, and then flattened; and the legal enforcement landscape appears to have tilted in the direction of the police and prosecution. E ach of these changes should have significantly affected the clearance rates, but even collectively, they did not.

The article then looks at possible explanations, and concludes that low and steady clearance rates are the product of relatively recent decisions about the role of police and the role of the justice system generally.  Beginning in the late 1990s, when our model would predict that clearance rates would begin to increase, resources were increasingly diverted from solving traditional violent and property crimes.  At the same time, a shift in law enforcement philosophy was gathering steam, one that prioritized crime prevention over crime clearance.  This choice was a sensible one, as most would prefer to have fewer crimes committed rather than a higher percentage of crimes solved.  But even these sensible choices have had important implications for crime victims, for criminal punishment schemes, and for the direction of police reform.

June 30, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Will any new sentencing issues be central to the new "comprehensive crime reduction strategy" soon to come from Prez Biden?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new lengthy CNN piece headlined "Concerns rising inside White House over surge in violent crime."  Here are excerpts:

A nationwide surge in violent crime has emerged as a growing area of concern inside the White House, where President Joe Biden and his aides have listened with alarm as local authorities warn a brutal summer of killing lies ahead.

Biden plans to address the spike in shootings, armed robberies and vicious assaults on Wednesday afternoon following a meeting with state and local officials, law enforcement representatives and others involved in combating the trend.  He hopes to dampen what has already become a cudgel for Republicans eager to run a "law and order" campaign in next year's midterm elections.

The President is poised to announce a comprehensive crime reduction strategy on Wednesday, officials said, in hopes of reducing gun violence and addressing the root causes of the spike.  He plans to sign executive actions with a particular focus on tamping down gun crimes, according to officials, while again calling on Congress to take steps to enact new gun control laws. He is also set to press Congress to confirm David Chipman as his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Across the country, the easing of pandemic restrictions paired with the onset of warmer weather has led to a troubling increase in crime, much of it involving guns.  After years of decreasing crime statistics, the homicide rate surged in major cities in 2020 and that trend appears poised to continue this year....

Already, the uptick is becoming a potent political issue for a President who worked over the past two years to carefully calibrate his approach to criminal justice, resisting pressure from the left to support defunding the police while justifying his role in writing major anti-crime bills from the 1990s.  Biden entered office with a mandate to his team on reducing gun violence, according to officials, and has been acutely aware that crime rates have been spiking over the past year.  The politics of the moment are further complicated by the prospect of bipartisan police reform legislation, which is slowly moving its way through Congress. 

The decision by the White House to devote an afternoon of the President's time to focus on the nation's rising crime rate underscores how serious the matter is being taken inside the West Wing.  The wave of violent crime is not only seen as an impediment to the economic recovery from the pandemic, but also as a potential political threat that could give Republicans an opening in their midterm election fight against Democrats.

Biden's aides have sought to put the numbers in context, noting the current upswing in crime began before he entered office. "There's been, actually, a rise in crime over the last five years, but really the last 18 months," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday....

White House officials hope to take steps that will better link federal law enforcement resources with state and local governments, according to people familiar with the matter. Biden's Justice Department has laid out a strategy for combating violent crime that includes embedding federal agents with local homicide teams and nationwide sweeps for wanted fugitives involved in violence.

That plan sought to de-emphasize the number of arrests and prosecutions, instead focusing on overall reductions in violent crime as a metric of success.  It also sought to improve community engagement and violence intervention programs in the hopes of preventing violence from taking root.  Biden's sweeping $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure proposal includes $5 billion to support community-based violence prevention programs, though the future of that proposal remains uncertain....

In the 1990s, the tough-on-crime stance was viewed as a prized accomplishment for Biden, who warned of "predators on our streets" who were "beyond the pale."  Yet a quarter-century later, his warm embrace of Clinton during a Rose Garden signing ceremony for the 1994 crime bill stirred controversy during his 2020 presidential primary.  Several candidates, including then-opponent Kamala Harris, criticized Biden for his role in the legislation, which she and other critics said led to an era of mass incarceration....

Today, the politics of crime legislation are less certain. A movement to "Defund the Police" has lost considerable steam inside the Democratic Party, amid rising crime rates across the country.  Biden has consistently been opposed to any such measures -- and avoided such language -- by refusing to accept the criticism from progressives during his presidential race.  Meanwhile, local law enforcement officials have begun placing greater emphasis on community intervention programs to prevent violence, a shift away from the style of policing embedded in the laws Biden helped pass.

This new press release from the Department of Justice, titled "Department of Justice Announces Formation of Firearms Trafficking Strike Forces to Crack Down on Sources of Crime Guns," starts this way:

Today, the Department of Justice announced it will launch five cross-jurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces within the next 30 days to help reduce violent crime by addressing illegal gun trafficking in significant firearms trafficking corridors.  Tomorrow, the Attorney General will discuss with the President, law enforcement officials, and local and community leaders, this initiative, which, along with other measures, the Department of Justice is undertaking as part of the administration-wide comprehensive strategy to combat the rise in violent crime.

June 22, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 21, 2021

"Can Criminal Justice Reform Survive a Wave of Violent Crime?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary by John Pfaff in The New Republic.  The subheadline of the piece highlights its data-crunching themes: "An uptick in homicides across the country is getting blamed on reforms. That argument gets the data all wrong."  I recommend everything Pfaff writes in full, and here are excerpts from this very lengthy piece:

Even as the pandemic lockdown helped push down many crimes, last year saw an unprecedented spike in homicides nationwide, likely more than twice the largest previous one-year rise.  And given the retaliatory nature of lethal violence and the ongoing disruption from the pandemic, we should expect homicides to remain high in 2021 as well.  One study in Chicago, for example, found evidence that cycles of retaliation and counterretaliation meant that a single shooting was often the root cause of three, or sometimes 60, or once almost 500 subsequent shootings over the next few years.

How to stop this wave of violence is thus one of the most important policy questions for 2021, but asking it has rarely felt more fraught.  The surge in homicide comes at a moment when conventional responses to crime face more intense criticism than any time since the civil rights movements of the 1960s.  Reformers and activists across the country have spent the past decade campaigning to reduce our reliance on prisons, jail, probation, and even the police.  The changes we’ve seen may be less dramatic than what many advocates have hoped for, and certainly less dramatic than how many of their detractors describe them, but they both reflect and have nurtured a growing shift in popular views on crime control....

Perhaps the most important feature of last year’s rise in homicides is just how uniform it appears to be.  In 2020, homicides rose in 60 of the 69 major police departments noted above, and in almost all cases at a rate more or less proportional to homicides in 2019.  Any one city’s share of homicides was roughly the same as its share in 2019, just appreciably higher.  Unlike many previous periods, the spike was not the product of a few cities experiencing an especially bad year (in 2016, around 20 percent of the national increase in homicides was just due to Chicago), but of almost every city suffering in something close to unison.

One important upshot of this uniformity is that there is no evidence that cities with more progressive prosecutors experienced relatively worse outcomes than those with more conventional district attorneys.  In fact, two of the eight departments that reported declines in homicides — Baltimore City, Maryland, and St. Louis County, Missouri — are home to two of the country’s most high-profile “progressive prosecutors,” Marilyn Mosby and Wesley Bell.  Opponents of progressive prosecution are already invoking the homicide spike to push back against the movement, but the data simply do not back them up....

It is also important to note the inaccuracy of trying to pin rising homicides on efforts to “defund” the police.  In a December 2020 press conference, for example, Gregg Sofer, at the time the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, tried to blame Austin’s rise in homicides on the city’s recent decision to cut police funding.  The problem?  Homicides had started to rise well before the cuts, in no small part because the budget in question did not go into effect until October 2020, so almost none of the proposed cuts would have occurred until 2021 at the earliest — and most of the 2021 cuts involve simply shifting which agencies are responsible for certain tasks....

If not progressive prosecution or defunding, what caused the surge in homicides?  It will be years before we have a clear answer, but the two leading explanations are the chaos wrought by the Covid pandemic and some product of the protests that have taken place against police violence.  (Other factors surely mattered, too, such as an unprecedented uptick in gun purchases.) Both theories are valid, but in complicated ways....

It is nearly impossible to understate the chaos of the past year and a half: not just an epochal pandemic that has caused mass death and brought once-in-a-generation economic devastation in its wake, but the fearmongering rhetoric of Donald Trump, the unsettling and still-unresolved insurrection of January 6, and widespread protests of the sort that risk scaring and unnerving white voters.  These are conditions that would push much of the public in a more punitive direction even absent any change in crime rates; add in the unprecedented spike in homicides, and demands for severity will grow even stronger, politically speaking.

The signs of that growing severity are widespread.  Even though prisons and jails have been leading hot spots for spreading the coronavirus — not just to the poor communities of color overrepresented in the prisons’ populations, but also to the more rural and white working-class communities where correctional officers tend to live — state prison populations barely budged, and early declines in county jail populations have been mostly undone.  Democrats and Republicans, governors and legislators and mayors: Almost no one was willing to reduce prison or jail populations.  The pandemic provided compelling political cover for releasing large numbers of people from prison; that so few took advantage is telling evidence of a deeper reticence toward real change....

Reform efforts will inarguably face tougher opposition in the years ahead.  The social and economic upheavals of Covid, like the emotional shock of 9/11, would likely have been enough on their own to shift many people’s attitudes on crime policy in a more punitive direction; the homicide spike of 2020, and its continuing fallout through 2021, all but guarantee such a move — especially for issues like police funding.  Conservative state legislatures show increasing interest in limiting the cuts that can be made by bluer cities, where support for reform may remain high.  But all these transformations do not mean that the defenders of the status quo are guaranteed a victory.  They are using the current atmosphere of fear to push hard against reforms, but they are also facing more effective and motivated opposition than at any other time recently, and support for reform still seems high in the communities that are most directly affected.  Meanwhile, there is little to no evidence linking the rise in homicides to the reforms that have actually been implemented, many of the reforms being fought for are designed to reduce violence immediately, and many may do so both more effectively and at a lower social and human cost than the status quo.  The politics may be turning toward the status quo, but the data are not.

These excerpts only capture a small slice of Pfaff's interesting discussion in this new piece.  But I find problematic and discouraging that he fails to note the latest encouraging data from the Vera Institute concerning declines in US prison populations.  Pfaff states here that "state prison populations barely budged" during the COVID pandemic, but this Vera report finds that the US prison population dropped by over 240,000 persons (17%) from 2019 to spring 2021.  This is much more than "barely budging," though I know many advocates were hoping to see even broader decarceration efforts during the pandemic.  Still, Figure 5 of the Vera report shows that nearly every state experienced at least 10% decline in its prison population during the pandemic and many states saw declines of 25% or more. 

As I noted when the Vera data was released earlier this month, the national prison populations according to this data is now the lowest it has been in over 25 years and the lowest per capital  rate in more than three decades.  Pfaff is right to wonder and worry about how increases in violent crime might impact recent reductions in mass incarceration, but I fear he tends to too often see the criminal justice reform story through the lens of violent crimes when it has so many other notable dimensions.  I believe many states (and the federal system) did a reasonable job reducing the number of less serious offenders subject to incarceration.  If we can continue to do that and only use incarceration for the most serious, violent offenders (and also allow persons subject to long terms to get sentencing second looks) we might have reason to be optimistic that the US will soon no longer be the world's leader in locking its people in cages.

June 21, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Notable recent commentary on links between lead exposure and crime rates

Long-time readers may recall that I have long been intrigued by the (often under-discussed) social science research that suggests lead exposure levels may better account for variations in crime rates than just about any other single variable.  In an number of older posts (linked below), I have flagged some articles on this topic, and I have always been eager to note work by researcher Rick Nevin and others who have been eager to put a spotlight on the lead-exposure-crime-link evidence. 

This week, interestingly, I have seen not only some new work by Rick Nevin on this topic, but also by another notable empiricist.  Here are links to the new pieces:

From Jennifer Doleac via the Niskanen Center, "Research Roundup: Lead Exposure Causes Crime"

From Rick Nevin at Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, "Lead Exposure’s Link to Crime Should Shape Criminal Sentencing, Early Release"

From Rick Nevin at his website, "Why are prisons “getting Whiter”?"

I will close here by just quoting one paragraph from the start of the first of these pieces by Jennifer Doleac:

Below, I summarize the latest evidence on the effects of lead exposure on criminal behavior.  Given the tremendous cost of crime to society, investing more in lead remediation to protect children from the dangerous effects of this toxin would be an extremely cost-effective strategy to improve public safety, and one that deserves bipartisan support.

Some prior related posts from this blog:

June 16, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 14, 2021

Perhaps more guns explains why we have more gun homicides and more gun crimes

In this prior post on recent media coverage and political punditry focused on rising crime rates and their political implications, I noted my frustration that these discussions too often elide important data suggesting that it is primarily gun-related crimes that are on the rise while other crimes may still be on the decline.  Again this backdrop, I found notable this new Vox piece by two data scientists headlined "One possible cause of the 2020 murder increase: More guns."  Here are excerpts:

It’s true that police activity, as measured by stops and arrests, declined significantly in 2020.  Still, despite that drop, and weeks before Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests, police began finding firearms more often than in previous years.

This pattern does not support the idea that overwhelmed police forces weren’t able to take guns off the streets, leading to a surge in violence. Instead, the spike in firearms as a percentage of stops and arrests provides evidence that there were simply more guns on the streets throughout 2020 than in the past, which may have intensified other sources of violence and contributed to the historic rise in murders.  While there is no standardized, national open data on stops, information on police activity in 10 cities that we compiled points toward the same pattern....

The share of stops or arrests that resulted in a firearm being found increased in every city.  In Washington, DC, the share of all arrests that were weapons violations went from 5 percent in January to March 2020, to 7 percent in April and 9 percent in May.  The share of arrests for weapons possession went from 1 percent between January and March 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina, to 4 percent between April and December.  Almost every city followed the same pattern: a dramatic jump in the share of arrests or stops with a firearm in April and May, a decline in June, and a return to the earlier elevated levels for the remainder of the year.

The implication of this trend is that — assuming police did not suddenly become substantially better at identifying who has an illegal gun — firearm carrying increased at the beginning of the pandemic, well before the protests, and persisted at that level for the remainder of the year.  It is possible that in the midst of the pandemic, police started engaging in better-targeted stops that were more likely to yield arrests.  But finding other kinds of contraband, like drugs, did not become more frequent, only guns....

Police finding more firearms in stops and arrests does not fit with the idea that a decrease in proactive police activity targeting firearms was the major driver for 2020’s historic murder totals, though it certainly cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor....  The data all points to substantially more complex causes behind the rise in murder than the simple narrative of a change in policing as the sole or even main driver.  It is plausible, though, that the summer’s drops in stops and arrests, protests against police violence, and increases in gun violence are all symptoms of the same disease: what criminologists David Pyrooz, Justin Nix, and Scott Wolfe recently called a “legitimacy crisis in the criminal justice system,” the result of intensifying distrust in “the law and its gatekeepers” as a result of injustice....

The trend toward more firearms sales and more guns on the street seems to have continued into 2021.  Background checks accelerated even beyond last year’s peak in the first three months of this year.  And the latest data from these cities’ stops shows that police are finding as many guns as they did in the second half of 2020.

Early figures from many cities show murders have increased from last year’s baseline as well.  If the greater availability of firearms contributed to last year’s violence, the latest arrest data suggests it may contribute even more deaths to 2021’s murder total.

A few of many prior related posts:

June 14, 2021 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 31, 2021

Amidst more guns and many more gun crimes (especially murders), can sentencing reforms move forward as media predicts "bloody summer"?

Because violent crime is on the rise (and perhaps also because the COVID beat has grown stale), I am now seeing a whole lot of recent media coverage and political punditry focused on rising crime rates and their political implications.  At times, I am a bit frustrated that this discussion often elides important data suggesting that it is primarily gun-related crimes that are on the rise while other crimes may still be on the decline.  To its credit, the New York Times has this new gun/crime piece headlined "An Arms Race in America: Gun Buying Spiked During the Pandemic. It’s Still Up."

But given that most murders in the US are gun murders (about 75%) and that most serious assaults involve guns and that violent crime has much greater salience than other crime, it is understandable that so much media coverage is focused on rising crime and associated punditry is focused on how political leaders should respond. That all said, I was still struck by this series of headlines the last few days from the Washington Post:

To the extent the inside-the-Beltway crowd still gives extra attention to the Post, key members of the political class cannot miss the "bloody summer" theme that the Post now seems eager to reinforce over and over.  Relatedly, a number of other media and political pundits are contributing to a narrative that certain political responses are needed.  Here is a sampling:

Notably, as highlighted in this post, the US Department of Justice last week announced a new "effort to help protect our communities from the recent increase in major violent crimes."  But, in part because there is no simple "solution" to rising gun crimes, this DOJ announcement did not have any headline-making elements likely to lead the press or pundits to starting praising DOJ's new efforts.  Simply put, the politics of crime and punishment is so challenging because horrible crimes will always garner more headlines than careful punishment practices.

So, with all the on-going rising crime chatter, can any sentencing reforms move forward?   I know better than to make bold predictions, and it is often wise in politics to bet on inertia.  Moreover, the long and winding five-year legislative road to the FIRST STEP Act of 2018 is a reminder that even modest reform efforts can take a very long time to become reality even when the political winds are all blowing in the right direction.  So, the simple, obvious answer to the question in the title of this post is perhaps just "no."

But law professors do not make a living on simple, obvious answers, and so I have more to say.  To be precise, I am eager to encourage elected officials and other policymakers to convert justified concerns over rising gun crimes into sound structural and strategic reform efforts.  The Biden Administration is now overdue to make appointments to the US Sentencing Commission (see here and here), and we are more generally long overdue for a long-discussed national crime commission (see talk of a National Criminal Justice Commission in 2009 and in 2010 and in 2015).  Though certain substantive reforms always represent an uphill legislative battle (particularly in a politically divided Congress), improving our infrastructure and knowledge base for future reform should still be possible, and might even be viewed as a priority, when crime and punishment is ever in the headlines.  States similarly might use this moment to create sentencing commissions (or better support and fund those already in existence) at a time when there is so much uncertainty and debate over just the "facts on the ground."

In addition, if bigger reforms falter, energy and efforts could and should be invested in bolstering and improving past reforms: e.g., at the federal level, making sure the FIRST STEP Act is fully implemented; at the state level, making sure various recent reform efforts are being soundly implemented and effectively studied.  And, even with concerns about rising crime, a lot of back-end and low-level reforms could even get an extra pragmatic push because we will not have room to incarcerate more serious, more risky repeat offenders if we keep our prisons filled with less serious, less risky first-timers.  

For so many reasons, I hope we can have productive sentencing reform summer rather than a "bloody" one.  But, I have to admit, I am growing particularly pessimistic on these fronts.

A few prior related posts:

May 31, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

CCJ's commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice releases latest "Impact Report: COVID-19 and Crime"

6a00d83451574769e20263e9590f4e200bnoted here last summer that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) had launched an important, timely and impressive new commission titled the "National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice" and headed by two former US Attorneys General.  That commission has produce a number of important works (examples here and here and here), and it has produced a series of reports on recent crime trends under the heading "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."  The latest version of the full report, called a March 2021 update, is available at this link.  This webpage, titled "Impact Report: COVID-19 and Crime," provides this overview:

This report examines changes in crime rates in 34 American cities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with a special emphasis on homicide and other violent crimes. The current study updates previous studies by the authors with additional data through March 2021. The study was conducted by criminologist and Professor Emeritus Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez of the University of Missouri – St. Louis and Thomas Abt, Commission Director and Council on Criminal Justice Senior Fellow.

Methodology

This study examines monthly crime rates for ten violent, property, and drug offenses in 34 U.S. cities.  Not all cities reported monthly data for each crime.  The largest city in the sample is New York, with 8.42 million residents.  The smallest is Norfolk, Virginia, with 245,000 residents. The crime data were obtained from the online portals of city police departments. The data are subject to revision, and offense classifications varied somewhat across the cities.

Findings

  • During the first quarter of 2021, homicide rates declined from their peak in the summer of 2020, but remained above levels in the first quarter of prior years. The number of homicides rose by 24% compared to the first quarter of 2020 (an increase of 193 homicides) and by 49% compared to the first quarter of 2019 (an increase of 324 homicides).
  • Despite recent increases, the 2020 year-end homicide rate in the study sample was just over half what it was for those cities 25 years ago (11.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in those cities versus 19.4 per 100,000 in 1995).
  • Aggravated and gun assault rates were also higher in the first quarter of 2021 than in the same period of 2020.  Aggravated assault rates increased 7%, while gun assault rates went up by 22%.
  • Burglary, larceny, and drug offense rates were lower in the first quarter of 2021 than during the first quarter of 2020.  Residential burglary, non-residential burglary, larceny, and drug offense rates dropped by 16%, 7%, 16%, and 24% from the same period in 2020.  Motor vehicle theft rates were 28% higher in the first quarter of 2021 than the year before.
  • Domestic violence did not increase in the first quarter of 2021 over the first quarter of 2020. This result is based on just 11 of the 32 cities and should be viewed with caution.
  • In response to elevated rates of homicide, the authors conclude that urgent action is required.  As the pandemic subsides, pursuing crime-control strategies of proven effectiveness and enacting needed policing reforms will be essential to achieving prompt yet durable reductions in violent crime in our cities.

May 25, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

"Sentence Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new working paper authored by Elizabeth Berger and Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.  Here is the paper's abstract:

In response to increasing concerns about jail and prison overcrowding, many officials and legislatures across the U.S. have undertaken different efforts aimed at reducing the prison population, such as reduced sentence lengths and early release of prisoners.  Thus, there is currently a high degree of public interest regarding how these changes in policy might affect recidivism rates of released offenders.  When considering the research on the relationship between incarceration and recidivism, many studies compare custodial with non-custodial sentences on recidivism, while fewer examine the impact of varying incarceration lengths on recidivism.  This article provides a review of the research on the latter.

While some findings suggest that longer sentences may provide additional deterrent benefit in the aggregate, this effect is not always consistent or strong.  In addition, many of the studies had null effects, while none of the studies suggested a strong aggregate-level criminogenic effect.  Overall, the literature on the impact of incarceration on recidivism is admittedly limited by important methodological considerations, resulting in inconsistency of findings across studies.  In addition, it appears that deterrent effects of incarceration may vary slightly for different offenders.  Ultimately, the effect of incarceration length on recidivism appears too heterogenous to be able to draw universal conclusions.  We argue that a deepened understanding of the causal mechanisms at play is needed to reliably and accurately inform policy.

May 13, 2021 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 10, 2021

On fleek and spicy: "Millennials Commit Less Crime Than Prior Generations"

Though my effort to use millennial terminology in the title of this post is surely sus, I wanted to take a high-key approach to spilling the tea about some notable new crime research.  This UT press release has the headline that I quoted in the title of this post, but the published new research discussed in the press release is titled "How Cohorts Changed Crime Rates, 1980–2016."  This article is authored by William Spelman and appears in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology (2021). Here is its abstract:

Objective

Identify the effect of differences in criminal activity among birth cohorts on crime rates over time. Determine the extent to which cohort effects are responsible for nationwide crime reductions of the last thirty years.

Methods

Use a panel of state age-arrest data and frequently used economic, social, and criminal justice system covariates to estimate a proxy or characteristic function for current period effects.  Combine these results with national age-arrest data to estimate nationwide age, current period, and birth cohort effects on crime rates for 1980–2016.

Results

Criminal activity steadily declined between the 1916 and 1945 birth cohorts. It increased among Baby Boomers and Generation X, then dropped rapidly among Millennials, born after 1985. The pattern was similar for all index crimes. Period effects were mostly responsible for the late 1980s crack boom and the 1990s crime drop, but age and cohort effects were primarily responsible for crime rate reductions after 2000. In general, birth cohort and current period effects are about equally important in determining crime rates.

Conclusions vPolicies aimed at reducing delinquency among young children may be more effective in the long run than current policies aimed at incapacitation, deterrence, and opportunity reduction. 

May 10, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Detailing "perfect storm" of factors that may account for increase in violent crime

CNN has this lengthy new piece about the modern violent crime increase under the headline "The US saw significant crime rise across major cities in 2020. And it's not letting up." Here is how it gets started:

Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country, millions of people joined protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the economy collapsed under the weight of the pandemic — a crime surge that has continued into the first quarter of this year.

Sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category of violent crimes in 2020, which include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to a report produced by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Raleigh, North Carolina, did not report increases in any of the violent crime categories.

It's nearly impossible to attribute any year-to-year change in violent crime statistics to any single factor, and homicides and shootings are an intensely local phenomenon that can spike for dozens of reasons. But the increase in homicide rates across the country is both historic and far-reaching, as were the pandemic and social movements that touched every part of society last year.

"The people in our communities are not desensitized to violence," said Ray Kelly, the lead community liaison for the Consent Decree Monitoring Team and the director of the Citizens Policing Project and lifelong resident of West Baltimore . "Every incidence of violence potentially destroys families, and we cannot confuse people's perseverance and willingness to survive as tolerance or complacency."

Experts point to a "perfect storm" of factors -- economic collapse, social anxiety because of a pandemic, de-policing in major cities after protests that called for abolition of police departments, shifts in police resources from neighborhoods to downtown areas because of those protests, and the release of criminal defendants pretrial or before sentences were completed to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread in jails -- all may have contributed to the spike in homicides.

April 3, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 29, 2021

New empirical study finds "nonprosecution of a nonviolent misdemeanor offense leads to large reductions in the likelihood of a new criminal complaint"

This local press piece from Boston reports on new local empirical work that is likely to garner a lot of attention around the nation. The press article is titled "Study finds not prosecuting misdemeanors reduces defendants’ subsequent arrests," and it discusses at length the findings in this new Working Paper (also here) titled "Misdemeanor Prosecution" authored by Amanda Agan, Jennifer Doleac and Anna Harvey. Here is the abstract of the Working Paper:

Communities across the United States are reconsidering the public safety benefits of prosecuting nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. So far there has been little empirical evidence to inform policy in this area. In this paper we report the first estimates of the causal effects of misdemeanor prosecution on defendants' subsequent criminal justice involvement. We leverage the as-if random assignment of nonviolent misdemeanor cases to Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) who decide whether a case should move forward with prosecution in the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office in Massachusetts. These ADAs vary in the average leniency of their prosecution decisions. We find that, for the marginal defendant, nonprosecution of a nonviolent misdemeanor offense leads to large reductions in the likelihood of a new criminal complaint over the next two years. These local average treatment effects are largest for first-time defendants, suggesting that averting initial entry into the criminal justice system has the greatest benefits. We also present evidence that a recent policy change in Suffolk County imposing a presumption of nonprosecution for a set of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses had similar beneficial effects: the likelihood of future criminal justice involvement fell, with no apparent increase in local crime rates.

And here is part of the discussion from the press piece highlighting why this is research could prove so potent:

A study examining the effect of declining to prosecute lower-level nonviolent offenses — a signature policy adopted by Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins that has drawn both praise and scorn — suggests the approach leads to significantly less future involvement by those defendants in the criminal justice system.

The new study, which looked at cases handled by the Suffolk County DA’s office going back to 2004, found that those defendants not prosecuted for lower-level misdemeanor cases were 58 percent less likely to face a criminal complaint over the following two years than those who faced prosecution for similar charges. 

The analysis, which is the first of its kind to rigorously evaluate a policy being embraced by reform-minded prosecutors across the country, provides striking evidence that steering defendants, particularly first-time offenders, away from prosecution and a criminal record can reduce their chances of cycling back into the legal system.

The findings, being released on Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, are likely to bring heightened attention to the question of how best to deal with lower-level offenses, an issue that has become a controversial topic among law enforcement officials and advocates who say prosecution of these cases exacts an enormous toll on poor and minority communities without enhancing public safety....

“We think this is pretty compelling evidence of beneficial effects from not prosecuting,” said Anna Harvey, a professor of politics at New York University, who led the research along with Amanda Agan, an economist at Rutgers University, and Jennifer Doleac, an economist at Texas A & M University.  The higher rates of new criminal complaints among those who did face prosecution for lower-level charges, on the other hand, mean “we may in fact be undermining public safety by criminalizing relatively minor forms of misbehavior,” write Harvey and her colleagues....

Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Harvard Law School who has extensively studied the prosecution of misdemeanor offenses, said the study “gives empirical teeth to just how costly and counterproductive low-level misdemeanor arrests and court criminal convictions can be.”  Natapoff, author of the 2018 book Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal, said we have paid far too little attention to the harmful impact on individuals and communities of prosecuting misdemeanors, which account for 80 percent of all criminal cases in the US.  “These cases that we treat as chump change, in fact, are destroying lives, and destroying families, and undermining the economic wellbeing of communities thousands of times over every day,” Natapoff said in a recent video explainer on the reach of misdemeanor convictions.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a group formed in 2017 to work with reform-minded DAs, called the study an affirmation of the changing approach to prosecution underway in a number of major cities.  “We are seeing a new normal among elected prosecutors who, like DA Rollins, share a view that we have prosecuted too many individuals who can be better addressed by treatment or support through a public health lens,” she said.  “It’s incredibly significant to see research like this that proves the value of the new thinking and the paradigm shift that’s taking place.”

March 29, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Highlighting why those concerned about mass incarceration need to be concerned with murder spike

Adam Gelb has this notable new USA Today opinion piece under the headline "America's surge in violence: Why we must reduce violent crime for prison reform to work: We simply won’t shed our status as the planet’s leading incarcerator without reducing violence." Here are excerpts:

Amid the pandemic and protests last year, violent crime spiked. Homicides in 34 large cities rose 30%, a single-year jump that is unprecedented in modern American history.

In those cities alone, there were 1,268 more murders in 2020 than in 2019. On top of the tragic loss of life, the burst of violence represents a major setback for the movement to reduce incarceration and achieve racial justice.

There has been significant progress on these fronts: the overall rate of serious crime is less than half what it was in the early 1990s, and a wave of state and federal reforms has cut the level of punishment per crime, especially for minor offenses.

As a result, the number of people locked up at the end of 2020 had fallen to 1.8 million, a sizable dip from the 2.3 million held at the peak of U.S. incarceration in 2008. But a large chunk of that drop came from reductions in arrests and other COVID-related adjustments, which may prove temporary. Jail populations already are creeping back to prepandemic levels.

The upshot is that if we hope to further shrink the number of Americans behind bars and reduce racial disparities, we can’t rely on cutting punishment alone.  We must also curb the commission of crime in the first place, particularly the serious, violent crime that victimizes so many young Black men and lands them in prison....

A nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice task force outlined a plan for strategic federal assistance to the 40 cities hardest hit by homicide.  By one estimate, a $900-million targeted federal investment in those cities over eight years could cut murders in half, and save many times that much in social and taxpayer costs.  President Joe Biden endorsed this plan during his campaign.

Perhaps the 2020 homicide spike is a blip, a fleeting artifact of the toxic mix of pandemic stress, economic hardship and protest outrage.  Once the COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing mandates end, the face-to-face outreach that characterizes the most successful anti-violence programs can resume, and the bloodshed hopefully will ebb.

But even before last year’s startling rise in crime, too many Americans were becoming victims, and too many were facing long years behind bars. Until we change that, the death toll will mount and the pace of progress toward a more racially equitable justice system will be glacially slow.

March 9, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

More guns = more gun crimes in 2020?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new NPR article headlined "Did Record Gun Sales Cause A Spike In Gun Crime?  Researchers Say It's Complicated."  Here is an excerpt (with links from original):

"It's a real challenge to try and disentangle the role of any one single potential cause," says Julia Schleimer, with the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. "It's particularly challenging during the pandemic," with variables such as mass unemployment and closed schools.

Nevertheless, Schleimer and her colleagues are trying to parse out the effect of all those new guns. Their study of the initial boom in purchases — an estimated 2.1 million extra sales from March to May — concluded there was an association between short-term surges in sales and shootings.

But as the year progressed, Schleimer says that statistical relationship faded.  "We know that there's a strong link between more guns and more gun violence," she says, "but during this pandemic and in our analysis here, that link is less clear."  Setting aside the question of sales, though, there does seem to be evidence that guns were more present in daily life last year — especially during crimes.

"All of a sudden, the number of assaults with guns spiked a lot," says Rob Arthur, a data scientist and independent journalist. In a recent article for the Intercept, he pointed to an increase in the ratio of violent crimes that involved guns to those that didn't.  "That suggested to me that there was some kind of substitution going on," Arthur says. "People who were committing assaults had access to guns more in 2020 than they did before. And so they they were essentially getting upgraded to a worse crime, assaulting someone with a gun, whereas before they might have done it without a gun."

It may be a leap, though, to assume those shooters were part of last year's wave of gun buyers. Mandatory background checks bar felons and other disqualified people from buying guns in stores, and past research shows most guns used in crimes are not newly purchased.  But established patterns may not apply to 2020.  Guns were bought by a much broader cross-section of Americans last year, and the firearms industry estimates 40% were first-time buyers.

"Black gun ownership is way up, Asian gun ownership is way up, Hispanic gun ownership is way up," says Cam Edwards, the editor of BearingArms.com. "So we've seen a democratization...  where Americans who never before would have considered exercising that right have now embraced it."

For some, this "democratization" of gun sales is a matter of exercising a civil right. But it's also likely that the broadening of firearm ownership was driven by people who simply decided, during a turbulent year, that they needed a gun.  Whatever the reasons, it means 8 million new guns are now in the possession of people who potentially have less experience handling them.

March 3, 2021 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Valuable accountings of crime trends present and past

My morning surfing led me to two notable new pieces with oceans of interesting information about crime and all the debatbale accounts for why it has gone up and down in the United States. Here are links and short excerpts from lengthy pieces which both merit a full read:

"What Drove the Historically Large Murder Spike in 2020?  The pandemic, police violence, and more guns all contributed to an unprecedented rise in murders across the United States" by Rob Arthur and Jeff Asher at The Intercpt.  An excerpt:

Any explanation for the national spike in homicides in 2020 needs to account for why most U.S. cities saw an increase, and the available evidence suggests that we should avoid simplistic or local explanations to explain what was almost certainly a complex national phenomena. Murders were up at least 15 percent through September in cities of every population group, according to the FBI’s data, and the change in murders was larger in towns with under 10,000 people (up 31 percent) than in cities with over 1 million people (up 29 percent). Murders rose dramatically in big cities like New York and Chicago, but smaller cities like Lubbock, Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana, also recorded their highest murder counts in decades.

The available evidence suggests that we should avoid simplistic or local explanations to explain what was almost certainly a complex national phenomena.

Identifying the change in the murder rate is relatively easy compared to figuring out why the increase occurred. The data suggests that 2020’s murder increase can best be thought about as three separate rises.  A deeper dive into where and when murder increased shows a number of contributing factors: a challenge to police legitimacy and the strain of the pandemic, exacerbated by a sudden surge in the use of firearms in several cities.

"The Great American Mystery Story: Why Did Crime Decline?  To stop the COVID crime wave, we must understand why crime declines: 25 explanations for the Great American Crime Decline and what it means for today" by John Roman at Substack:

25 Reasons Why Crime Declined in America

So now, finally, we have arrived at the point where I can describe the most important theories about why crime declined.  This list is a little bit of a labor of love in that I have been curating it for twenty years.  I didn’t offer any judgments about the relative merits of the Zimring claim that changes in police practices explain the crime decline or the Levitt claim that it is the sheer number of police that matter.  In fact, I think both theories have substantial merit.

And so to do all of the other items on this list.  For each, I have provided a link to a paper that rigorously makes a compelling claim for the idea.  In fact, having a list of 25 explanations for the crime decline was completely arbitrary — I could have added at least a dozen more (and in fact my list here is more like 35 theories since I have grouped some similar ideas and snuck in a few extra).

So, without further ado, here is the list.  The first bunch of causal mechanisms for the crime decline has been explicitly linked by researchers to the crime decline and the link makes that connection.  The rest of the ideas on the list are mechanisms that mediate criminal behavior.  I am linking these mechanisms to the crime decline because changes in the extensive margin (how many people experience the proposed mechanism) are large and inclusive and changes and change at the same time as the crime decline.  I add a sentence for the mechanisms that aren’t obvious, but each is worthy of a book-length treatment.  Graduate students: all of these are testable hypotheses.  Have at it.

As an appetite whetter from this second piece, consider how the list of 25 explanations closes:

20.  Widespread use of medication (Ritalin, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, anti-depressant)

21.  In-home entertainment (internet, video games, pornography, cable)

22.  Under-reporting as crime moves online

23.  Less cash in circulation

24.  Obesity and disability

25.  Air conditioning.

February 21, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Notable new research on criminal justice impact of a safe consumption site

Policies and attitudes toward so-called "safe consumption sites" for drugs may serve as one of many interesting tests for whether the Biden Administration is prepared to take a whole new approach to the drug war.  If inclined to be more supportive of these sites, the Biden folks might want to make much of this notable new research recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.  Produced by multiple authors under the title "Impact of an unsanctioned safe consumption site on criminal activity, 2010–2019," here is the article's abstract:

Background

Health and social impacts of safe consumption sites (SCS) are well described in multiple countries.  One argument used by those opposed to SCS in the US is that findings from other countries are not relevant to the US context.  We examined whether an unsanctioned SCS operating in the US affected local crime rates.

Methods

Controlled interrupted time series (ITS) analysis of police incident reports for five years before and five years after SCS opening, comparing one intervention and two control areas in one city.

Results

Narcotic/drug incidents declined across the pre- and post-intervention periods in the intervention area and remained constant in both control areas, preventing an ITS analysis but suggesting no negative impact.  On average, incident reports relating to assault, burglary, larceny theft, and robbery in the post-intervention period steadily decreased at a similar rate within both the Intervention area and Control area 1.  However the change in rate of decline post-intervention was statistically significantly greater in the Intervention area compared to Control area 1 (difference in slope -0.007 SDs, 95 % CI: −0.013, −0.002; p = 0.01).  The Intervention area had a statistically significant decline in crime over the post-intervention period compared to Control area 2 (difference in slope −0.023 SDs, 95 % CI: −0.03, −0.01; p < 0.001).

Conclusions

Documented criminal activity decreased rather than increased in the area around an unsanctioned SCS located in the US in the five years following SCS opening.

February 6, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 01, 2021

CCJ's National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice releases latest "Impact Report: COVID-19 and Crime"

noted here some months ago that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) had launched an important, timely and impressive new commission titled the "National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice" and headed by two former US Attorneys General.  That commission has already helped produce a number of important works (examples here and here and here), and I see that it released yesterday this new report formally titled "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: 2020 Year-End Update."  This webpage, titled "Impact Report: COVID-19 and Crime," provides this overview:

This report examines changes in crime rates in 34 American cities during calendar year 2020, with a special emphasis on homicide and other violent crimes.  The current study updates previous studies by the authors with additional data through December 2020.  The study was conducted by criminologist and Professor Emeritus Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez of the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Thomas Abt, Commission Director and Council on Criminal Justice Senior Fellow.

Methodology

This study examines monthly crime rates for ten violent, property, and drug offenses in  34 U.S. cities. Not all cities reported monthly data for each crime.  The largest city in the sample is New York, with 8.42 million residents.  The smallest is Norfolk, Virginia, with 245,000 residents.  The crime data were obtained from the online portals of city police departments. The data are subject to revision, and offense classifications varied somewhat across the cities.

Findings

  • Homicides rose sharply in 2020, and rates of aggravated assaults and gun assaults increased as well.  Homicide rates were 30% higher than in 2019, an historic increase representing 1,268 more deaths in the sample of 34 cities than the year before.
  • The magnitude of this increase is deeply troubling, but absolute rates of homicide remain well below historical highs.  In 2020, the homicide rate was 11.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in sample cities; 25 years earlier, in 1995, the rate was 19.4 per 100,000 residents.
  • Aggravated assault and gun assault rates in 2020 were 6% and 8% higher, respectively, than in 2019.  Robbery rates declined by 9%.
  • Domestic violence increased significantly during the early months of the pandemic, but these results should be viewed with caution as year-end rates were comparable to year-end rates in 2019, and findings were based on data from just 12 cities.
  • Property and drug crime rates, with the exception of motor vehicle theft, fell significantly in 2020.  Residential burglary decreased by 24%, nonresidential burglary by 7%, larceny by 16%, and drug offenses by 30%.  Motor vehicle theft rose by 13%.
  • Homicides increased in nearly all of the 34 cities in the sample.  In the authors’ view, urgent action is necessary to address these rapidly rising rates.  Subduing the pandemic, increasing confidence in the police and the justice system, and implementing proven anti-violence strategies will be necessary to achieve a durable peace in the nation’s cities.

Fox News has this lengthy discussion of this report under the full headline "America's murder rate increase in 2020 has 'no modern precedent,' crime analyst group finds: New report analyzes crime rates amid coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest across U.S."  Notably, Salon has a different take on the data in this new piece fully headlined "Did 'defund the police' lead to an increase in murder? Almost certainly not: In fact, hardly any cities have 'defunded' cops—the troubling spike in homicide is probably pandemic-related."

As regular readers know, crime trends are challenging to understand and predict even during calm times, and 2020 was surely the antithesis of calm times.  I am inclined to guess that the multi-factors chaos of 2020 contributed in multiple ways to the big increase in violent crimes and the continued decrease in most property crimes.  (I would hypothesize that drug crimes actually increased in 2020, but detection and arrests decreased.)  I would also guess that we will see some regression to the mean in 2021 no matter what happens with the pandemic and policy efforts.

That all said, I continue to wonder how a nation that has now become somewhat acclimated to thousands of COVID deaths every day will react to reports of a few dozen more homicide deaths each week in 2020.  It might be especially interesting to see surveys of community perspectives on the perceived threats of, and possible responses to, COVID and violent crime in a wide array of American neighborhoods.  Stay safe everyone during these remarkable times.

UPDATE:  Paul Cassell has a detailed examination of the new CCJ report under a full headline that highlights its main themes: "Explaining the Great 2020 Homicide Spike: While a new report released today by the Council on Criminal Justice downplays the role anti-police protests played in last year's unprecedented homicide spike, a decline in pro-active policing following the protests remains the most likely cause."

February 1, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

"Race and Ethnicity of Violent Crime Offenders and Arrestees, 2018"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new statistical brief from DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics.  Here are portions of the first few paragraphs of the document:

In 2018, based on data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, black people were overrepresented among persons arrested for nonfatal violent crimes (33%) and for serious nonfatal violent crimes (36%) relative to their representation in the U.S. population (13%).  White people were underrepresented.  White people accounted for 60% of U.S. residents but 46% of all persons arrested for rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and other assault, and 39% of all arrestees for nonfatal violent crimes excluding other assault.  Hispanics, regardless of their race, were overrepresented among arrestees for nonfatal violent crimes excluding other assault (21%) relative to their representation in the U.S. population (18%).

These UCR data on incidents of nonfatal violent crime can be compared to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to determine how much offense and arrest diferences by race and ethnicity can be attributed to diferences in criminal involvement.  The NCVS collects information on victims’ perceptions of ofenders’ race, ethnicity, and other characteristics in incidents of violent crime.  This survey is administered to persons age 12 or older from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households. The 2018 NCVS data fle includes interviews from 151,055 households.

An examination of ofenders’ characteristics, as reported by victims in the NCVS, provides information on racial and ethnic disparities beyond an arrestee and population-based comparison.  Based on the 2018 NCVS and UCR, black people accounted for 29% of violent-crime offenders and 35% of violent-crime offenders in incidents reported to police, compared to 33% of all persons arrested for violent crimes.

At the same time, white offenders were underrepresented among persons arrested for nonfatal violent crimes (46%) relative to their representation among offenders identifed by victims in the NCVS (52%).  When limited to offenders in incidents reported to police, white people were found to be arrested proportionate to their criminal involvement (48%). Hispanic offenders were overrepresented among persons arrested for nonfatal violent crimes (18%) relative to their representation among violent offenders (14% of all violent offenders and 13% of violent offenders in incidents reported to police).  However, victims were unable to determine if the offender was Hispanic in 9% of single-offender incidents and 12% of multiple-offender incidents, which may have resulted in some underestimates of Hispanic offenders’ involvement in violent crime.

January 14, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 30, 2020

Reviewing again links between lead exposure and crime rates

Long-time readers may recall that I have always been intrigued by the (often overlooked) social science research that suggests lead exposure levels may better account for variations in crime rates than just about any other single variable.  In an number of older posts (linked below), I flagged some articles on this topic, and I have always been eager to note work by researcher Rick Nevin who has been talking up the lead-exposure-crime-link evidence for many years. 

Mr. Nevin sent me a note today to flag some of his recent work at this new website of his.  The first post from this new site, titled just "Consistency," concludes with this summary proposition:

[A] robust research literature shows a clear association between preschool lead exposure and crime at the individual, census tract, city, suburb, county, state, national and international levels.  The association occurs with a lag of about two decades, reflecting neurobehavioral damage in the first years of life that especially affects the peak age of offending in the late-teens and early-20s.

Without vouching for his data, I am happy and eager to note some additional recent posts by Mr. Nevin's (with a recommendation that everyone click through to see all his charts and cites):

Rick Nevin, "Has any other crime theory predicted crime trends with so much accuracy, over so many years, in so many nations?":

Burglary rates fell 50% or more from 2002-2018 in [Canada, Australia, Britain, and the USA].  Robbery rates in Britain and Australia peaked in 2001, but Canada and USA robbery rates peaked 10 years earlier, reflecting the earlier phase-out of leaded gasoline in Canada and the USA.  Australia’s robbery rate fell 62% from 2002-2018.  The Canadian robbery rate fell almost 50% from 1991-2018, including a 39% decline from 2002-2018.  The USA robbery rate fell 68% from 1991-2018, including a 41% decline from 2002-2018.  The police recorded robbery rate in Britain fell 57% from 2001-2014, but then increased from 2014-2018.  The U.K. Office for National Statistics believes that part of the trend since 2014 reflects a real increase in robberies, but notes that the 2014-2018 rise also reflects crime recording changes since 2014 that made “substantial contributions” to the 2014-2018 rise in recorded robberies. Except for the anomalous 2014-2018 robbery trend in Britain, the 2002-2018 burglary and robbery trends for Canada, Australia, Britain, and the USA have all tracked earlier preschool blood lead trends reported for each nation.

Rick Nevin, "“A black male baby born today … stands a” near-zero chance of going to prison":

The 2000-2019 change in male incarceration rates reflects ongoing trends in arrests by age. From 1994-2019, violent crime arrest rates fell 72% for ages 0-14, 73% for ages 15-17, and 65% for ages 18-20, but rose 21% for ages 50-54. From 1988-2019, property crime arrest rates fell 89% for ages 0-14, 83% for ages 15-17, and 74% for ages 18-20, but rose 11% for ages 50-54.

Falling juvenile and young adult arrest and incarceration rates and rising rates for older adults are all explained by birth year trends in lead exposure. The decline in juvenile arrest rates through 2019 compares juveniles born after the 1970-2000 decline in lead exposure versus juveniles in the late-1980s and early-1990s, born near the early-1970s peak in leaded gas emissions. The increase in arrest rates for ages 50-54 compares adults in 2019 born near the circa 1970 peak in lead exposure versus adults ages 50-54 in the late-1980s and early-1990s born before the 1945-1970 rise in leaded gas emissions.

Some older related posts from this blog:

November 30, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"Fake News, Real Policy: Combatting Fear And Misinformation In Criminal Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new R Street policy study authored by Emily Mooney and Casey Witte. Here is part of its introduction:

Currently, opportunities for and examples of misinformation and fear-mongering within the criminal justice system are bountiful.  The United States is facing a global health crisis and struggling to productively address long-standing issues of racial injustice.  In the first half of 2020, our nation continued to see property crime and most forms of violent crime decrease, while murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rates (although historically still low) rose by nearly 15 percent when compared to the first half of 2019, while aggravated assaults rose by about 5 percent. Although still one of the most crime-free times in our nation’s history, many have been quick to blame this increase on policy changes, such early prison releases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and civil unrest.9\ Yet, as experts have pointed out, the intersecting forces of a global pandemic, economic recession, racial unrest and nationwide protests mean it will take more time, data and intentional analysis to decipher the causal mechanisms of any current crime trends.

In both the past and present, it has been easy for criminal justice policy to be driven by fear and emotional policymaking rather than a sober assessment of the facts. This occurs for somewhat natural reasons, as the consequences of criminal justice policy failures can appear more immediate and visceral: the potential for the death of a loved one, lost property or abuse are far more tangible concepts than cybersecurity threats or green energy.  This is likely, at least in part, due to human memory — research shows experiences and events tied to strong emotions are more memorable than less dramatic or weighted incidents.  Further, policy success is often measured by recidivism — a zero-sum measure of an individual’s return to crime — rather than other metrics which show incremental progress.  On top of this, the media, more often than not, focuses on policy failures rather than policy successes.

Yet, fear-based and emotionally-driven policy debates and policymaking are a disservice to the American public.  Policymakers and the public may incorrectly deduce or be blind to the collateral consequences of their policies and are prone to letting biases impact their decision-making.  As a result, the same problems remain, which cost life, property and liberty in the process.

This paper seeks to address this trend by first examining the relationships between fear, misinformation and policy and then providing illustrative examples of modern criminal justice myths alongside the evidence stacked against them.  It will then conclude with a short list of policy solutions to combat misinformation and fear-mongering in criminal justice policy.

November 24, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

"What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this effective short FactTank report about US crime rates authored byJohn Gramlich for the Pew Research Center. I recommend the full piece, which includes lost of links, and here are some exerpts:

As Trump’s presidency draws to a close, here is a look at what we know — and don’t know — about crime in the U.S., based on a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the federal government and other sources...

Property crime in the U.S. is much more common than violent crime.  In 2019, the FBI reported a total of 2,109.9 property crimes per 100,000 people, compared with 379.4 violent crimes per 100,000 people.  By far the most common form of property crime in 2019 was larceny/theft, followed by burglary and motor vehicle theft. Among violent crimes, aggravated assault was the most common offense, followed by robbery, rape, and murder/non-negligent manslaughter....

Both the FBI and BJS data show dramatic declines in U.S. violent and property crime rates since the early 1990s, when crime spiked across much of the nation....

Americans tend to believe crime is up, even when the data shows it is down.  In 20 of 24 Gallup surveys conducted since 1993, at least 60% of U.S. adults have said there is more crime nationally than there was the year before, despite the generally downward trend in national violent and property crime rates during most of that period....  This year, the gap between the share of Americans who say crime is up nationally and the share who say it is up locally (78% vs. 38%) is the widest Gallup has ever recorded....

There are big differences in violent and property crime rates from state to state and city to city.  In 2019, there were more than 800 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Alaska and New Mexico, compared with fewer than 200 per 100,000 people in Maine and New Hampshire, according to the FBI.

Even in similarly sized cities within the same state, crime rates can vary widely. Oakland and Long Beach, California, had comparable populations in 2019 (434,036 vs. 467,974), but Oakland’s violent crime rate was more than double the rate in Long Beach. The FBI notes that various factors might influence an area’s crime rate, including its population density and economic conditions....

Most violent and property crimes in the U.S. are not reported to police, and most of the crimes that are reported are not solved.

Fewer than half of crimes in the U.S. are reported, and fewer than half of reported crimes are solved.  In its annual survey, BJS asks crime victims whether they reported their crime to police or not.  In 2019, only 40.9% of violent crimes and 32.5% of household property crimes were reported to authorities.  BJS notes that there are a variety of reasons why crime might not be reported, including fear of reprisal or “getting the offender in trouble,” a feeling that police “would not or could not do anything to help,” or a belief that the crime is “a personal issue or too trivial to report.”

Most of the crimes that are reported to police, meanwhile, are not solved, at least based on an FBI measure known as the clearance rate.  That’s the share of cases each year that are closed, or “cleared,” through the arrest, charging and referral of a suspect for prosecution, or due to “exceptional” circumstances such as the death of a suspect or a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution.  In 2019, police nationwide cleared 45.5% of violent crimes that were reported to them and 17.2% of the property crimes that came to their attention.

Both the percentage of crimes that are reported to police and the percentage that are solved have remained relatively stable for decades.... The most frequently solved violent crime tends to be homicide.  Police cleared around six-in-ten murders and non-negligent manslaughters (61.4%) last year.  The clearance rate was lower for aggravated assault (52.3%), rape (32.9%) and robbery (30.5%). When it comes to property crime, law enforcement agencies cleared 18.4% of larcenies/thefts, 14.1% of burglaries and 13.8% of motor vehicle thefts.

November 21, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

"The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new work from John Donohue and Steven Levitt published in the American Law and Economics Review.  Here is the abstract:

Donohue and Levitt (2001) presented evidence that the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s played an important role in the crime drop of the 1990s.  That paper concluded with a strong out-of-sample prediction regarding the next two decades: “When a steady state is reached roughly twenty years from now, the impact of abortion will be roughly twice as great as the impact felt so far.  Our results suggest that all else equal, legalized abortion will account for persistent declines of 1% a year in crime over the next two decades.” 

Estimating parallel specifications to the original paper, but using the seventeen years of data generated after that paper was written, we find strong support for the prediction and the broad hypothesis, while illuminating some previously unrecognized patterns of crime and arrests.  We estimate that overall crime fell 17.5% from 1998 to 2014 due to legalized abortion — a decline of 1% per year.  From 1991 to 2014, the violent and property crime rates each fell by 50%.  Legalized abortion is estimated to have reduced violent crime by 47% and property crime by 33% over this period, and thus can explain most of the observed crime decline.

November 18, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

"Neighborhood Risk Factors for Recidivism: For Whom Do They Matter?"

The title of this post is the title of this new article just posted to SSRN and authored by Leah Jacobs and Jennifer Skeem.  Here is its abstract:

Justice-involved people vary substantially in their risk of re-offending.  To date, recidivism prediction and prevention efforts have largely focused on individual-level factors like antisocial traits.  Although a growing body of research has examined the role of residential contexts in predicting re-offending, results have been equivocal.  One reason for mixed results may be that an individual’s susceptibility to contextual influence depends upon his or her accumulated risk of re-offending.

Based on a sample of 2,218 people on probation in San Francisco, California, this study draws on observational and secondary data to test the hypothesis that individual risk moderates the effect of neighborhood factors on recidivism. Results from survival analyses indicate that individual risk interacts with neighborhood concentrated disadvantage and disorder — these factors increase recidivism among people relatively low in individual risk, but not those at higher risk. This is consistent with the disadvantage saturation perspective, raising the possibility that some people classified as low risk might not recidivate but for placement in disadvantaged and disorderly neighborhoods.  Ultimately, residential contexts “matter” for lower risk people and may be useful to consider in efforts to prevent recidivism.

October 11, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 01, 2020

"Explaining the Past and Projecting Future Crime Rates"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report coming from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and authored by James Austin, Todd Clear and Richard Rosenfeld.  Here is the relatively short report's abstract:

To date criminologists have a poor record of anticipating future crime rates.  As a result, they are ill-equipped to inform policy makers about the impact of criminal justice reforms on future crime.  In this report, we assess the factors that explain changes in crime during the past three decades.  Our analysis shows that macro-level economic and demographic factors best explain trends in violent and property crime.  Together, those factors outweigh the impact of imprisonment rates on crime.  We also show that it is possible to lower imprisonment rates without causing an increase in crime.  Indeed, several states have done exactly that.  Finally, we present models for projecting future crime rates.  Based on these models, crime is projected to decrease over the next five years.  The next step should be to apply similar analyses to individual states and local jurisdictions to advise policy makers on the implications of their criminal justice reform strategies for public safety.

October 1, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

New FBI crime data for 2019 reports more encouraging crime declines

Distracted by other matters, I have only today had the opportunity to focus on the release of the FBI's mostly encouraging crime data for 2019 (big data chart here), which is summarized in this official FBI press release.  Here are excerpts from the release:

For the third consecutive year, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased when compared with the previous year’s statistics, according to FBI figures released today.  In 2019, violent crime was down 0.5% from the 2018 number.  Property crimes also dropped 4.1%, marking the 17th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

The 2019 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 366.7 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,109.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants.  The violent crime rate fell 1.0% when compared with the 2018 rate; the property crime rate declined 4.5%.

These and additional data are presented in the 2019 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States. This publication is a statistical compilation of offense, arrest, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

The UCR Program collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson....  The program also collects arrest data for the offenses listed above and 20 offenses that include all other crimes except traffic violations.

Of the 18,667 federal, state, county, city, university and college, and tribal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 16,554 agencies submitted data in 2019.  A high-level summary of the statistics submitted, as well as estimates for those agencies that did not report, follows:

  • In 2019, there were an estimated 1,203,808 violent crimes.  When compared with the estimates from 2018, the estimated number of robbery offenses fell 4.7% and the estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses decreased 2.7%.  The estimated number of aggravated assault offenses rose 1.3%, and the volume of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 0.3%.
  • Nationwide, there were an estimated 6,925,677 property crimes.  The estimated numbers for all three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates.  Burglaries dropped 9.5%, larceny-thefts decreased 2.8%, and motor vehicle thefts were down 4.0%.
  • Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $15.8 billion in 2019.
  • The FBI estimated law enforcement agencies nationwide made 10.1 million arrests (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2019.
  • The arrest rate for violent crime was 156.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, and the arrest rate for property crime was 343.3 per 100,000 inhabitants....
  • In 2019, 13,247 law enforcement agencies reported their staffing levels to the FBI. These agencies reported that, as of October 31, 2019, they collectively employed 697,195 sworn officers and 306,075 civilians — a rate of 3.5 employees per 1,000 inhabitants.

As I have said in many prior posts, I think we should all always celebrate any and all crime declines in the US; we also should always keep in mind that the rates and numbers of murders and other violent crimes in the US are still higher than what is typically reported in many European nations and so we ought not pat ourselves on the back too much.  And, of course, perhaps due to all the disruptions of 2020, there has been a considerable spike in murders and shootings this year.  And yet the FBI's  Preliminary Uniform Crime Report for January–June 2020 reported  overall declines in the total number of violent crimes and property crimes over the first six months 2020 compared to the first six months of 2019.

Of course, all these data can be spun in many ways.  In recent years, I have been ever eager to suggest that criminal justice reform advocates should be sure to highlight that we have been experiencing continued reductions in all sorts of crimes amidst  sentencing reform being implemented or considered across the nation.  And 2019 was the first year in which the federal FIRST STEP Act was fully in effect and led to a measurable reduction in the federal prison population.  Based on these data alone, I would never assert that the FIRST STEP Act directly helped to reduce crime in 2019; but these data should make it harder for opponents of sentencing reform to make any facile claim that such reforms always results in crime increases.

Interestingly, this DOJ press release about the FBI data includes quotes from the Deputy Attorney General taking some credit for recent crime declines:

“For the last three years the Department of Justice has worked tirelessly with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners to pursue those violent criminals, cartels, and gangs who seek to harm our communities,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen.  “We are steadfast in our commitment to protect the public safety of citizens and communities across the United States through violent crime initiatives like Project Safe Neighborhoods, Project Guardian and, most recently, Operation Legend.  Violent crime rates had been increasing during 2015-2016, so I am proud of the hard work by all prosecutors and law enforcement agents across the nation who have reduced violent crime rates during each of the last three years.  I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to protect the American public from the violence of criminals.”

Meanwhile, in this post over at Crime & Consequences, Kent Scheidegger seems to question whether the crime decline is just a reporting illusion: "This data set does not include crimes not reported to or otherwise known to the police.  As we have discussed on this blog previously, the change of many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors is likely to decrease reporting as the police are less likely to take any worthwhile action."

September 30, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Bureau of Justice Statistics reports encouraging crime declines in release of results of 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey

As reported in this press release and as fully detailed in this 53-page report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has just published the results from its annual survey of households about their experiences with crime. Notably, most other reports about crime rates are based on crimes reported to police, but this annual survey in different: "TheNCVS is the nation's largest crime survey and collects data on nonfatal crimes both reported and not reported to police." Here are some of the statistical highlights via the press release:

After rising from 1.1 million in 2015 to 1.4 million in 2018, the number of persons who were victims of violent crime excluding simple assault dropped to 1.2 million in 2019, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today. Statistics on crimes that have occurred in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, are being collected now and will be reported next year....

The rate of violent crime excluding simple assault declined 15% from 2018 to 2019, from 8.6 to 7.3 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.  Among females, the rate of violent victimization excluding simple assault fell 27% from 2018 to 2019, from 9.6 to 7.0 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older.  Violent crimes other than simple assault are those that are generally prosecuted as a felony.

From 2018 to 2019, the portion of U.S. residents age 12 or older who were victims of one or more violent crimes excluding simple assault fell from 0.50% to 0.44%, a 12% decrease.  There were 880,000 fewer victims of serious violent or property crimes (generally felonies) in 2019 than in 2018, a 19% drop. From 2018 to 2019, 29% fewer black persons and 22% fewer white persons were victims of serious crimes.  Victims of serious crimes are those who experienced a serious violent crime or whose household experienced a completed burglary or completed motor-vehicle theft.

This year, BJS provides new classifications of urban, suburban and rural areas, with the goal of presenting a more accurate picture of where criminal victimizations occur. Based on the NCVS’s new classifications, the rate of violent victimization in urban areas declined from 26.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2018 to 21.1 per 1,000 in 2019, a 20% decrease from 2018 to 2019.

Nationally, rape or sexual assault victimizations declined from 2.7 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2018 to 1.7 per 1,000 in 2019. Across all crime types, victimizations reflect the total number of times people or households were victimized by crime. Based on the 2019 survey, less than half (41%) of violent victimizations were reported to police. The percentage of violent victimizations reported to police was lower for white victims (37%) than for black (49%) or Hispanic victims (49%).

In 2019, there were 5.4 million total violent incidents involving victims age 12 or older. The portion of violent incidents involving black offenders (25%) was 2.3 times the portion involving black victims (11%), while the portion involving white offenders (50%) was 0.8 times the portion involving white victims (62%) and the portion involving Asian offenders (1.0%) was 0.4 times the portion involving Asian victims (2.3%).

The 2019 survey found that an estimated 12.8 million U.S. households experienced one or more property victimizations, which include burglaries, residential trespassing, motor-vehicle thefts and other thefts. The rate of property crime declined 6% from 2018 (108.2 victimizations per 1,000 households) to 2019 (101.4 per 1,000).

This decline in property crime was partly due to a 22% decrease in burglary from 2018 to 2019 (from 15.0 to 11.7 burglary victimizations per 1,000 households). Moreover, the rate of burglary victimization declined to the lowest level since the NCVS was redesigned in 1993.

In addition to being eager to celebrate this report of important crime declines in 2019, I am tempted to highlight that the FIRST STEP Act became law at the very tail end of 2018 and was in effect for all of 2019.  I do not want to seriously claim, based only on this data, that there is likely a cause-and-effect relationship between modest federal sentencing and prison reforms in December 2018 and national crime declines in 2019.  But I still think it quite notable given that some prominent critics of criminal justice reform loudly called part of the Act a "foolish ... jailbreak that would endanger communities" or regularly asserted that this "leniency legislation inevitably would lead to more crime."  As long-time students of crime and punishment know well, it is almost impossible to make simple and accurate predictions about what kinds of sentencing legislation will or will not end up having an impact (positive or negative) on crime.

September 14, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

New research details uptick in domestic violence calls to police in early COVID period

I noted a few weeks ago that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) — which is a favorite new organization in part because they asked me to take a close look at the 1994 Crime Bill's sentencing provisions and because they recently produced a great report urging criminal justice reforms — has launched an important and impressive new commission to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system (basic details here).  Today via that CCJ commission comes new research on domestic violence calls for service.  This six-page research brief, authored by Profs Emily Leslie and Riley Wilson,  is titled "Sheltering in Place and Domestic Violence: Evidence from Calls for Service during COVID-19," and here is its overview:

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has pushed people to spend more time at home, amidst increased uncertainty and soaring unemployment rates.  The best available evidence tells us that these conditions have the potential to increase domestic violence (Lindo et al., 2018; Card and Dahl, 2011).  News outlets around the world reported increased reports of domestic violence as the pandemic spread globally during Spring 2020.

We use data on calls for service to the police from 14 large American cities to compare domestic violence calls before and after the pandemic began in the United States, relative to trends during the same period in 2019.  The pandemic led to a 7.5% increase in calls for service during March, April, and May.  The biggest increase came during the first five weeks after widespread social distancing began, when domestic violence calls were up 9.7%.  State-mandated stay-at-home orders and school closures came later, suggesting the increase was not only a response to shelter-in-place policies.  The increase came across a broad range of demographic and socioeconomic groups, and includes households without a recent history of domestic violence calls.

August 18, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2020

"COVID and Crime: An Early Empirical Look"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by David Abrams and just posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

We collect data from over 25 large cities in the U.S. and document the short-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on crime.  There is a widespread immediate drop in both criminal incidents and arrests most heavily pronounced among drug crimes, theft, residential burglaries, and most violent crimes.  The decline appears to precede most stay-at-home orders, and arrests follow a similar pattern as reports.  We find no decline in homicides and shootings, and an increase in non-residential burglary and car theft in most cities, suggesting that criminal activity was displaced to locations with fewer people.  Pittsburgh, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Chicago each saw overall crime drops of over 35%.  There was also a drop in police stops and a rise in Black detainee share in Philadelphia, which may reflect the racial composition of essential workers. Evidence on police-initiated reports and geographic variation in crime change suggests that most of the observed changes are not due to reporting changes.

August 17, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

New poll highlights how quickly many have rising concerns about rising crime

Watching live television these days in central Ohio means seeing lots of campaign ads, and those now running most often are the Trump campaign's ads claiming crime will surge if Joe Biden were elected.  Seeing all these ads (and noticing that we no longer hear Prez Trump going after Biden for his support of the tough 1994 Crime Bill), I keep thinking the Trump campaign must have some internal polls indicating that crime and fear messages will play well with many voters across the political spectrum. 

Now, via this Hill piece headlined "Poll: Majority say they are concerned about rising crime in US cities," I see there is a public poll highlighting how many are really concerned about rising crime.  Here are excerpts:

A majority of Americans say they are concerned about rising crime in U.S. cities, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill on Monday. Seventy-seven percent of respondents say they are concerned that crime is rising in the nation’s cities, while 46 percent of respondents said they were concerned about rising crime in their own communities.

"At the same time they see an increase of violence and crime and are concerned that prosecutors are not prosecuting the crimes — they blame the protests and the high unemployment when asked what is responsible for the spike in violence," said Harvard CAPS/Harris polling director Mark Penn. "They also single out social media for being used to coordinate violence and in their view not doing much to curb it."

A New York Times analysis published earlier this month showed that overall crime down is done 5.3 percent in 25 large U.S. cities in relation to last year.  Violent crime was down 2 percent, according to the findings. However, murder in the same 25 cities is up 16.1 percent compared to 2019, according to the Times.  New York's homicide rate for the first half of 2020 is up 23 percent over 2019, according to the city's police department.

New York police reported 205 citywide shooting incidents in June 2020, compared to 89 in June 2019, marking a 130.3 percent increase.  Burglary in the city also increased, with 1,783 incidents reported in June 2020 compared to 817 in June 2019. In Chicago, homicides rose 39 percent between the last week of June and the first week of July of this year, according to the city's police department.

The development come as calls to defund police departments amid nationwide protests over racial injustice grow louder. The Trump administration, in turn, has touted a staunch "law and order" message.  President Trump announced last week that he would send federal law enforcement officers into Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M., as part of his crackdown on what he has called an unchecked surge of violence in Democratic-run cities....

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll online survey of 1,932 registered voters was conducted on July 21-23.  It is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and The Harris Poll.  The Hill will be working with Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll throughout 2020. Full poll results will be posted online later this week.

Notably, this prepared testimony of Attorney General William Barr for today's scheduled House Judiciary Committee hearing also makes such of rising crime and the need for "law and order."  This polling confirms my suspicion that we will be hearing a lot more on these topics in the next three months as a big election approaches. 

July 28, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 27, 2020

"Decarceration and Crime During COVID-19"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new online report from the ACLU.  Here is how the short report gets started:

COVID-19 presents an enormous risk to those in carceral facilities and their surrounding communities. Since the pandemic began, more than 50,000 people in prison have tested positive for the coronavirus, and over 600 have died. These infections and deaths were largely preventable, as we demonstrated in April by working with academic partners to build an epidemiological model that illustrated the deadly threat of COVID-19 in jails. In response to this crisis — and in many localities, only after substantial public pressure and threats of litigation — some governors, sheriffs, and judges made the decision to shift detention policies to prioritize protecting the lives of those who live and work in jails and prisons. Some states and localities reduced low-level arrests, or set bail to $0 for certain charges. Others released a small subset of incarcerated people who were nearing the end of their term or were most vulnerable to the disease — sometimes under court order.

While no jail system has gone far enough, county jails and state prison systems across the U.S. have taken differing levels of action, allowing for a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between decarceration and crime in the community. To explore this, the ACLU’s Analytics team looked for data on jail population and crime in locations with the largest jail and overall populations. We were able to find reported data on both from 29 localities. (Crime data more recent than May was not readily available during analysis.)

Nearly every county jail that we examined reduced their population, if only slightly, between the end of February and the end of April. Over this time period, we found that the reduction in jail population was functionally unrelated to crime trends in the following months. In fact, in nearly every city explored, fewer crimes occurred between March and May in 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, regardless of the magnitude of the difference in jail population.

We found no evidence of any spikes in crime in any of the 29 locations, even when comparing monthly trends over the past two years.  The release of incarcerated people from jails has saved lives both in jails and in the community, all while monthly crime trends were within or below average ranges in every city. 

July 27, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 20, 2020

"Crime Has Declined Overall During The Pandemic, But Shootings And Killings Are Up"

The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR piece, and here are excerpts:

Across the country, we've seen massive change brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, including a dramatic drop in the overall crime rate. David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania law and economics professor, has been keeping an eye on numbers across the country. The website he created details what's been happening with crime in more than 25 major cities during the COVID-19 crisis. "People have reacted to the pandemic in all sorts of ways in decreasing economic activity," Abrams says. "They stopped going to work, they stopped driving their car. They stopped walking around the city, and crime also stopped."

Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago all have witnessed a drop of more than 30%. Violent crimes such as aggravated assaults and robberies also fell substantially. That wasn't true of homicides and shootings though. In some cities, there's a troubling rise compared with last year.

Shauntavius Sims, 35, lives in a Chicago neighborhood that has been plagued by gun violence. That reality makes the news of an overall drop in the crime rate irrelevant. "Seem like it got worser to me. Just yesterday, I saw it behind my house," Sims says, as the sounds of firecrackers — not guns — filled the air. "Some boys just came and shot while me and my baby was in the back. Like every day, it's constantly on the news. Every day, it's something."

There has been a surge of homicides over recent violent weekends, and several children have been shooting victims. It's that type of tragic crime news in Chicago and other cities such as Houston, Cincinnati and Fresno, Calif., that's gotten the most attention.

Even though the numbers are tragic, Abrams says it's difficult to determine any trend in murder or other crimes over a short time span. He says for a more accurate statistical count it takes comparing what takes place from year to year over a longer period of time. "When you look at the homicide data and compare it to levels over the past five years," he says, "we didn't see any significant impact because of the pandemic."

Even so, University of Chicago professor Jens Ludwig, the head of the university's Crime Lab, says it's a big puzzle why shootings and murders haven't dropped while other crimes have. "Murders make up far less than 1% of the crimes in these cities," Ludwig says, "but murder is so damaging to families and communities, and I don't think we have a great understanding of why they haven't declined."...

There's more positive news when it comes to drug crimes. They plummeted by more than 60% compared with previous years, according to Abrams' website. Arizona State University criminologist Ojmarrh Mitchell says there are several reasons why. "First, drug crimes are measured by arrests, not citizen reports to police," Mitchell says. "During a pandemic, police aren't necessarily employing the pro-active police tactics and practices that typically result in discovering drugs."

The pandemic seems to be driving a lot of the reduction in crime, including home burglaries. But in commercial spaces, there's been a bump in burglaries, up by almost 30% on average across the cities examined.

Abrams says there was also a dramatic jump in car theft in Philadelphia, with increases as well in Denver, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. Baltimore was the only city that saw a substantial decline. "So if people are leaving cars on the street, they have no need to use them," he says. "They aren't checking on them as frequently. There's also just less foot traffic around and fewer people to observe. I think that makes for more attractive targets for would-be thieves."

Prior related posts:

July 20, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Highlighting the link between crime and criminal justice reform efforts

Charles Lane has this new Washington Post commentary that serves as a reminder of the reality that criminal justice reformers always need to keep an eye on crime trends.  The headline captures the pieces themes: "The declining violent crime rate has been a win for criminal justice reform. A reversal would be a loss."  Here are excerpts:

Since 1994, Americans have grown less hawkish on law enforcement: Support for “tough” measures — such as the death penalty or mandatory minimums — has fallen to levels not seen in almost 50 years, according to an innovative index of “punitive sentiment” first published in 2013 by political scientist Mark D. Ramirez of Arizona State University.

For several years, in fact, U.S. public opinion has been receptive to new approaches based less on policing and incarceration, and more on social services and rehabilitation.  In 2016, only 45 percent of Americans considered crime policy “not tough enough,” according to Gallup.  Public reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May simply accelerated the preexisting trend.

And why is the public less punitive? This brings us to the second lesson of recent history: Punitive sentiment tends to move in tandem with the actual level of crime.  Public support for harsh measures rose with violent crime rates in the 1970s and 1980s, then came down as the violent crime rate declined over the past quarter-century.

Ramirez identifies political leadership as a key variable: Punitive sentiment grew in the ’70s and ’80s as part of a broader racial backlash, including demonization of alleged black offenders, that white conservative politicians deliberately stoked.

Also, the public generally tends to believe the worst about crime, usually telling pollsters that it is growing even when official data show the opposite....

We may be experiencing a real-world test of these dynamics right now, in the sense that President Trump came to office railing against crime as if nothing had changed since the 1980s, when he took out newspaper ads decrying “roving bands of wild criminals” and calling for society to “unshackle” cops “from the constant chant of ‘police brutality.’ ”

Yet punitive sentiment kept on moving down during Trump’s presidency, along with the violent crime rate. (Ramirez’s 2013 article used opinion poll data collected between 1951 and 2006.  In an email, he supplied an update showing trends through 2019.) In backhanded acknowledgment of this, Trump leavens his calls for shooting rioters and jailing statue-topplers with boasting about his signature on the First Step Act, which reformed federal sentencing and modestly reduced incarceration.

An important point for reform is to deny Trump and other opponents any basis — either in rhetoric or in reality — for reigniting fear of crime.... It is also why the recent upsurge in shooting deaths in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and St. Louis is such an urgent issue, in human terms but also politically. Trump is already trying to exploit it.

The past two-plus decades of declining violent crime was one of the best things that ever happened for the cause of criminal justice reform. A reversal of that progress could be one of the worst.

July 14, 2020 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

"State Violence, Legitimacy, and the Path to True Public Safety"

The title of this post is the title of this new commentary authored by David Kennedy that was one of my very favorite reads this week.  The piece is mostly about police reform and is quite lengthy, but its worth the time (and even a re-read).  Among the many virtues of the piece is the reminder that if — I fear I should say when — we see a considerable spike in crime in the coming months, increased criminality may well primarily reflect decreased trust in law enforcement by the community, not decreased activity by law enforcement in the community.  (I recall making in this post a less-eloquent version of this important point five years ago as there was on-going debate about crime spikes after Ferguson.)   Here is an excerpt:

The protest movement represents core American values and deserves broad bipartisan support.  It is no threat to our efforts to prevent crime and violence; indeed, it represents an opportunity to make those efforts much more successful.  That is because it can support the emergence of a fundamentally better way to produce public safety.  The evidence from the scholarly literature suggests that the more legitimate the law and the police are in the eyes of America’s communities, the less we will actually have to use them.  And while “law and order” has traditionally been a platform for the political right, this goal — using the state’s coercive power no more than absolutely necessary — is one that conservatives should find easy to embrace. In a very real way, more legitimacy in the realm of policing means less government.

Legitimacy is a core element in democracy: the belief of the people in the institutions of government and their power to set rules and gain compliance.  When people think of the law and of policing, they think of the power of the courts, jail and prison, of the gun and the badge.  In fact, that power is trivial compared to voluntary compliance with the law. Most of the time, people do not need to be threatened by the state in order not to kill, rape, and rob.  Most people know that when the law says not to do terrible things, the law is right; when they are tempted, they believe that the law has the standing to say, Don’t.  Scholars like Tom Tyler point out that even criminals obey the law most of the time: They buy groceries, stop at red lights, and seldom kill the people they’re mad at.  Policing research shows very clearly that as legitimacy goes up, violence goes down, voluntary compliance with the law goes up, people call 911 when they need help, and the like.  When legitimacy goes down — as after incidents of police violence — research shows that Black communities withdraw from the police and violence goes up.  

Contrary to what many think “high crime” Black communities are deeply law-abiding.  Research shows that residents in the most troubled areas of those communities have a very high regard for the law, want their neighbors to obey the law, want to be safe, and even want to have good relationships with the police.  But they don’t trust the police, don’t think the police respect them, don’t think the police share their values, think the police are biased, and don’t trust the police to govern themselves.  

Scholars have long characterized this as “legal cynicism“: belief in the law, but not in its institutions, especially the police.  More recently, scholars like Monica Bell have gone beyond this to a profoundly more dire — and in my experience, more accurate — notion of “legal estrangement.”  Bell reminds us that more than 50 years ago, the Kerner Commission found that “police have come to symbolize White power, White racism, and White repression.”  Those beliefs are driven by hundreds of years of history and collective memory and experience, present treatment and mistreatment by police, and the vicarious experience of the endless series of police killings.  “Much literature has shown that, regardless of how trust is measured or conceived, African Americans, particularly those who are poor or who live in high-poverty or predominantly African American communities, tend to have less trust not only in the police, but also in other governmental institutions, in their neighbors, and even in their intimate partner relationships in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups in the United States,” Bell writes.  “Most discussions of African American distrust of the police only skirt the edges of a deeper well of estrangement between poor communities of color and the law — and, in turn, society.” 

This is not about every officer or all officers.  Policing is full of — and in my personal experience dominated by—good and frequently amazing people who do often extraordinary work under unimaginable circumstances. I have had former public defenders come into my organization, hating the police.  Yet as they get to know the officers we work with, they’ve taken me aside to say, “This is really weirding me out; I like them.”  That’s not the point. The point is not the tired argument about good officers and bad officers, or “bad apples” or the lack thereof.  It is that the institution of policing has been ungovernable.  Officers do terrible things, and nothing happens.  Departments make terrible choices — Let’s “protect” communities by swamping them with officers and stopping everybody who moves — and there’s no way to stop them.  Disrespect is rampant — in many cities, the single most frequent complaint is officers cursing the public — and nothing happens or changes.  The Supreme Court of the United States creates case law that makes it nearly impossible to hold officers accountable for killings and shootings.  Cities, pressured by the political clout of police unions, give away the powers that would let chiefs fire officers they know are toxic and make departments reinstate the officers they have managed to get rid of.  Police union heads sully the names of Black men killed by their members and get reelected.  No institution is perfect; doctors kill patients all the time.  But when a doctor kills through gross malpractice, the head of his hospital doesn’t throw a press conference to talk about how the dead man had a criminal record and really deserved it. 

Prior related post:

July 11, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 06, 2020

Puzzling though crime data, practically and politically, in the crazy year that is 2020

This new New York Times piece discusses the latest crime data as we head into the back half of 2020.  The piece's full headline captures its themes: "It’s Been ‘Such a Weird Year.’ That’s Also Reflected in Crime Statistics: In large cities across America, murders are up sharply, while other violent crimes have decreased."  Here are excerpts:

The national numbers for murder and other types of violent crime rarely move in opposite directions. But this is no ordinary year.

Overall crime is down 5.3 percent in 25 large American cities relative to the same period in 2019, with violent crime down 2 percent.

But murder in these 25 cities is up 16.1 percent in relation to last year. It’s not just a handful of cities driving this change, either. Property crime is down in 18 of the 25 sampled cities, and violent crime is down in 11 of them, but murder is up in 20 of the cities....

Homicides usually rise in the summer, which coincided this year with many people emerging from pandemic lockdown. In one recent weekend in Chicago, 14 people were killed and at least 106 people were shot, the most in eight years. And as The New York Times reported recently: “It has been nearly a quarter century since New York City experienced as much gun violence in the month of June as it has seen this year.” (On Sunday night, the city reportedly had nine killings in the previous 24 hours.)

An additional 17 cities provide year-to-date murder data. Murder is up 21.8 percent in all 36 cities with 2020 data through at least May, with 29 of those cities seeing an increase this year relative to last year.

How often do murder and other types of violent crime move in opposite directions? There have been only four years since 1960 (1993, 2000, 2002 and 2003) when murder increased but overall violent crime decreased nationally, and the increase in murder was small in each of those years. The average absolute difference between the national change in murder and violent crime since 1990 has been just 2.2 percent, so a big increase in murder nationally while violent crime falls is almost unheard-of.

But this year has been distinct in many ways, because of the pandemic and because of the protests and civil unrest after the death of George Floyd in police custody. Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University and host of the Reducing Crime podcast, has cautioned against comparing crime figures in one year with the previous year. This year’s upheaval may be even more reason to be cautious.

Identifying the trend in murder statistics is relatively easy. Understanding why it is happening and what can be done about it is much harder. Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and C.E.O. of the Center for Policing Equity, points to increased domestic violence as one possible cause of the increase in murder. “The first explanation that I have is that this comes from people being locked inside (during quarantines) and a lack of social services,” he said. “All those things are things that we would expect to lead to higher rates of violence. That’s speculation, though. I have no evidence that that’s the right thing other than the rise in calls for domestic violence.”

Mr. Ratcliffe agrees that increased domestic violence may be playing a role. He also hypothesizes that “Covid-19 could have reduced the market and opportunities for recreational drug use/dealing, which puts stress on the drug markets and increases violence.”

“If that is one of the causes, then we might see those tensions ease as lockdowns are relieved,” he said.

Jennifer Doleac, associate professor of economics and director of the Justice Tech Lab at Texas A&M, said: “People are worried about increasing domestic violence, and that could certainly lead to increases in homicide. Any kind of crime where most of it is between strangers or requires people being out and about would be down, and homicide is usually between people who know each other, so it might be affected differently.”

It’s plausible that the increase in murder this year might reflect a trend that began before the pandemic got underway. A review of the percent change in murder in 10 cities before coronavirus struck (generally defined as through February or March) and those cities’ most recent June update for the year so far shows a worse year-to-date percent change in eight of them, suggesting that the trend may have accelerated over the last few months....

Some research suggests that a loss of trust in law enforcement can cause citizens to be reluctant to contact the police, and people may be more likely to take justice into their own hands to resolve disputes.

It’s important to keep the rise in historical perspective. Murder in New York was up 25 percent compared with last year as of June 14, but that total was the same one the city had in 2015. Murder is up 22 percent in Chicago, but it’s down 6 percent from where it was at this time in 2017. Murder is up 42 percent in New Orleans, but a year ago murder was its lowest point there in almost half a century.

“These numbers do not tell a story that supports any ideological side of the debate around policing,” Mr. Goff said. “What it supports at most is a need for rigorous curiosity about a vital issue.” Ms. Doleac also says it is too early to draw any firm conclusions: “This is such a weird year in so many dimensions, and it’s going to take us a while to figure out what caused any of these differences in crime. It is perfectly reasonable to think the first half of this year may not tell us what the rest of the year will look like.”...

“The reality is that we just don’t know” what’s driving the change in murder, Mr. Goff said, “and it’s not a straightforward process to figure it out.”

Notably, Prez Trump already has released a campaign ad seeking to tie police reform efforts to increased crime. If homicide numbers keep going up and up in big cities like New York and Chicago, I would expect the Trump campaign to continue to try to stoke up fear of crime and continue to claim that he is the only "law and order" candidate.  That political playbook worked pretty well for Richard Nixon in 1968 and for George H.W. Bush in 1988, and the next few months will show if it can work for Donald Trump.

One final macabre observation: as I reflect on crime data circa July 2020, I am finding that the COVID pandemic skews my perspective on some of the numbers.  These crime data on New York City reports 176 murders in roughly the first six months of 2020 compared to 143 murders during the same period in 2019.  While that is a troubling 23% increase in NYC murders for the first half of the year, it is still well less than half of the 500+ daily deaths from COVID that NYC experienced in early April. Though there are lots of problems with comparing data on homicides and COVID deaths, I am finding that the grim COVID death data that we are all still processing make even elevated homicide numbers look not quite as frightening.  Of course, a global pandemic should not make us complacent about crime, but I am still struck by how the reality and reactions to crime is always going to be contextual and contingent.

Prior related posts:

July 6, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2020

"COVID-19 and Homicide: Final Report to Arnold Ventures"

The title of this post is the title of this very interesting new empirical paper that I can across yesterday. The 13-page work is authored by Thomas Abt, Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez.  Here is its summary:

Did crime rates decline in response to the actions taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic?  Several reports have suggested that they did, in the United States and other nations (e.g., Jacoby, Stucka, and Phillips 2020; Mohler, Bertozzi, Carter, et al. 2020; Police Executive Research Forum 2020; Semple and Ahmed 2020).  Some cautioned that crime was not falling at the same pace everywhere, however, and in some US cities it was rising (Dolmetsch, Pettersson, Yasiejko 2020). These accounts are typically based on small samples of cities and brief time periods.

By contrast, the current study, to our knowledge the largest to date, compares monthly homicide rates in 64 US cities during January through June of 2020 with the previous three-year average homicide rates during the same months. We focus on homicide because it is the most serious and reliably measured criminal offense.  We find that, compared with the previous three-year average, homicide rates decreased during April and May of 2020.  Not all cities experienced a homicide decline, however, and the decreases during April were roughly twice as large as those in May.  With few exceptions, we did not find sizable differences between the cities in which homicides dropped and those where they rose.  We conclude by discussing several reasons why homicide rates in US cities might increase over the next several months.

June 26, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 07, 2020

"The Effects of Parental and Sibling Incarceration: Evidence from Ohio"

The title of this post is the title of this lengthy empirical paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Samuel Norris, Matthew Pecenco and Jeffrey Weaver.  Here is its abstract:

Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member.  Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, parental incarceration has beneficial effects on children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and improving their adult socioeconomic status.  We can also reject large positive or negative effects of parental incarceration on academic performance and teen parenthood.  Sibling incarceration leads to similar reductions in criminal activity.

June 7, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

With reopenings, might coming months bring big crime spike (and will modest jail and prison releases be blamed)?

The question in the title of this post is my pessimistic first thought in response to this optimistic New York Times article headlined "A Pandemic Bright Spot: In Many Places, Less Crime." Here are excerpts from the lengthy piece:

The absence of people during the coronavirus pandemic has produced a rare payoff in Fargo and most American cities — a steep drop in major crimes.  “The dynamics of street crimes, of street encounters, of human behavior are changing because people are staying home,” said Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer turned criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University.

Crime, say those who study it and those who fight it day to day, requires three things — a perpetrator, a victim and an opportunity.  With tens of millions of Americans off the streets, would-be victims and opportunities for crimes have vanished, causing a drop in the number of perpetrators committing infractions.  The dip in crime is compounded by the fact that some police departments have been hampered by quarantines, or have made fewer arrests to limit interactions or to avoid filling the jails.

Arrests in Chicago, where the Cook County jail became one of the nation’s largest-known virus hot spots, were down more than 73 percent during roughly the initial month of the lockdown, said Deputy Chief Thomas Lemmer of the Chicago Police Department.

Crime did not entirely disappear, of course, and some of the worst offenders remained undeterred.  Homicides in numerous cities remained flat or even rose. Burglaries of commercial properties and auto thefts have often multiplied, as criminals exploited shuttered stores and unattended cars.

Young men, considered the most violent demographic, have adopted a certain swagger in many places, police officers and criminologists said. With fewer witnesses around and with the police less likely to stop them, they feel less vulnerable to being caught. The men also find it easier to track down rival drug lords or gang leaders, who are mostly sheltering at home like everyone else.

In Las Vegas, where police said crime fell more than 22 percent during the initial two months of the lockdown, the Strip area, with its crowded nightclubs and bars, had traditionally had its problems with crime. Since it was largely devoid of tourists for weeks, crime migrated to some residential streets....

History indicates that hard times often reduce crime.  Chicago showed a marked drop in murders in 1918, when America faced the devastating Spanish flu, according to records analyzed by Leigh Bienen, a law professor at Northwestern University. After 293 killings in the city in 1917, the number fell to 260 in 1918 before rising to 345 the following year. The flu might not have been the only factor, she said.  Yet other municipalities also reported a decrease.

Crime rates similarly fell during the Great Depression that started in 1929, as well as during the 2008-9 recession, said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “That runs contrary to common perception that as misery spreads, crime rates should go up,” Dr. Rosenfeld said. “When there are fewer potential victims on the streets, there will be few potential crimes, regardless of the increases of the level of economic distress or misery.”...

For the month ending on May 17, most major crimes in New York City were down 21 percent from the same period last year, according to department statistics, although murders were unchanged, burglaries were up, and car thefts jumped almost 68 percent.  There were no clear patterns across all cities, according to Christopher Herrmann, a professor of law and police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Murders this year were up 14 percent in Philadelphia and 85 percent in Nashville but fell 2 percent in Baltimore and 11 percent in Atlanta.  Nashville was a rare city with increased crime over all....

Besides crime, many police departments reported that they are dealing with a higher number of drug overdoses and suicidal callers.  Police officers in Kalamazoo, Mich., responded to one overdose in December, said David Boysen, assistant chief for public safety.  In April, there were 26, and two of those people died.

One drop in crime statistics may actually be worrisome: Some cities indicated a decrease in both domestic abuse and child abuse calls.  The police in those cities said they suspected that abuse was actually more prevalent, given that most people are stuck at home.  But with no teachers to spot bruises in the classroom, and nowhere for people to escape their abusers, such crimes were less visible, they said.

With the country gradually reopening, experts wonder whether crime will rebound to its previous levels, as perpetrators and victims interact again.  Large American cities last experienced a sustained slide in crime for some 13 years after 1992, said Wesley G. Skogan, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University who studies police programs, calling the reasons “one of the great mysteries of the end of the 20th century.”

Dr. Herrmann, of John Jay College, has a paper set to be published this fall detailing how crime fell near a Bronx subway station during its reconstruction.  It took about two weeks after the station reopened for the numbers to rebound to previous levels, he said, but the post-lockdown rise will likely be slower because people are still hesitant about going outside.

Still, police officers are bracing for what happens next. “I don’t know what the future holds,” said Chris Bailey, assistant chief at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. “It makes me a little nervous from the crime perspective.”

It is nice to hear that crime has mostly been down during the pandemic, and this reality is especially notable because pre-pandemic crime rates were already relatively low (historically speaking).  But, in addition to highlighting how mixed (and mysterious?) the latest crime numbers are, I wanted this post to flag the real possibility that a crime spike could be coming soon.

Around this time of year under normal circumstances, crime tends to spike because of warmer weather.  This Governing article, looking at lots of crime data from a few years ago, reports: "On average, monthly crime for seven major offense types increased nearly 10 percent between June and August from the rest of the year."  In 2020, the we will have the coming usual summer crime spike combining with more people emerging from lockdown combining with police forces and other crime-fighting infrastructure returning to more normal operations.  These realities lead me to worry about a big crime spike over the next three months, particularly if and when compared to the crime decline over the last three month.

A crime spike is inherently bad for everyone, particularly victims.  But a crime spike in summer 2020 may also create extra challenges for criminal justice reform advocates eager to see decarceration efforts continue to gain momentum.  As this recent post from Michael Rushford at Crime & Consequences highlights, opponents of criminal justice reforms will be quick to try to pin any and all uptick in crimes on any and all decarceration efforts.

Prior related posts:

May 26, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Another window on the mixed realities of US crime in our new COVID era

The Washington Post has this new article reporting on new research on pandemic-era crime realities.  The full headline provide a summary: "Amid pandemic, crime dropped in many U.S. cities, but not all: Houston and Denver saw big increases in violent crime, while San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City saw big decreases." Here are the particulars from the article:

With fewer people on the streets, and more in their homes, some big U.S. cities saw significant decreases in crime during the pandemic, according to statistics from 30 large and midsize cities and counties gathered by the Police Executive Research Forum.  Some saw spikes in violent crime and auto theft, however, and police said closed businesses were more frequently targeted for burglaries.

The Washington-based think tank compared crime statistics from March 16 to April 12, the outset of the coronavirus shutdown, with the same period in 2019.  Of the 30 jurisdictions, 18 saw decreases in violent crime — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — as the pandemic hit the United States, which included a 33 percent drop in San Francisco, a 25 percent drop in New York and a nearly 25 percent decline in Los Angeles.

Washington and Baltimore both saw an 8 percent decrease in violent crime. Prince George’s County, Md., the only suburban Washington jurisdiction in the study, experienced a 24 percent drop in violent crime in the month after the coronavirus crisis struck.  But 12 cities saw increases, which included a 21 percent jump in Denver and a nearly 12 percent increase in Houston. Austin and Nashville were among the cities that saw smaller rises in violent crime.

Homicide numbers were mixed — deaths increased in nine cities, decreased in nine cities, and 12 reported no change.  Slayings in Los Angeles dropped from 31 during that period in 2019 to 16 in 2020, but homicides in Nashville during that period rose from four to 14.  Homicides in Baltimore rose from 20 in those weeks last year to 23 this year. In Washington, they went down, from 11 to 10.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the research forum, said he and a number of police chiefs he had spoken to think “the pandemic has not dramatically altered traditional patterns of gang warfare, drug-related violence, and individuals using guns to settle personal disputes.  These serious, deeply entrenched problems continue to drive much of the violence in our communities.”...

As always with crime statistics, it is worth noting that these are only one month’s worth of numbers, and the number of crimes, particularly homicides, can randomly fluctuate and are best assessed over longer periods to detect true trends. But the first month of the pandemic created unprecedented changes in American society, and it will be interesting to see whether some of the dramatic crime shifts in that month continue during the stay-at-home period and beyond.

Property crimes, for example — burglary, larceny and auto theft — declined dramatically, with 25 of the 30 jurisdictions reporting drops in the March-April period this year. Baltimore saw a 43 percent decrease, Washington a 36 percent decrease and San Francisco a 46 percent decrease. Larcenies dropped in 28 of the 30 jurisdictions, the forum’s data show.

It figured residential burglaries would plummet, as more people were staying home during the day.  But Wexler said police chiefs report business burglaries are surging as thieves target shuttered establishments and fewer cleaning crews are working in office buildings at night.  He said commercial burglaries drove the overall burglary rate up nearly 44 percent in Seattle, 41 percent in Denver and 17.5 percent in New York. Total burglaries fell 23 percent in Washington and 36.5 percent in Baltimore.

Another side effect of the pandemic — people not driving their cars nearly as much — may have contributed to some spikes in auto theft. Auto thefts increased in 16 of the 30 jurisdictions, including a 59 percent rise in Austin and a nearly 26 percent rise in Salt Lake City. Auto thefts in Baltimore dropped nearly 35 percent, and the District saw a 2.5 percent drop.

Police have been less busy during the pandemic, the statistics show. Twenty-nine of the 30 jurisdictions reported declines in calls for service. Only Prince George’s County, with a 3.4 percent rise, showed an increase, and Chicago saw a 25 percent drop in calls. Washington and Baltimore saw approximately 20 percent fewer calls for service.

Arrests plummeted, too, as police joined the effort to incarcerate fewer people during the outbreak. Only 22 jurisdictions provided arrest data for the month, but 18 were down for Part I crime; for lesser Part II crimes, arrests were down in all reporting jurisdictions. Boston police arrested 66 percent fewer people for serious crimes, while authorities in Miami and Chicago arrested 61 percent fewer people and 53 percent fewer people, respectively. Washington saw 44 percent fewer Part I arrests, and Baltimore had 36.5 percent fewer Part I arrests.

Wexler said police officials wonder whether the drop in arrests, as well as a pullback on community policing because of social distancing, will eventually lead to more crime. Traffic enforcement has been scaled back dramatically, Wexler said. In New York City and the state of California, police have expressed frustration about repeat offenders being released back to their communities, where they could possibly swiftly reoffend.

Police are also on alert for increases in crimes related to the pandemic’s effect on unemployment, family financial troubles and domestic violence. “That doesn’t mean that the factory workers or retail clerks who lose their jobs today will become the burglars or bank robbers of tomorrow,” Wexler said. “But the desperation that comes with this level of economic hardship could impact domestic violence, child abuse and other types of crime.”

Prior related posts:

May 19, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Reviewing some more national and local accounts of (mostly declining) crime rates during a pandemic

In this post last week, I complained about a Bloomberg headline blaring that "Some Crimes Are Spiking in America’s Major Cities," even though the bulk of the data reviewed in the article detail that crime was down considerably in a number of cities.   Today I can flag this recent CBS News piece that reviews mostly positive crime news with a very positive heading "Miami goes seven weeks without a homicide for first time since 1957."  Here are excerpts:

From February 17 until April 12 of this year — a total of seven weeks and six days — Miami had no reported homicides, according to police. In 1957, the city went 9 weeks and 3 days without any reported homicides. In 1960, a period of 6 weeks and 5 days passed without a homicide.  According to the Miami police, other crimes have also decreased.  The department said the decrease has extended to domestic violence calls.  But Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina told The New York Times he is concerned incidents of domestic violence and child abuse may be underreported during the order. 

Crime is also down in Baltimore since Maryland issued its own stay-at-home order, CBS Baltimore reports. Although criminal incidents in the city still continue on a daily basis, assault, carjacking, robbery and shootings have all gone down since the order was implemented.  When compared to the same time last year, common assaults in Baltimore went down 34%, aggravated assaults went down 17%, and shootings dropped by 8%.

Los Angeles similarly reported that violent crime and property crimes are down compared to last year, according to CBS Los Angeles.  Within a 9.73% drop in violent crime overall, homicides in particular were down 21%.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Chicago. Despite a stay-at-home order in the city, robberies and shootings were up in the last week, according to CBS Chicago.  Police responded to 19 shootings Tuesday night, six of which were homicides.  That means shootings were up 42% from the same week last year, according to data analyzed by the station.  "We're fighting the pandemic, and we're fighting the epidemic," said Tony Raggs with the Alliance of Local Service Organizations.  "The epidemic being violence."

In Los Angeles, the drop in violent crime has been marred by an increase in domestic violence calls.  According to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, deputies responded to about 8% more domestic violence calls between mid-March and mid-April, when compared to last year.

A quick search of headlines via Google news produces similar crime tales, mostly positive but not entirely, from places other than big cities.  Here is a sampling:

From upstate Florida: "Coronavirus: Crime in Volusia, Flagler and St. Johns edges down during quarantine"

From central Kentucky: "Increase in violence in Louisville another deadly side effect of COVID-19"

From downstate Missouri: "Crime rates see slight dip during COVID-19 quarantine: Vehicles continue to be rifled for cash, valuables"

From upstate New York: "Shutdown leads to decrease in crime"

From central Rhode Island: "Violent crime in Providence down 53% during pandemic"

From eastern Texas: "Crime rates in Texarkana are steady due to COVID-19"

From central Wisconsin: "Crime Trends Change During COVID-19 Restrictions"

Prior related posts:

April 26, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

With data showing significant "overall decline in crime," headline still blares "Some Crimes Are Spiking"

800x-1Among the virtues of blogging for me is a deeper appreciation for the responsibilities and the challenges of effective journalism.  And these days especially, I am disinclined to attack the press.  But I just cannot help but saying "AARRGGHH" in this space while reporting on this notable new Bloomberg piece about crime in cities in the early COVID era. 

The piece details that, generally speaking, crime is down in major cities.  But you would not get that from the piece's headline, which now blares "Some Crimes Are Spiking in America’s Major Cities."  Aggravating headline aside, the piece is an interesting review of original data, and here are excerpts:

Amid empty streets and shuttered shops, crime rates in some of the biggest U.S. cities have dropped -- with a few exceptions. 

Car thefts and store robberies are spiking in some municipalities even as crime overall -- especially violent offenses -- dropped in 10 of the 20 most populated cities, more than halving in San Francisco alone. according to a Bloomberg News analysis of data from 10 major cities.

“It’s just a reflection of reduced opportunities for these kind of events,” said Daniel Nagin, a criminologist and professor of public policy at the H.J. Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “In the case of murders, these often occur in public places in bars and things like that. With those kinds of activities shut down there’s less social interaction.”

Car theft is one exception, at least in some places. In New York it’s surging, up 49% for the week ended April 12 as compared to the same period a year earlier. It's risen 53% over the past month and more than 63% year to date. Police have increased patrols in areas of the city where car thefts are common. Car theft was the only major crime to show an increase in Los Angeles, rising 11.3% for the 28 days ending April 11 from the previous period.

Burglaries are also on the rise in New York, up 26% year-to-date as compared to the same period in 2019. In the week ended April 12, they more than doubled in the southern half of Manhattan, where many stores are now unoccupied. Burglaries jumped almost 34% in Denver in March amid a growing number of break-ins at marijuana dispensaries. In Philadelphia, burglaries were down 6.7% overall, with residential break-ins falling 25% as more people stay home, but unoccupied businesses were hit hard, with commercial burglary rising 71%....

Each of the 10 major cities that provided data are showing a decline in rapes and sexual assaults, with San Francisco posting the biggest drop -- more than 50% -- as compared to the same period a year earlier. Kubrin said, however, that these numbers aren't a reliable indicator because the crime is notoriously under-reported, in part because of reluctance by victims to go to the police.

For the most part, murders are on the decline, and in cities showing a rise the numbers are low to begin with. A 25% increase in Austin, for example, is the result of one additional homicide, with the number rising from four to five.... Most cities are showing a decline in assaults, following the trend in other violent-crimes categories.

Prior related posts:

April 19, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 05, 2020

What can and should we really learn from crime data in the midst of a pandemic and lockdowns?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by two new articles spotlighting declines in crime amidst our crazy times: from The Hill, "Crime rates drop across the nation amid coronavirus"; from USA Today, "Crime rates plummet amid the coronavirus pandemic, but not everyone is safer in their home."  Here are some excerpts from this second piece:

Crime rates plunged in cities and counties across the U.S. over the second half of March as the coronavirus pandemic drove millions of residents to stay inside their homes.  Police logged dramatically fewer calls for service, crime incidents and arrests in the last two weeks of March than each of the previous six weeks, a USA TODAY analysis of crime data published by 53 law enforcement agencies in two dozen states found.  The analysis is among the largest studies measuring the impact of the coronavirus on crime and policing.

Massive drops in traffic and person stops — as much as 92% in some jurisdictions — helped drive sharp declines in drug offenses and DUIs.  Thefts and residential burglaries decreased with fewer stores open and homes unoccupied, and some agencies logged fewer assaults and robberies. Bookings into each of nearly two dozen county jails monitored by the news organization fell by at least a quarter since February.

At the same time, calls for domestic disturbances and violence surged by between 10% and 30% among many police agencies that contributed data. Several also saw upticks in public nuisance complaints such as loud noise from parties.  The Baltimore Police Department, for example, received 362 loud music complaints in the last two weeks of March, nearly matching its total for all of February.

The trends reflect both a purposeful reduction in police activity and officer-initiated stops and the impact of stay-at-home orders that have closed huge swaths of Main Street and pushed people into their homes and out of traditional crime hotspots, such as bars, clubs and social events....

The study compared weekly totals between Feb. 2 and March 28.  Reporters analyzed daily calls for service and incident data published by 30 local police and sheriff’s agencies that range from those covering big cities like Dallas to small communities like St. John, Indiana.  Analysis of arrests drew from inmate logs at nearly two dozen county jails in six states, which local USA TODAY Network newspapers already track daily.

Many police departments say they are intentionally arresting fewer people to avoid the potential spread of coronavirus in jails.  Police in Delray Beach, Florida, are reducing proactive policing, such as drug busts.  In nearby Gainesville, Florida, officers are increasingly issuing summons instead of making arrests for minor offenses, Police chief inspector Jorge Campos said. “It’s not that we’re not enforcing (the law),” Campos said.  “It’s that we’re finding alternative ways of dealing with the issue rather than make physical arrests.”...

In the counties reviewed by USA TODAY, the average week included about 300 DUI bookings.  Now, it’s at about 100.  Senior citizens arrests are about a sixth of what they were in February.  Several police departments also recorded significant drops in drug, narcotics and alcohol crimes — some of the most common ways people land in jail in America, according to FBI data.  Such incidents over the second half of March fell 76% in Denver; 87% in Providence, Rhode Island; and 45% in Seattle, the epicenter of the nation’s first major coronavirus outbreak, data shows.

Drug charges often result from traffic stops....  But such stops have ground to a near halt in some regions across the country in the last two weeks.  In Cincinnati, police logged an average of 384 traffic stops per week before mid-March but 39 per day after — a 90% drop.  In Santa Monica, California, traffic stops fell from 182 a week to 14.  They fell 79% in Baltimore and 46% in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

In many regions, the traffic-stop declines dovetailed with fewer DUI incidents, which likely tanked after bars closed, Seattle police spokesman Patrick Michaud said.  Police in Virginia Beach, Montgomery County and Seattle each recorded fewer than half as many DUIs in the second half of March compared to previous weeks on average.  “There are just less crimes of opportunity when the opportunity all but disappears because everyone is spending time indoors,” said Michaud, adding that residential burglaries also have decreased in Seattle in recent weeks.

This article highlights how changes in citizen behavior (driven in part by shutdowns) are part of this new crime data story, but it also reveals how changes in police behavior also account for new criminal justice realities. I am hopeful (but not really optimistic) that the positive aspects of changes in both citizen and police behavior might persist after the pandemic passes.

Prior related post:

April 5, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Rounding up some tales of crime amidst COVID lockdowns

I have seen a number of recent headlines discussing crime realities as we complete another week of shuttered cities battling the coronavirus.  Here is a sampling from major news sources:

From the Associated Press, "Coronavirus-related crimes are on the rise"

From the Chicago Tribune, "Chicago joins New York, Los Angeles with drops in crime as coronavirus and shelter order take hold"

From the Los Angeles Times, "Coronavirus restrictions caused crime to fall sharply, LAPD and sheriff report"

From The Marshall Project, "As Coronavirus Surges, Crime Declines in Some Cities"

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Despite concerns of lawlessness, Philadelphia crime drops in first week of social distancing"

From the Wall Street Journal, "Coronavirus Pandemic Changes Policing, Including Fewer Arrests: As crime falls, police focus on keeping social order, enforcing social distancing"

From the Washington Post, "New York City’s crime rate plummets amid coronavirus shutdown"

March 28, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Does Bail Reform Increase Crime? An Empirical Assessment of the Public Safety Implications of Bail Reform in Cook County, Illinois"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Paul Cassell and Richard Fowles now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Recently bail reform issues have been in the news across the country, as concerns about fair treatment of defendants and possible public safety risks from expanding pretrial release have collided.  These issues involve important empirical questions, including whether releasing more defendants before trial leads to additional crimes.  An opportunity to investigate this public safety issue has developed in Chicago, our nation’s second largest city.  There, the Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts adopted new bail reform measures in September 2017 and reviewed them empirically in May 2019.  Cook County’s Bail Reform Study concluded that the new procedures had released many more defendants before trial without any concomitant increase in crime.

This article disputes the Study’s conclusions.  This article explains that, contrary to the Study’s assertions, the new changes to pretrial release procedures appear to have led to a substantial increase in crimes committed by pretrial releasees in Cook County. Properly measured and estimated, after more generous release procedures were put in place, the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45%. And, more concerning, the number of pretrial releasees charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33%.  In addition, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Study’s data appears to undercount the number of releasees charged with new violent crimes; and a substantial number of aggravated domestic violence prosecutions prosecutors dropped after the changes, presumably because batterers were able to more frequently obtain release and intimidate their victims into not pursuing charges.  These public safety concerns call into question whether the bail “reform” measures implemented in Cook County were cost-beneficial.  And because Cook County’s procedures are state-of-the-art and track those being implemented in many parts of the country, Cook County’s experience suggests that other jurisdictions may similarly be suffering increases in crime due to bail reform.

February 27, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Preliminary FBI reports indicate considerable drops in murder and other violent crimes as well as in property crimes in first half of 2019

As summarized effectively in this Crime Report piece, headlined "Violent, Property Crime Reports Fell In 2019’s First Half," the the FBI has just reported some very encouraging crime data.  Here are the basic details:

All categories of violent crime offenses decreased between the first half of 2018 and the first half of 2019, for an overall decrease in violence of 3.1 percent, the report says.  This includes murder, down 3.9 percent, robbery, down 7.4 percent, rape, down 7.3 percent and aggravated assault, down .3 percent.

Property crime also declined during the same period, including burglary, 11.1 percent lower, motor vehicle theft, 6.7 per cent lower and larceny theft, 4.2 percent lower.

It was the third consecutive year of reported crime declines in the first half of the year.  In 2016, all violent crime categories increased compared with the first half of 2015.

The FBI called the data preliminary. Its final report for 2019 is not expected until September.  In that month, the bureau also plans to issue a preliminary report for the first half of 2020.

Federal sentencing fans know that the first half of 2019 was also the first months in which the federal FIRST STEP Act was applicable.  Though I would not be inclined to assert that enacted of that Act somehow contributed to the crime drop, I am inclined to celebrate the fact that opponents of the FIRST STEP Act cannot use early 2019 crime data to contend that the Act somehow made the nation less safe.

I also find intriguing the regional FBI data that shows that all regions except the South experienced bigger crime declines than the national average. My sense is that, in rough terms, fewer Southern states have embraced various criminal justice reforms (including marijuana reform) than states in other regions. Again, these data in no way prove that various criminal justice reforms (including marijuana reform) makes us more safe, but it does seem to help undercut any claims that these reforms make us less safe.

January 23, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 10, 2020

"The Trouble with Crime Statistics: It’s surprisingly hard to say what makes crime go up or down"

The title of this post is the title of this extended New Yorker piece authored by Matthew Hutson. I recommend the full piece, and here is an excerpt:

Given the high stakes of the question, it’s tempting to take sides: either legalizing pot leads to more crime or it doesn’t.  And yet the truth may be unknowable.  “We do not have a good mechanism in place for tracking why a person commits crime,” Timothy Tannenbaum, a sheriff’s lieutenant in Washington County, Oregon, told me.  “I’m not sure most of the data you seek is available.”  In an e-mail, the spokesman for Sheriff Joseph McDonald, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, cautioned that “it’s often hard to identify marijuana as either the cause or the deterrent for criminal conduct.” I brought all these responses to David Weisburd, a criminologist at George Mason University. “The sheriffs raise an important question,” Weisburd said.  In his view, marijuana’s effects on crime are likely to remain hazy; in fact, the effect of pretty much anything on crime is rarely crystal clear.

Certainly, we know a few things about what causes and prevents crime.  The “Handbook of Crime Correlates,” from 2009, a reference book compiled by three criminologists, lists more than a hundred demographic, economic, relational, institutional, cognitive, and biological risk factors; in aggregate, they suggest that young men in hard times find trouble.  A 2015 report from the Brennan Center for Justice identifies a dozen plausible explanations for the major decline in crime that unfolded across America from 1990 to 2010 — among them, more police officers, a decline in alcohol consumption, a stronger economy, and the adoption of CompStat, a statistics-based approach to managing police departments, pioneered by the N.Y.P.D.  But each of these factors can explain only a few per cent of the broader change.  After analyzing a hundred and sixty-nine criminology studies published from 1968 to 2005, Weisburd found that, on average, each study — despite combining many variables — could explain only a third of a given change in crime.  A 2018 report in the Annual Review of Criminology concluded that the findings in one out of ten crime studies couldn’t be replicated, and that another fifteen per cent were only partially replicable.

“The world is complicated,” Weisburd said.  Many people are sure that they know how to reduce crime.  They urge the adoption or repeal of laws based on that conviction.  But crime and crime statistics are more mysterious than they seem.

January 10, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Encouraging new data on reduced arrests for low-level offenses (while national crime rates continue to decline)

This new Wall Street Journal article gets my week off to an encouraging start.  The full headline of the piece sets for the essentials: "Arrests for Low-Level Crimes Are Plummeting, and the Experts Are Flummoxed: Data collected from U.S. cities revealed declines in driving and alcohol-related violations, disorderly conduct, loitering and prostitution." Here are excerpts:

Major police departments around the country are arresting fewer people for minor crimes, according to a growing body of criminal justice data. New statistical studies show a deep, yearslong decline in misdemeanor cases across New York and California and in cities throughout other regions, with arrests of young black men falling dramatically.

New York City’s misdemeanor arrest totals have fallen by half since peaking in 2010, with rates of black arrests sinking to their lowest point since 1990. The arrest rate for black men in St. Louis fell by 80% from 2005 to 2017, a period that saw steep declines in simple assault and drug-related offenses. In Durham, N.C., arrest rates for blacks fell by nearly 50% between 2006 and 2016.  While racial disparities in enforcement persist, researchers say they are surprised by the downward misdemeanor trend, which pushes against ingrained assumptions about overpolicing in urban areas.

At the moment, experts can only speculate about what’s behind the decline.  It is expected to be the subject of more study that could yield better understanding in the future. Some say the falling arrest rates signal a fundamental shift in crime prevention. The shrinking misdemeanor system, they say, is evidence that police departments are pulling back on sweeping quality-of-life enforcement and focusing instead on “hot spots,” neighborhood strips and streets with clusters of gun violence and gang activity.

The decline, some experts say, could also be driven by technologies like the internet and mobile phones that help to keep social interaction off the streets and inside homes. The growing decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has also contributed, they say.  “The enforcement powers of the police are being used far less often,” said Jeremy Travis, a former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. It is a “very deep reset of the fundamental relationship between police and public.”

Millions of Americans are swept into the misdemeanor system every year, but only recently have scholars sought to dig into the numbers of low-level crime. Criminal data and research have focused on violent felonies like rape and murder and more serious drug-dealing offenses, while statistics on misdemeanors have been notoriously inconsistent and spotty.

Historically, few jurisdictions made it possible to track how many people were arrested for crimes like turnstile jumping, disorderly conduct, marijuana possession, shoplifting, trespassing, drunken-driving and fist fight assaults.  Federal investigations into policing practices in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, and scrutiny of aggressive policing tactics like “stop-and-frisk,” helped to raise the visibility of misdemeanor justice and its impact on poor minority communities.  Most defendants charged with petty offenses serve little or no time behind bars but pay court fines and fees or get their cases conditionally dismissed.

Researchers saw misdemeanors as another unchecked, racially unbalanced police power creating barriers to housing, employment and education.  With millions of dollars in grants, a network of scholars led by John Jay collected data from several cities and released reports over the past year.  Other studies revealed similar patterns.  A December report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that misdemeanor rates in California declined by close to 60% between 1989 and 2016.  Los Angeles police made 112,570 misdemeanor arrests in 2008 and 60,063 by 2017, largely driven by declines in driving and alcohol-related offenses, according to John Jay’s research network.

A forthcoming paper by law professors at George Mason University and the University of Georgia also found sizable arrest declines in rural Virginia, San Antonio and other jurisdictions.  Other indications include shrinking caseloads reported by the National Center for State Courts and arrest tallies by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showing steady declines in disorderly conduct, drunkenness, prostitution and loitering violations....

Compared with the felony system, misdemeanor enforcement is much less sensitive to actual crime rates and more influenced by changing political and cultural winds, says Alexandra Natapoff, a University of California-Irvine law professor.

In addition to the great news that we are finally gathering better data on misdemeanor systems, it is even greater news that we are using it less. In this post some months ago, I spotlighted LawProf Alexandra Natapoff's terrific book highlighting how much harm and punishment can come with the misdemeanor process.  And, though not mentioned in the WSJ article, I think it critical to note that the reduction in low-level arrests has come at the same time as a great reduction in violent and property crimes over the last decade (details here on latest FBI crime data).  I think we all ought to hope and aspire for a world with less crime and less punishment, and that seems to be what we are starting to achieve in recent years.

October 6, 2019 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

"Association of Prior Convictions for Driving Under the Influence With Risk of Subsequent Arrest for Violent Crimes Among Handgun Purchasers"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research authored by multiple researchers appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine.  Here is its abstract:

Importance  Alcohol use is a risk factor for firearm-related violence, and firearm owners are more likely than others to report risky drinking behaviors.

Objective  To study the association between prior convictions for driving under the influence (DUI) and risk of subsequent arrest for violent crimes among handgun purchasers.

Design  In this retrospective, longitudinal cohort study, 79 678 individuals were followed up from their first handgun purchase in 2001 through 2013. The study cohort included all legally authorized handgun purchasers in California aged 21 to 49 years at the time of purchase in 2001. Individuals were identified using the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS) database, which retains information on all legal handgun transfers in the state.

Exposures  The primary exposure was DUI conviction prior to the first handgun purchase in 2001, as recorded in the CA DOJ Criminal History Information System.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Prespecified outcomes included arrests for violent crimes listed in the Crime Index published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), firearm-related violent crimes, and any violent crimes.

Results  Of the study population (N = 79 678), 91.0% were males and 68.9% were white individuals; the median age was 34 (range, 21-49) years. The analytic sample for multivariable models included 78 878 purchasers after exclusions.  Compared with purchasers who had no prior criminal history, those with prior DUI convictions and no other criminal history were at increased risk of arrest for a Crime Index–listed violent crime (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR], 2.6; 95% CI, 1.7-4.1), a firearm-related violent crime (AHR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.3-6.4), and any violent crime (AHR, 3.3; 95% CI, 2.4-4.5). Among purchasers with a history of arrests or convictions for crimes other than DUI, associations specifically with DUI conviction remained.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study’s findings suggest that prior DUI convictions may be associated with the risk of subsequent violence, including firearm-related violence, among legal purchasers of handguns.  Although the magnitude was diminished, the risk associated with DUI conviction remained elevated even among those with a history of arrests or convictions for crimes of other types.

October 1, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)