Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Homicides: Victimizers and Victims

Last year in Chicago:

Among the Sun-Times’ findings, based on a review of police and Cook County medical examiner’s reports, court files and interviews:

• The vast majority of those killed in Chicago in the first half of this year — 90 percent —died from a gunshot wound.

• Seventy-two percent were African-American men, their average age 29.

• Four out of five had faced criminal charges in Cook County at some point, mostly for drug offenses — the leading cause of arrest in Chicago.

• Two out of five had drug convictions.

• More than a quarter had been convicted of a violent offense or illegal gun possession.

• Domestic conflicts, many involving mental illness, were involved in at least 24 of the deaths.

• At least four were killed by stray bullets. Others were shot while in the company of people who were targeted.

• The reasons behind other killings remain a mystery to the police.

Chicago Police Department officials say the findings reinforce that most of the city’s gun violence involves a relatively small group of gang members and drug dealers.

Aiming to stem that violence, they’ve been sending teams to meet with gang members flagged as being likeliest to end up a shooting victim or a shooter, based in part on an algorithm that takes into account factors like whether a person has ever been shot, has been convicted of a gun crime, is on parole or has been picked up by the police with anyone who fits such criteria.

“Today’s offender is tomorrow’s victim,” says Christopher Mallette, executive director of Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, a not-for-profit group that organizes the visits. “They flip jerseys all the time.”

Also a bit out of date, from Wisconsin Public Radio:

As the halfway mark for the year 2014 is nearly here, the tally of gun-related homicides in Wisconsin currently stands at 50. However, there appears to be one constant in these numbers and that’s the criminal records of both the perpetrators and victims.

The two most recent gun deaths involved Kwata Shields, 19, who was shot on Milwaukee’s South Side at a house party last Saturday. The second was Robert Washington, 20, who was allegedly shot by his father on Thursday during an argument in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale.

Almost two-thirds of the fatal shootings in the state have taken place in Milwaukee. The others are scattered around 15 different cities and towns. In almost all cases, however, both victims and alleged perpetrators have criminal records.

Mallory O’Brien, of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, tracks those numbers for the city of Milwaukee.

“(About) 94 percent of our victims have an arrest history and 93 percent of our suspects have an arrest history,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said the same percentage is true for non-fatal shooting incidents. There’s been an increase in those numbers as well. By the end of June of last year, there were 204 cases and the count at the six-month mark this year, there have been 248 incidents — a 21-percent increase. She said there’ also been an increase in the number of shooting incidents with multiple victims.

In Baltimore:

But police have also said that some of the city’s residents most vulnerable to violence were also perpetrating violence— including known gang members and others heavily involved in the city’s violent drug trade.

“The driving forces behind the murders have remained the same and we’ve been successful at identifying some of these trigger pullers and getting them off the streets. We’re doing as much as we can with that group of people. It’s a vulnerable group, and I’ve said this a number of times,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said in November. “There are both perpetrators on that list and very likely victims on that list.”

The new data on the 2015 victims seems to bolster Davis’ claim that many victims were previously caught up in crime.

According to the analysis, nearly 90 percent of the 344 victims in 2015 had a prior criminal record. Of those, 80.2 percent had a prior drug arrest; 60.8 had been arrested for a violent crime; and half had a prior gun charge.

The average victim had been arrested 13 times before, and 26.2 percent were suspected gang members, the report said.

I stumble on treating alleged shooters as a “vulnerable group.” To me, the real vulnerable group are the other residents in the neighborhoods who are terrorized by the shooters or even get killed in the crossfire. Think of it in terms of people who get lung cancer. The fact that someone smoked 3 packs a day for a few decades doesn’t mean he/she in any way deserved to get lung cancer, but the cases that tend to elicit more sympathy are those of the people who never smoked, and especially the kids.

Now, from what I can tell, there are only two ways to reduce the number of “second-hand smokers.” One is to reduce the number of tobacco users. The other is to keep tobacco users apart from everyone else. With that in mind, what are realistic ways to reduce the carnage in some of our inner cities?

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Let the Punishment Fit the Crime, Identity Theft Edition

With the the recent Equifax data theft fiasco, I thought of a post I wrote 10 years ago:

Based on a conversation I had with reader Debbie, I was thinking about identity theft for the last day or so. I also had a discussion with the Ex-GF (for new readers, that’s my wife) about this; she was the victim of identity theft at one point. Its a big deal in this society, and I think I have a potential solution…
If someone steals someone else’s identity, their intention is to benefit from the reputation and credit rating and so forth that derive from the way their victim has conducted him/herself. Perhaps then they should also be required to, well, suffer the consequences for the way their victim conducted him/herself.

For example… the Ex-GF had a big pile of student loans at the time her identity was stolen. Why not make the thief responsible for paying those loans – not directly, of course… perhaps the thief would have to send the Ex-GF in the amount of the payment due every month. Alternatively, the thief would have to send the government an amount equal to that payment every month to compensate society for the losses of that identity theft; the government could then reduce the tax burden on everyone else by the same amount.

Similarly, if the victim of identity theft was proven to be the perpetrator of some crime, such as homicide, the person committing the identity theft could be required to serve part of the time, or perhaps a concurrent sentence.

Such a structure would would add some serious disincentive to those considering committing identity theft. Such a disincentive is really needed… the Ex-GF was able to quickly determine who had stolen her identity, and provided all the necessary evidence to the police. However, because the amount stolen was small, the police declined to do anything. But the time and effort she went through to fix the problem was pretty substantial.

Ten years later, I would kill the paragraph that begins with “For example…” I would also modify the second to last paragraph to read:

If the victim of identity theft was proven to be the perpetrator of some crime, such as homicide, the person committing the identity theft would be required to serve an identical sentence. Ditto those who steal the data in the first place.

Otherwise, I agree with myself.

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Let the Punishment Fit the Crime, Even if the Crime is Imaginary

This can’t be healthy:

Matthew Halls was removed as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival following an incident in which he imitated a southern American accent while talking to his longstanding friend, the African-American classical singer Reginald Mobley.

It is understood a white woman who overheard the joke reported it to officials at the University of Oregon, which runs the festival, claiming it amounted to a racial slur.

Here are the mechanics of the process:

But Mobley maintains that while racism should be challenged and ethnic groups made aware of each other’s sensitivities, his friend has been the victim of misunderstanding and overreaction.

Halls and Mobley had been chatting at a reception held last month during this year’s Oregon Bach Festival, when the subject turned to a concert in London in which Mobley had performed.

The singer, who was born and raised in the southern state of Florida, said the concert had an “antebellum” feel to it, of the sort associated with Gone With the Wind and other rose-tinted representations of the pre-Civil War south.

In response Mobley says that Halls “apologised on behalf of England”, before putting on an exaggerated southern accent and joking: “Do you want some grits?”, in a reference to the ground corn dish popular in the south.

“I’m from the deep south and Matthew often makes fun of the southern accent just as I often make fun of his British accent,” said Mobley. “Race was not an issue. He was imitating a southern accent, not putting on a black accent, and there was nothing racist or malicious about it.”

But the singer suspects that a white woman who overheard their conversation and spoke to him moments later went on to report it to the university, alleging Halls had made a racist joke.

An internal inquiry into the incident is understood to have been held as a result of the complaint.

However, Mobley was not invited to give evidence and he says there is a deep irony in the fact the authorities appear to have assumed on his behalf that he would have objected to the joke.

“I’m the subject of a falsified story, without having the chance to have my say,” he said. “My voice has been taken away in a conversation about race that involved me, and technically that’s racist.”

Fortunately, the process is clear and transparent:

Responding to the claims a spokesman for Oregon Bach Festival, said: “The University considers many factors when deciding whether to continue a contract. Regarding Reggie Mobley, it doesn’t appear he was involved in the University’s decision. Having said that, it would be inappropriate for the University to disclose details about a personnel matter.

“While I anticipate that more information will be available soon, I’m afraid that’s all I can say on the matter right now.”

This is reminiscent of the college student who got suspended for rape, despite the fact that the supposed victim kept insisting no rape had occurred.

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ACT Scores and Achievement Gaps

The Washington Post has a story on ACT scores:

New results from the nation’s most widely used college admission test highlight in detailed fashion the persistent achievement gaps between students who face disadvantages and those who don’t.

Scores from the ACT show that just 9 percent of students in the class of 2017 who came from low-income families, whose parents did not go to college, and who identify as black, Hispanic, American Indian or Pacific Islander are strongly ready for college.

But the readiness rate for students with none of those demographic characteristics was six times as high, 54 percent, according to data released Thursday.

“That kind of shocked us,” ACT chief executive Marten Roorda said. “We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know it was this bad.”

The analysis of “underserved learners” was a first for the ACT, which is one of two major tests students can take to apply to college. The other is the College Board’s SAT.

In recent years, both tests have found major disparities in college readiness among students in the Washington region and around the country. Roorda lamented that these gaps have persisted despite efforts to improve schools under the banners of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and other national initiatives.

“You could argue that those investments should have made a clearer difference,” he said, “and that’s not what we’re seeing.”

Actually, there have been a lot more initiatives, local and national, than those Roorda mentioned, and they go back decades. I remember, for example, when busing was expected to reduce gaps.

More detail appears to be available in this report by ACT..

Since the Washington Post only looks at “underserved learners,” for completeness, it helps to know the entire distribution. Table 2.4 of the ACT report indicates that that Asian students get the top scores, on average, followed by white students, followed by those who decline to state their race, followed by those of two or more races.

I also notice a bit of a gap between males and females – males do better on math and science, females on English and reading. So this report is chock full of the same racist stereotypes we have seen for decades. How do we get rid of this persistent gap in outcomes? And I think we can agree we want to do it in a non-harmful way. For instance, we don’t want to reduce the achievement gap by harming the performance of Asian students. Anyone have any realistic suggestions? A realistic answer will, of course, be one that is implementable, and which doesn’t contradict data that has come up in the decades in which society has been trying to deal with the issue.

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From the Onion to the Times of London… And Back Again to be added soon

Jô Soares, a well known Comedian turned political commentator (think Al Franken but not in the Senate) in Brazil, used to do a recurring skit about a former general who woke up from a coma. The rib was, the general had gone into the coma while the country was still ruled by a military junta. Anyway, the general would see stories in the news about former political prisoners turned into leading politicians, or former military personnel on trial, etc., and he’d demand to have his feeding tubes removed. To get the jokes, of course, you not only have to understand Portuguese but also have some understanding of Brazilian politics from about 1970 to the mid-1980s.

I believe this clip showed the first appearance of the character. (Sorry – I can’t find it in English.)

I am not sure whether to provide a trigger warning or not. The title of Soares’ show, at the time, translates as “Hurray for the Fat Guy.”

Anyway, for a moment I felt like Soares’ general. That moment came when I read this article in the Times of London, which of course is widely viewed as having a center-right orientation:

Edinburgh University is investigating a law student over claims that he mocked Islamic State on social media and put “minority students at risk and in a state of panic and fear”.

An official at the university who conducted a preliminary investigation allegedly accused the third-year law student of having committed a “hate crime” even though there has been no criminal investigation by the police.

The law student says that the complaint against him came in retaliation after he highlighted that a former leader of an ethnic minority student group at the university had referred to black men as “trash”.

Robbie Travers, 21, acknowledged that his social media comments were highly opinionated but he denied that they were racist or in any way incited violence.

The article continues:

One of his Facebook postings came after the US air force dropped a “massive ordnance air bomb” on an Isis stronghold in Afghanistan in April.

Mr Travers wrote: “Excellent news that the US administration and Trump ordered an accurate strike on an IS network of tunnels in Afghanistan.

“I’m glad we could bring these barbarians a step closer to collecting their 72 virgins.”

Esme Allman, a second-year history student and the former black and ethnic minority convenor of the university’s students’ association, filed a complaint to the university, saying: “Not only do I believe this behaviour to be in breach of the student code of conduct, but his decision to target the BME Liberation Group at the University of Edinburgh, and how he has chosen to do so, puts minority students at risk and in a state of panic and fear while attending the University of Edinburgh.”

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Accountability for Judges in the Criminal Justice System

Here’s an article entitled I Set a Defendant Free And Got Blamed When He Raped Someone. This is what the article is about:

A judge explains how he decides whether to release a defendant before trial without bail — and how it can go bad.

I found reading any further into the article was a complete waste of time, but the little bit I quoted above does raise an important point. Pretty much every job includes some measure of accountability based on outcomes. Presumably our betters on the bench should also operate under the same principles. If someone actively sought out a position in which they decide whether defendants get released before trial, it isn’t too much to expect them to be pretty good at figuring out who should be released before trial and who shouldn’t.

I don’t know what the guidelines are – I try to keep my involvement with the legal system to a bare minimum. Still, I imagine a simple rule would be something like this: defendants who aren’t a flight risk, who aren’t a danger to others, and who aren’t likely to be found guilty probably don’t need to be behind bars awaiting trial. Those who are a flight risk, are likely to cause harm, or can reasonably be expected to be found guilty of a serious crime should not be walking around.

If someone can’t distinguish between these sorts of situations reasonably well, it is hard to see how they have any business making decisions about such matters. In fact, it seems pretty immoral not to have such an expectation of those who use the power of the state to make decisions that affect the freedom and well being of the rest of us.

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The White Racist Cops of Chicago

An article by Nirej Sekhon in the American Criminal Law Review entitled Blue on Black: An Empirical Assessment of Police Shootings looks at 270 officer-involved-shooting incidents that occurred in Chicago between 2006 and 2014. His data comes from Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (“IPRA”) summary reports of intentional officer-involved shootings. The article has interesting graphs.

Some of the graphs fit the popular narrative:

Some don’t:

The author points out that:

The IPRA Reports and other data tend to suggest that a police department’s demographic profile will tend to roughly predict on-duty officer shooters’ demographic profile.

In fact, the figures seem to suggest both black and white officers are slightly less likely to be shooters than their share of the department would suggest.  On the other hand, Hispanic officers tend to be over-represented among shooters in the IPRA reports.

Here’s more information:

As one would expect from the Fyfe and Geller-Karales studies, Blacks are overrepresented among off-duty shooters. The overrepresentation is dramatic: Black officers accounted for nearly 70% of the off-duty shootings in the IPRA Reports. Most of these shootings followed crimes or attempted crimes on or near off-duty officers’ properties…. Black officers were significantly underrepresented among uniformed on-duty shooters and somewhat overrepresented among plainclothes shooters. Plainclothes shooters represented nearly 40% of all on-duty shootings in the IPRA Reports

The author speculates a great deal about what drives the results (at times more credibly than at other times), but in the end, unfortunately, the IPRA Reports need more information to conclusively explain what is going on.


Update…9/2/2017 @ 5:38 AM PST

It occurs to me, based on past experience, that some readers may be unable to grasp sarcasm so…

  1. The title = popular wisdom
  2. The data in the post is not compatible with popular wisdom


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Self-selection and Multigenerational Mobility of American Immigrants

Last year I wrote a post noting that the income of group of immigrants in the US is correlated with the income of the country from where those immigrants hailed. I noted that this correlation is especially strong for immigrants in the US for the longest.

I just stumbled on this paper from earlier this year by Joakim Ruist. Here’s the abstract:

This paper aims to explain the high intergenerational persistence of inequality between groups of different ancestries in the US. Initial inequality between immigrant groups is interpreted as largely due to differently strong self-selection on unobservable skill endowments. These endowments are in turn assumed to be more persistent than observable outcomes across generations. If skill endowments are responsible for a larger share of total inequality between immigrant groups than between individuals generally, the former inequality will be more persistent. This explanation implies the additional testable hypothesis that the correlation between home country characteristics that influence the self-selection pattern – in particular the distance to the US – and migrants’ or their descendants’ outcomes will increase with every new generation of descendants. This prediction receives strong empirical support: The migration distance of those who moved to the US around the turn of the 20th century has risen from explaining only 14% of inequality between ancestry groups in the immigrant generation itself, to a full 49% in the generation of their great-grandchildren today.

Here’s a paragraph from the conclusion:

The policy relevance of this result lies to a large extent in what it does not say. It is well known that inequality between ancestry groups in America is highly persistent, and also that some groups experience more mobility than others. Previous explanations for this to some extent indicate that something is “wrong”, in that certain groups’ upward mobility is hampered either by these groups’ own behavior, or American society’s behavior towards them. As such they also indicate a role for policy in improving the situation. In contrast, according to the results and interpretation reported here, ancestry groups’ low socioeconomic mobility is not an indication that something is wrong, but merely that the impact of migrants’ self-selection is longer-lasting than previously thought.

Here’s the last paragraph in the paper:

Finally these results say something important not only about migrants’ self-selection and intergenerational mobility, but also about America. In the 19th century, many millions of Europeans dreamed of a new life in America. But the journey was costly, and at least until the arrival of transatlantic steamships even dangerous, and only some actually made the leap. The results reported in this study not only support the view that those who actually did make the journey were equipped with qualities not equally possessed by all of those who did not. They also tell us that these qualities remained for several generations with their descendants, who made their native country the global hub of knowledge, innovation, entrepreneurship, and industry of the 20th century.

The modern era being what it is, I imagine that today, in some countries, it is easier to be a migrant than to stay put. Ruist’s paper would imply that immigrants from such countries might, on average, have multiple generations of descendants with particularly low SES scores.

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Crime and Punishment

I stumbled on a blog post by Jerry Ratcliffe, who is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Director of the Center for Security and Crime Science at Temple University, Philadelphia, and a former police officer with London’s Metropolitan Police (UK).

From one of this posts:

Graph no. 2 is another image from my Intelligence-Led Policing book. The crime funnel represents what happens to a random selection of 1,000 crimes that affect the public (top bar). It shows the loss of cases through the criminal justice system. These are British national data derived from public records, but the comparisons to the U.S. are very similar. If you take a random selection of 1,000 crimes actually suffered by the public (violence, robbery, vehicle theft, residential burglary, theft and criminal damage) you can see that they only report 530 to the police, who in turn record just 43 percent of the original total.

Click to embiggenize.

Of these 429 events, 99 are detected (solved or cleared in some way) and of these, 60 end up with a day in court. The majority of those are found guilty or plead the same, but in the end only four of the events from the original 1,000 end up in a custodial sentence for the offender. This is an incarceration rate of 0.4% based on crime suffered by the community.

The main point here is that impacting higher in the crime funnel will be more effective because it affects the numbers below and affects a larger number of actual cases. Improving the detection rate will have an impact on prosecutions, pleas and incarceration, but only to a minimal level. Being prevention focused and changing the higher numbers is much more impactful. Consider if you could have a 10% change on one level. Where would it be most effective?

I don’t know how accurate the figures above are, but I assume the numbers are about as reasonable as the law enforcement community can provide.  I’m not sure “an incarceration rate of 0.4% based on crime suffered by the community” is all that much of a deterrent, except insofar as crimes, apparently are just like potato chips – people who engage in crimes generally don’t stop at one.  Most delinquents commit multiple crimes and eventually get snagged for something.  But meanwhile, a whole of of people suffer a whole of outrage.

As to Ratcliffe’s question…  I suspect what Ratclife is getting at is what the current esteemed leadership in Baltimore considers heavy handed policing. And I bet his 0.4% figure is a whole lot lower for Baltimore these days too.

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Baltimore Trade-off

I’ve been following the situation in Baltimore since the death of Freddie Gray because my wife hails from that city. Here is what is happening now according to the Baltimore Sun:

Baltimore’s top law enforcement leaders say they are working closely together to fight crime — but the community should not expect a turnaround soon.

State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, in an exclusive joint interview with The Baltimore Sun, say they are overseeing crime-fighting in a different climate than six years ago, when the city experienced fewer than 200 homicides for the first time in decades. Both officials claimed those past gains were achieved using heavy-handed tactics that have been disavowed.

“There was a price to pay for” the drop below 200 homicides, a price “that manifested itself in April and May of 2015,” Davis said, referring to the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray. “I think the long view is that doing it the right way is doing it the hard way, and I think most Baltimoreans realize that the way forward is not always going to be easy.”

The article continues:

Baltimore is on track for more than 300 killings for the third consecutive year. Among the latest victims was a 15-year-old boy who was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon Tuesday, the third teenager killed this month. In addition to spiking crime, authorities have continued to grapple with scandals that have led to criminal charges against officers and the dropping of scores of court cases.

I’m not sure I understand what this means. Is there really a direct link between disavowing “heavy-handed tactics” and a more than 50% increase in the homicide rate? What exactly is the relationship here? Is everyone OK with the trade-off? In particular, are the families of the 100 marginal homicide victims copacetic? And what are those heavy-handed tactics anyway?

But let’s focus on the negatives:

Mosby cited zero-tolerance policing as a “failed strategy” that continued in Baltimore long after it was formally disavowed by the city’s leaders. “Those failed policies are what got us to the place we were at in the spring of 2015,” she said, referring to the unrest.

Davis noted that his agency is operating with about 500 fewer officers than a few years ago, when the city experienced several years of declines in gun violence. He said the police department at that time employed a strategy that won’t be duplicated.

“It was a geographic takeover strategy of neighborhoods, that cast nets over neighborhoods that happened to be overwhelmingly poor, overwhelmingly African-American, overwhelmingly impacted by all the failings of society. And they [celebrated] when they got to a certain artificial number of murders,” he said. “As if 200 murders is acceptable for a city of 600,000 people.”

I agree that 200 murders a year should not be seen as acceptable. But I would think that 300 murders a year should be viewed as quite a bit less acceptable.

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