Crime Imprisons and Kills

…the most disadvantaged people have gained the most from the reduction in violent crime.

Though homicide is not a common cause of death for most of the United States population, for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34 it is the leading cause, which means that any change in the homicide rate has a disproportionate impact on them. The sociologist Michael Friedson and I calculated what the life expectancy would be today for blacks and whites had the homicide rate never shifted from its level in 1991. We found that the national decline in the homicide rate since then has increased the life expectancy of black men by roughly nine months.

…The everyday lived experience of urban poverty has also been transformed. Analyzing rates of violent victimization over time, I found that the poorest Americans today are victimized at about the same rate as the richest Americans were at the start of the 1990s. That means that a poor, unemployed city resident walking the streets of an average city today has about the same chance of being robbed, beaten up, stabbed or shot as a well-off urbanite in 1993. Living in poverty used to mean living with the constant threat of violence. In most of the country, that is no longer true.

That’s Patrick Sharkey writing in the New York Times.

More police on the street is one cause, among many, of lower crime. It’s important in the debate over better policing that we not lose sight of the value of policing. Given the benefits of reduced crime and the cost of police, it’s clear that U.S. cities are under policed (e.g. here and here). We need better policing–including changes in laws–so that we can all be comfortable with more policing.


I remain skeptical that "more" and "better policing" can simultaneously coexist in today's world. America boasts the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world and more cops would only exacerbate this problem, at least in the short term. I agree with you that laws need to be changed; I would go further and say that American policing needs a culture change and to be held accountable for their own bad behavior (think the Mesa cop who killed an unarmed man crawling down a hotel hallway). Police (at least many of them) seem not to be on "our" side, but their own side - a worldview advanced full throttle by police unions.

Additionally, until America wakes up to the realization that jail and prison aren't the right answer to most non-violent crime and we have real criminal justice reform - starting with over criminalization to the over-reliance on prison, more cops aren't the answer.

I think it's a bit more subtle. One major issue with police harassment complaints is that such neighborhoods often suffer from a combination of under and over policing. Serious crimes like murder have a lower clear rate than other communities but many more arrests and tickets for low level infractions are issued. Here you get the worst of both worlds, police are unlikely to arrest someone for breaking into your home or trying to kill you *but* rest assured they will always pull you over and slap a ticket on you should you ever have a broken headlight or drive 5 mph over the speed limit or randomly do a pseudo-strip search on you in public looking for pot.

> Serious crimes like murder have a lower clear rate than other communities but many more arrests and tickets for low level infractions are issued.


Every interaction with police carries a non-zero probability of being killed. It doesn't matter if they're the most well-trained cops in the world, increase the surface area enough and you'll get senseless deaths. One problem is that we've probably recruited police to do too much. Armed policeman should really only be concerned with violent criminals. Things like drug offenses, prostitution, traffic violations, civil infractions like littering or selling loose leaf cigarettes (a la Eric Garner), serving eviction notices, and low-level domestic disturbances should either be de-criminalized or handled by unarmed enforcers without arrest power (think Meter Maids).

Traffic stops are a big one. A lot of people, both cops and civilians, get killed during traffic stops. Every speeding ticket and DUI is a potential shootout with a drug trafficker carrying 10 kilos of cocaine. First of all said drug traffickers have little to lose once they're pulled over. If you're looking at 20 to life if the cop pops the trunk, you're likely to shoot first and ask questions later. Second, every cop knows this, so their hair's standing up and their finger's right on the trigger at every stop. That leads to a lot of stupid mistake where civilians get shot pulling out their wallet.

Imagine instead that we had designated traffic cops. They can only write tickets, not arrest people. They're not armed. And (similar to the TSA) their policy towards drugs and contraband is don't ask, don't tell as long as its not in plain site. Once everyone knows the rules of the game, there's no more need for shootouts at traffic stops than Best Buy lost prevention or parking garage gates.

But keep in mind getting killed by cops is not a huge problem in itself. In day to day life few black people will get murdered, even fewer will get killed by cops. But frequent police stops do add up. Traffic tickets are no longer trivial like they were decades ago. Plenty of places have caught onto the idea of making tickets always cost hundreds or thousands of dollars (sit in traffic court and see how often the phrase 'payment plan' comes out)...not just for serious things like DUI's but minor things like forgetting to carry your registration with you. On top of that missed payments means suspended licenses, warrants, and what was a relatively law abiding person soon becomes an outlaw just to go back and forth from a 'square' job to pay the bills.

There are too equilibrium points here. The law abiding one offers a lot of benefits and a very tall ladder of potential gains. BUT if you aren't near the top the non-law abiding one is tempting as a trap of desperation. If you're going to get hassled, arrested, fined, and payment planned up the wazoo just to go back and forth to a crappy job there is a point where people will shrug and say why keep playing it on the square?

This all sets off a dysfunctional social dynamic even though every cop in the above case may be following procedures to the letter and is exercising authority in a non-biased manner. It could even be the case that all the cops above are sympathetic to the situation and emphasize with 'black lives matter' protests, they too are almost as stuck in this cycle as those on the other end of it.

And if these cops stop someone who's obviously drunk what do they do? Let him go? Call the "real" cops?

Write them a criminal summons, call them a cab and tow their vehicle to the destination of their choice (at their expense). Let them self surrender at a later date, and preemptively suspend their driving license until they do. If they don't, put out a warrant for their arrest, and let the pro bounty hunters do their job. How many DUIs are flight risks? Is there any reason a DUI requires a huge show of force by armed soldiers? One of the enshrining principles of Anglo Saxon laws 9s the application of the least force necessary.

The problem isn't DUI's or even regular traffic stops. The problem is hyper-enforcement of petty stuff combined with lax enforcement of serious.

The backstory of the Eric Garner case is illustrative. Garner was a 'street character' who sold 'loose' cigarettes but was also a fixture on the block and tended to keep order. In fact the day of his arrest, he had just broken up a fight cross the street. Other police officers had ignored the fight (a more serious crime, but also a more complicated one to process). Officers were given orders to go and get Garner for reasons that remain unclear but what was known was that 'quality of life offenses' had morphed from a sensible tactic based on the 'broken window theory' into a rather vicious quota system where cops had to stop and frisk so many people per day, make so many arrests for low level stuff every day.

Ironically in an earlier age of more explicitly racist police a beat officer would have probably been given the discretion to work with 'street characters'. The Garners of that age would still get arrests but at the same time they would have gotten some slack and the beat officer, even if he was racist, would have been expected to know who was in the neighborhood and work with them to keep things in control. In that age a pointless arrest for minor offense after playing a positive role would have probably been seen as needlessly provocative and counter productive to good order. In an age of arrest quotas those less easy to measure outputs get lost.

While not at the moving level, Milwaukee did this at the parking level back in the 90's where non-moving violations were taken away from MPD and given to DOT. Something I have only seen in Milwaukee and something I think which should be replicated everywhere including the expansion you speak of.

"the Mesa cop who killed an unarmed man crawling down a hotel hallway" was indeed a cowardly murderer. But I'm beginning to wonder whether giving the police carte blanche to act as murderous cowards might not explain part of the decline in the total murder rate. It would be very tough luck on the individual victims of the said murderous cowards, but might the publicised misbehaviour of the police save lives in total?

And if it does, what nasty lessons does that teach?

People have been studying the deterrent effect on violent crime forever. Not much evidence for it.

The deterrent effect of police misconduct?

Is there a deterrent effect of police getting off with murderous violence on whim? It may well be true of various gangsters: why not if the gangsters happen to wear a uniform?

Police shootings and other excessive uses of force were under-reported in the past. It's only in the last five years that we've seen a significant rise in awareness of these incidents due to the proliferation of cameras and social media. A period during which we have actually seen violent crime rates rise slightly.

" America boasts the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world and more cops would only exacerbate this problem,"

America also boasts one of the highest murder rates in the industrialized world. To me, a high incarceration rate isnt a problem so much as an attempt at a solution to a problem.

Only about half of those incarcerated in state prisons are violent offenders, and the proportion of violent offenders in the federal system is much, much lower.

I'm wondering how surveillance isn't a more important factor? Here in NJ a common newstory: "Here's a video of a man who slashed a woman/robbed a purse/held someone up at an ATM/shoplifted from a store". Back in 1990 if you slashed someone in an ally at 2AM and weren't caught at the moment, you would probably have gotten away with it. Today even very obscure areas have cameras so days later detectives could be looking at a clear picture of you walking away and if not that then there would be pictures of people walking towards or away from the area of the crime making it very likely you are not going to get away with it.

Back in 1990 such stories didn't even seem to make the news as they were just one of many crimes that would probably never be solved. Throw that in with the 80-20 rule (probably only 20% of criminals are doing 80% of the crime at any given moment) and you have a dramatic drop in crime.

'I’m wondering how surveillance isn’t a more important factor?'

Totalitarian states have always had a much lower rate of crime, in major part due to the surveillance factor. Which does not require technology, just a citizenry aware that they are always being watched, and never certain who is doing the watching.

But it's not quite the same as a totalitarian state. No one watches you walk around all day, but if a murder happens on a block the security cameras of different stores can be pulled to see who walked in and out of that area just like previously no one was pulling fingerprints from everywhere every day and matching that up against a database...fingerprints were pulled from crime scenes and that was sufficient to catch many who otherwise would have slipped away.

'But it’s not quite the same as a totalitarian state.'

This system sounds like the sort of solution a totalitarian state would find useful -

As noted on their web site - 'Nearly eight out of ten gunfire events go unreported to 911. Police cannot respond effectively if unaware of an incident.'

In a city environment, cops should always respond to gunfire. Is there any reason they shouldn't?

'Is there any reason they shouldn’t?'

Guess it depends on how one defines city. A dense urban concentration like NYC, where gun control laws are strict - probably not any good reason.

Houston, on the other hand, may provide a different perspective.

Does the city of Houston have empty areas where you may have hunting? If so then yes but even in a suburban area I'd call the police if I heard a random gunshot. Even without gun control laws it's usually illegal to shoot off a gun in a populated area no?

Regardless if you have an area where random gun shooting is not normally something to not worry about, why shouldn't police come if there are gunshots? Why not set up a microphone that pings whenever it hears a gunshot? Somehow I suspect they know putting it outside an open air recreational shooting range would be silly.

'We need better policing'

Starting with a police force that is not overwhelmingly (and reasonably) fearful of the huge number of guns in American society. And as we all know, changing that single factor so that American police can start acting more like German, British, Australian, etc. police is extremely unlikely to happen in our lifetimes.

Indeed, a mass confiscation of guns would require enormous state violence, probably wrought disproportionately upon low-income and minority communities, and would further shatter any relationship of trust with the police.

The effective removal of guns from British and Australian society at no time involved a mass confiscation of guns.

The main motivation in the UK involves this event - 'The Dunblane school massacre took place at Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, Stirlingshire, Scotland, on 13 March 1996, when gunman Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and one teacher before committing suicide.'

In Australia, it was this event - 'The Port Arthur massacre of 28–29 April 1996 was a mass shooting in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. It occurred mainly at the historic Port Arthur former prison colony, a popular tourist site in south-eastern Tasmania, Australia.'

In Germany, this event led to a gun owner being sentenced (the father or the mass murderer), and a general tightening of gun ownership rules - 'The Winnenden school shooting occurred on the morning of 11 March 2009 at a secondary school in Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, in southwestern Germany, followed by a shootout at a car dealership in nearby Wendlingen. The shooting spree resulted in 16 deaths, including the suicide of the perpetrator, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer, who had graduated from the school one year earlier. He also injured nine people during the incident.'

And let us be honest - most of the most devoted gun owners in the U.S. are not accurately described as living in low-income and minority communities.

After the attacks in France and the UK I expect your euro-genius overlords will confiscate trucks.

You left out the German attack, which actually just happened to have a likely lower death toll due to this euro-genius safety mechanism - 'An automatic braking system fitted to the truck used in the Christmas market terrorist attack in Berlin prevented the vehicle from ploughing further into the crowds and averted even worse carnage, German authorities said on Thursday.

Anis Amri, the 24-year-old Tunisian asylum seeker who allegedly carried out the attack, killed 12 people and injured 48 others when he rammed the lorry into a Christmas market in the German capital on December 19.

The 40-tonne truck was halted by the automatic braking system, bringing it to a standstill after about 250ft and “preventing even worse consequences,” said Frauke Koehler, a spokeswoman for German prosecutors.

The system, adopted by EU countries in 2012, kicks in when it senses a collision.

The truck used in the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice in July was older and not equipped with the advanced braking system. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the man behind the Nice attack, was able to drive more than a mile along the Promenade des Anglais, killing more than 80 people and injuring hundreds, before being shot dead by police.'

"The effective removal of guns from British and Australian society at no time involved a mass confiscation of guns."

LOL. You think everyone voluntarily gave up their guns???

Some honestly in your arguments would help you be taken a bit more seriously.

Significantly more crimes are stopped by civilians with guns than the police. The crime rate would balloon from this.

Except not in Germany, the UK, and Australia, with their notably lower rates of gun ownership. Along with notably lower rates of crime.

Germans, Britons, and Australians in the US have a pretty low crime rate too. Really makes you think.

Well, apart from the occasional Australian being shot by the police. Which really makes Australians think about ever travelling to the U.S., much less live there, actually.

No. Australia and the UK have mostly higher rates of crime than than the US across the board. You’re 3x more likely to be raped in Australia and 3x more likely to be assaulted in the UK.

And if you look at the data of gun homicides in Australia and the UK you can see that confiscation had no effect, with gun crime continuing to fall at the same rate in the former and bounce around in the latter. Of course, US homicide rates have halved at the same time that gun ownership has doubled.

All of this stuff is easily found online.

Like this link, the first result returned by google for 'rape australia america comparison'? -

Australia - 'Crime levels 46.01 Ranked 47th.' U.S. '55.84 Ranked 30th. 21% more than Australia' Though you are at least partially right about rapes, though not the ridiculous number concerning probabalities - Australia 'Rape rate 28.6 Ranked 6th. 5% more than United States' U.S. '27.3 Ranked 9th.'

When changing Australia for Britain, the numbers are similar, with the U.S. having a crime level 16% higher than the UK. Unfortunately, no information is provided for rate of rapes.

I'd be happy if we just limited the extent to which police departments can raise money from traffic tickets. Provide additional tax revenue if necessary to compensate. Seems like an inefficient way to collect funds. Sure, you get some deterrent in exchange, but judging by the number of motorists who routinely ignore the posted limits (myself included) it doesn't seem very significant.

Ok, so what's the problem with the tickets, if they're so uncommon as to not change behavior?

I'm pleased (and quite surprised) to see this affirmation in this particular forum.

So, it appears that nothing progressives have done has influenced the positive trend in these stats. That sound about right?

Do you have anything in mind?

But Progressives know that 'broken window' policies and 'mass incarceration' are bad.

What about deleading gasoline and paint? Although I am not sure whether old school environmentalists really count as progressives, as they were focused on preventing people from being literally, not figuratively or spiritually, poisoned.

"We found that the national decline in the homicide rate since then has increased the life expectancy of black men by roughly nine months." - a whole nine months! Sounds like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writing about the gulag.

And this: "That means that a poor, unemployed city resident walking the streets of an average city today has about the same chance of being robbed, beaten up, stabbed or shot as a well-off urbanite in 1993" - but recall all time crime rates peaked in 1989, about the same as 1993, so that stat is not saying much.

"We need better policing–including changes in laws–so that we can all be comfortable with more policing." - the latter part of the sentence does not compute with the former. We have too many police for the crime that we have, and they try and "make work" by stopping anybody on a pretext. What we need is better CCTV to catch serious crime, not speeding 5 m.p.h over the limit.

Bonus trivia: the Philippines has the same crime rate (9.9) as the USA did in 1990, but it does not feel unsafe here; Honduras, El Salvador and Venezuela are the top three in the world at five to eight times PH's rate. Today, Mexico's most violent states (Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Guerrero) have murder rates about the same as the District of Columbia did in 2000.

And the #1 country in the world for intentional death rate, surpassing even Honduras is...drumroll...the violent country of: Greenland! (Wikipedia: The following list of intentional death rates by country has been obtained by adding the suicide rate from the World Health Organization to homicide rate from the UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) )

This is how you turn statistics into garbage.

Greenland is part of Denmark. BTW the homicide rate among "first nations" in Canada is so high that if they were 12% of the Candian population Canada would have a higher homicide rate than the USA.

Demon alcohol? We need a solution to that.

Was that a reference to Cowen’s Mormonphilia? I wonder if he will treat us to a post praising polygamy sometime in April.

The best way to get more cops on the street, if that's what you want, is to eliminate their retirement at ages as young as 38. Dig this guy:

Keep in mind the overall life expectancy in the US just went DOWN by 0.3 years. that doesn't sound like much but it represents hundred of thousands of life years. If black men have been able to gain 9 months during a period of overall declining lifespans that's actually one small move away from inequality.

Every time the homicide rate goes up or down, we all cast about for causes. The usual suspects, the economy, policing, and the number of prisoners, do not work out. The changes are usually national while policing and prison policies differ over the country. Crime rates were low in the Depression and are low now, in our slow growth but were high during the prosperous 80's.
The historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book The Great Wave, using over 700 years of British records shows that the homicide rate and inflation are closely correlated. High inflation, high crime, low inflation low crime. It certainly holds for the examples above. Fisher himself concedes that correlation is not causation, but it rules out the usual explanations

Is there any correlation over those 700 hundred years between inflation and population structure? Crime is a young man’s game, so older societies should have lower crime rates, ceteris paribus.

Until modern medicine, populations were much younger.

What are the Best Things We Could Do for the Poor Through Government

End the War on Drugs, give amnesty for non-violent drug prisoners, and criminal justice reform with the aim of reducing incarceration rates. What has done more economic harm to the poor than having their working-age men locked away
Hire more and better police. See here. Poor people are too often victims of crime and fraud. It is better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house/neighbourhood with crime, violence or biting insects.
Allow any subdividing and residential building that increased overall density and some that does not.
Wipe out the mosquito. seems like it cold not be done but heard about it on NPR see here.

What does ending the war on drugs mean in the context of the opioid crisis. Effectively legalizing heroin? OTC Vicodin?

Effectively legalizing heroin? OTC Vicodin?

Absolutely. I see little evidence that legalization would significantly increase OD's see below. I would hope that would lead to the big drug companies making opioids that are difficult to OD on.
The effect of requiring consumers to obtain prescriptions for pharmaceuticals on mortality is examined for a sample of middle-income countries. In countries enforcing the requirement, infectious disease mortality is no lower and poisoning mortality is higher than in those not enforcing the requirement. A broader measure of government intervention—public expenditures on health relative to GDP—is shown to have moderately adverse effects on overall life expectancy.
It's a long article and well worth reading. I've always favored legalizing drugs, but I never expected it to lead to less drug use. Is there something here I am missing?

BTW it seems that Alcoholism Causes More Deaths Than Opioid Overdoses

Police are hired on a basis of a civil service exam, that is to reduce the chances of political corruption, so I have been wondering if need a unarmed crime prevention units.

Technology, as others mentioned, also plays a role: ubiquitous cellphones make detection and awareness and the speed of reporting an incident faster, and maybe even real time. Smart policing--based on algorithms--and not just the size of the police force--are also changes.

This is a really weird argument to make. Why police? Do you have evidence that's the causal factor? Why not more funding for lead abatement in low income housing? Or drug diversion programs? Or apprenticeships? Or subsidizing violent video games so wanna be thugs can get their thrills vicariously?

You mention the cost-benefit of additional police, but are you including incarceration?

We have a conflict in cultures. Some cultures do well with the cops, and they save money by hiring the cop, right out of high school. Some cultures have a difficult tim and they want to hire cops that also act as social worker and need a college education. The difference causes neighborhood segmentation.

A cop friend says he's sure that the popularity of video games among young males is a prime cause of decreased crime rates. Does anyone know of studies to support or refute this idea?

How about the fact that most people are walking around with a camera in their pockets?

Crime as a violation of individual rights is an underserved topic for libertarians. It seems only violence committed by governments gets the blood up. If a private actor violates someones rights then its ignored. I applaud Alex for at least acknowledging that you can't be soft on crime and call yourself a libertarian.

Putting more cops on the street won't cause a drop in crime because so many cops engage in criminal activity themselves. Internal affairs is always the busiest part of any police department but keeps the information to itself. Cops are allowed to retire as post-adolescents but they then go to work for another department or return to their own in a different role. Retired cops are often assigned to "cold cases" that haven't been solved after many years. Investigating a murder from 25 years ago is unlikely to have an effect on the current crime rate but it will help pay for the cop's Caribbean cruise.

In other words 50 years of Great Society programs has produced more poor, ignorant and violent people than ever before in our history.

"More police on the street is one cause, among many, of lower crime."

The evidence in support of this seemingly common sense claim is exceedingly weak and indeed this very blog has posted prior studies showing that fact.

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